Friday, June 17, 2011

So, What Do You Do?

Just a week or so ago, I delivered my twelfth annual "Senior Farewell" poem to my school's graduating class. It was a poem about cliches. The gist of it is that some sayings become cliches because they are really wise ("Don't judge a book by its cover") and others because they are simply easy ("Life is simple"). My advice was, don't accept anything until you give it a lot of good thought. Folk wisdom can save your life or ruin it, as far as I'm concerned. It's up to each of us to figure out how to apply it.

It got me thinking about this one: "If you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life."

Not bad, I guess. It makes sense on some levels. (I do think, however, that it discounts the fact that doing something you love as a job can make it feel like work.) Still, my biggest problem with this is the principle behind it. It might be overstating it a little, but I always thought this cliche comes dangerously close to implying that your job is your life -- that is is the source of your happiness or sadness.

I don't know about you, but (and I do like my job quite a bit) my job only feels like a few stitches in the tapestry of my life. That's not to say it isn't important to me. It really is and I take it very seriously. But, when it gets tough (and it does) and when I feel miserable because of it (and I sometimes do) I don't wind up feeling like my life is a mess. Because of this, my job can't bring me down -- especially when I am not there. When I am not there, I have a vast array of things in which to get wrapped up.

I love teaching, but making music is far closer to my heart. I define myself more as a musician than anything, in terms of "callings". My life as a dad and as a husband means much more to me than either teaching or music, too.

Isn't that the way it is supposed to be? Maybe you don't need to do what you love in a job so much as you need to realize that the real things in life are much more important than how you earn the rent money. Too often, people equate happiness and success with what they do "for a living". Sometimes your profession doesn't work out the way you plan, but it sure as heck doesn't mean the other sixteen hours of every day are null and void.

I really believe we set up our kids to think everything comes down to the job they wind up with. I mean, I know we tell them all sorts of nice stuff -- like, money can't buy you happiness -- but, in the end, don't we make what amounts to a really superficial attempt to show them that jobs aren't "everything"?


  1. I'm still young enough to be a 'kid' (or so I tell myself, at 25), and I think you've truly invited the bell to sound the truth loudly. At the very least, from my perspective, work (and by extension, one's job), is central to the American existence, both socially and personally. I can only speak from my own experiences - primarily with influence from family - that what I do (professionally) with my life is of greater importance than almost anything else (I'm also supposed to have kids, but that's less important than my job success). Oftentimes, the majority of personal conversations (i.e. about the self) concern what one 'does', and what one 'does' is what is one's job/profession/means of making money*. Very few people ever ask me about my writing, my thoughts on the world (outside of politics, which leaves a bitter taste in my throat), on people, or on really anything about which I spend my greatest time thinking (I rarely even get questions about my current job, but questions about what I will do next).

    What do we tell people, though? Nobody wants to hear, "You need to find out" or "I don't really know." Maybe they could...

    *I think that's a big component, too. So many people say money doesn't matter (with words), but also say it's all that matters (with actions). The money issue is much bigger than that (money is, after all, a social construct and one of the most valuable cultural unrealities.

    ~ Matt

  2. I was going to write a very insightful heartfelt comment but after reading the above comment I ran out of time, hats and rabbits. ;)
    I'll just end with, "Great post, Chris!"

  3. Matt -- I think your observation about people questioning "what you will do next" is really interesting. I still have people asking me when I am going to get my PhD -- clearly a master's isn't enough, because there are mor rungs on the ladder. The social machine is hard to escape.

    Krista -- A mere "Great post, Chris" from an artiste like yourself (Everyone check out Krista's photography -- it's excellent)is as good as a thousand words! Haha -- thanks.

  4. Chris, even 13 years out of grad school, I still get the "So, are you ever going to get a Ph.D?" question, as if I need to invest tremendous time and money into earning additional accreditation for the writing (and occasional teaching) I already do. It's not my nature to provide snappy answers to silly questions, but I have found that "Yes, I will, if you'll pay for it" is sometimes an effective reply!

    I greatly enjoyed this and your two most recent posts. Keep 'em comin'.

  5. Jeff -- I will certainly use that line. And, strangely, I think, in some ways, people of our ilk, with academic master's degrees, sometimes wind up being more like the old-fashioned scholars(if we commit to our disciplines as lifelong studies)whereas the PhDs I know wind up being administrators, more than anything. I didn't stop studying literature when I got my degree. I'd hate to have my lifelong education disturbed by the pressures of professorship. Now, if I could only get a blasted novel published . . . Glad you enjoyed the last two --thanks. Now, in the interest of keeping them coming . . .