Tag Archive | job

What Do I Really Do?

Sears Tower

In the 1980s Northwest Industries took up the 62nd and 63rd floors of the Sears Tower – about halfway to the top.

Last week I heard from some voices in my past thanks to social media. A couple colleagues from the late 1970s-early 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago emailed me through LinkedIn, the professional networking site. Then I heard from a coworker at TDS in Madison where I worked in the mid-1990s, and then a couple clients from my Cambridge-based consulting practice from the early 2000s.

What prompted all these emails is my “Experience Timeline” on the LinkedIn social networking site.  September of 2012 is when I got serious about completing and publishing my two books, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life and Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality. I added an entry on my timeline for September 2012 of being a “Self-Employed Author.” This week LinkedIn announced my 2-year anniversary of being Self-Employed, which prompted the emails from some of my connections.

I haven’t seen Jerry and Jan in almost 30 years. Jerry was Assistant Treasurer at Northwest Industries. Jerry and I never worked closely together and we were never close friends, but there was mutual respect. Jerry must be pushing 80 by now, and he still does some financial consulting. Jan was a Disaster Recovery Consultant in the Information Technology Department. Jan and I traveled together a lot to work with a battery company in Pennsylvania that Northwest Industries owned. When Northwest Industries was acquired and most of the corporate staff lost their jobs, Jerry, Jan, and I, along with several other colleagues each formed our own consulting practices. It was an exciting time in our professional lives.

During that time, Jan and I collaborated on writing a book, The Virus Handbook. In the mid-1980s, computer viruses were just beginning to be recognized as a potentially serious problem. As a Disaster Recovery Consultant, Jan wanted to publish a manual of guidelines to minimize the risk of being infected by a computer virus, but he didn’t want to write it. We spent many hours together with Jan teaching me everything he knew about computer viruses. I tried to structure that information into a useful format and we copyrighted it. I wonder if the copy we sent to the Library of Congress is still sitting on their shelves… We sold a few copies, but the best part of our collaboration was the time we spent working together. We were a great encouragement to each other as we built our own businesses.

cat chemist heliumThose emails prompted me to reflect on the strange path my career has taken over the years – English teacher, editorial researcher for World Book Encyclopedia, systems analyst and eventually systems manager for a large corporation, independent business consultant, B&B owner, church organist, real estate broker, caregiver, and author. I guess that’s a rather strange progression of jobs. Not a typical career path. It’s no wonder I left high school thinking I would become a chemist. I had no idea what I would become. The closest I ever came to chemistry in my career was a consulting assignment I did for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. I’m sure when I was in high school there’s no way I could conceive of the twists and turns my career would take.

An old concept that I’ve been thinking about seriously for the first time this year is the idea that my life, day by day, should be viewed as a pilgrimage back to God. This idea comes up frequently in the prayers I’m reading in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. Here’s an excerpt from one of the morning prayers for summer:

Prayers for a Planetary PilgrimWhatever this summer day holds for me,
may I find, among its many events,
signs to confirm and direct me
in my primary vocation of pilgrimhood.
May I be eager to assist my sister and brother pilgrims in their journeys.
May I do nothing by word or deed
that will detour them on their homeward path to you.
May I burn with the fire of the sun in loving all the Earth
and all members of your sacred family.
I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother,
Eternal Source of my existence.
Your heart is my home,
from you I have come
and to you I journey this day.

I’m still not sure what the right answer is for the blank for “Occupation” I need to fill out on my tax returns. I’m afraid “pilgrim” might be a red flag. But I guess that’s what my real vocation is. All the other occupations I’ve had along my path just add flavor and spice to my true calling.

Pilgrim Cat

Here’s my 2-cents worth on working

I guess I was a little older than this when I started working, but not much. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t work.

The earliest job I can remember having was before I started school. My Mom hired me to do two jobs – clean the bathroom and dust all the furniture in the house. Each job paid 2 cents, and each job usually took me about half an hour. (I wasn’t fast, but I was pretty thorough.) I was expected to do both jobs every Saturday morning, and I was given 4 cents for my labors.

I received a big promotion and a slight raise when I turned 5 and started kindergarten. Instead of being paid each time I cleaned the bathroom and dusted, I received a weekly allowance of a nickel. In exchange for that allowance, I was expected to clean the bathroom, dust, and do whatever other jobs my Mom occasionally asked me to do, like scour the kitchen sink, or carry the trash out to the burning pile.

A couple years later I got another promotion and a really big salary bump. My weekly allowance grew to a dollar, but I was strongly encouraged to give 10 cents to Sunday School, put 75 cents into my plastic bank to save for college, and use the remaining 15 cents for spending money. With this promotion, I was also given more responsibility. I had to do dishes every day (shared responsibility with my brother), and help with more house cleaning.

Growing up on a farm, I also was expected to do lots of other jobs, especially in the summer. My favorite job was baling hay. It was always a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I sat perched on top of the red “H” tractor, and slowly drove the tractor around the field, pulling the baler and a wagon behind. My dad stood on the wagon, pulling the bales out of the baler and stacking them on the wagon. My instructions were to steer the tractor so that the baler would pick up all the hay, and to drive smoothly enough that I didn’t throw my Dad off the wagon. (Unfortunately, that happened a few times when I stopped too abruptly or turned a corner without slowing down enough.) Other than the noisiness of the tractor and baler, and the hay dust in the air, it was a beautiful place to spend a summer afternoon.

Obviously, that’s not me on the tractor – but that’s the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had.

By the time I graduated from high school, I knew how to work. Some of it I enjoyed. Some I didn’t. In college I had a variety of jobs, from doing dishes in the dining hall, to doing clerical work in an office, to being a church organist. But my real reason for being in college was to figure out what kind of work I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and to get prepared to begin my career.

Reflecting back over the past 40+ years, I realize now that the basic premise that I would have one career in my lifetime was wrong. After college I was a high school English teacher for a couple years, then an editorial researcher for a couple more years, and then I got into business – earning an MBA and working for a large corporation in downtown Chicago. As I moved through these post-college jobs, working became mostly a means of paying my bills rather than actually doing something meaningful with my life. That was a frightening observation! If that was true, was there really any purpose to my life? The only areas of my life where I felt I was doing something that could possibly make the world a better place was in my volunteer activities – serving on the boards of a couple not-for-profit organizations.

It really wasn’t until I became self-employed – first as a business consultant, then as a B&B owner, assisted living provider, church musician, writer, and retreat coordinator – that my life calling seemed truly related to the work I did for a living.

Sr. Joan Chittister talked about finding purpose in your life work in her book, Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy, with these words:

We need to ask ourselves again why we were born. What is it that we have that the world needs and is waiting for us to provide? That is the star we must follow to its end. Then we will not only hear the silent applause of all those who benefitted from our having lived but we will find the whole of ourselves now wholly developed, waiting for us, as well.

For some people, and for some parts of their lives, the work they do for a living is the fulfillment of their purpose in life. For these people, you might hear comments like, “he’s a born teacher” or “it’s obvious she was meant to be a pastor.”

For others, the labor they do for a living is just that, earning money to pay the bills. Doing the jobs that need to be done.  These people still have a purpose in life that God has called them to. They just don’t receive a paycheck for fulfilling their life purpose.

So, what’s my 2-cents worth on working this Labor Day weekend? Not all jobs reflect our life purpose. Some do. Some don’t. But we were all born with a life purpose. Discovering how to fulfill that purpose is the most important job of our life. Frederick Buechner gave us a clue about how to discover our purpose in his book Wishful Thinking. He said, The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.