They can’t pay you enough money to do a job you hate.
I have a lot of lasting memories of my grandfather–homegrown tomatoes, “Heart and Soul” duets on the piano–but that’s the primary piece of wisdom I remember him passing along to me. And it’s a good one.
I was thinking about Grandpa’s advice when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work. In it Arthur Brooks talks about the tendency to get promoted past the place where you find joy and passion in your profession:
People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.
Brooks says many people respond to this happiness gap by drinking heavily. What he recommends instead is finding a way back to that bliss point. As my mother said recently, “Whenever I was feeling sad, I had a friend who told me to remember the last time I was happy and then return to what I was doing then.” I like it.
But it’s not easy. Maybe the last time you were happy was before the chronic illness struck, or during your marriage that has now ended. In the case of work, sometimes shifting things away from misery means lost income you’ve come to count on. More deeply, we’re conditioned to see success as a function of progress. Moving back is synonymous with failure.
This article was tugging at me for several days last week until I finally figured out why: both my husband and I have been in this situation in recent years. In his case, he revised his job description to better reflect his gifts and his value to his industry. In my case, I have been invited to apply for positions that would make sense on a certain assumed trajectory: You’ve been a pastor of a small church? How about a larger church? In one case, I got pretty far along in the process before realizing that the job, as wonderful as it was, was not mine to do. Of course, not every job is pure bliss–even the bliss zone has its headaches. But as I joked to a friend soon after taking myself out of the running, “That’s a good ulcer. It’s just not my ulcer.”
In my husband’s and my case, we didn’t make these moves because of some special cleverness on our part. It was the practice of Sabbath over the course of many years that showed us the way and helped us clarify what we love, what we value and what we want our lives to look like. That’s what makes it such an important practice. I’ve preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. And I said, “Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make those bricks anymore.”
It was two years ago this month that I started Couch to 5K, and tomorrow I run my first half marathon. Yeehaw! This week has been about catching up from all my out of town travel, tapering, and eating carbs. (Any excuse.) I’m sure I’ll check in afterwards and get all bloggy about it, but in the meantime… wish me luck!
As for link love, we have TONS of stuff this week. So I’ll just dump ’em here without too much comment. Enjoy:
A good primer, if for some reason you haven’t already gotten that from me…
How can we do this? There are a number of spiritual practices you might want to incorporate: daily devotions, weekly worship, eating right, exercise, acts of kindness, focused prayer.
There are also a number of Sabbath-day practices you might consider: going for a contemplative walk; having some friends over to play games; “unplugging” from your cell phone for a few hours; going for a drive on Sunday afternoon and showing up at somebody’s house at suppertime! OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea.
There’s no amount of counseling, kale, or yoga — even if these were available or affordable to everyone in the U.S. — that will alter the economic, political, and social forces that sustain poverty or war in the age of terrorism, or what we glibly call “work-family conflict.” We’re going to have to throw out the bath oil with the bath water if we’re going to tackle the social problems that actually create the stress we bemoan today.
Quite simply, our fear prevents us from recognizing and finding appropriate channels for the talents of our criminal population. As a result, we have institutionalized a simple formula for dealing with such individuals: capture, punish and isolate.
This formula has become a curse, resulting in an epidemic of incarceration across the United States.
So how, as a society, do we develop new instincts towards criminals and what strategies can be effectively employed to reduce the rate of incarceration and the rate of recidivism?
Many gangsters are natural born innovators with restricted economic opportunities. Nobody understands this better than Catherine (Cat) Rohr, who quit her job in private equity to become a champion for the incarcerated. As she told us, “Initially I had this attitude that people in prison were the scum of the earth, that they were a waste of tax dollars.” But in getting to know the prison population better, Cat’s position began to change. “I suddenly realized I was meeting entrepreneurs in prison. That these guys who had run drug businesses had all these entrepreneurial characteristics like scrappiness, charisma, and real skills in leadership and management.” With this realization, Cat began a life committed to honoring the talents and skills of those in prison.
As part of this journey, Cat launched a program called Defy Ventures, in New York, that provides a business incubator for ex-offenders who then have an opportunity to compete for $150,000 in seed capital for their businesses. At the core of Cat’s program is a powerful acknowledgement of the skills and talents that former drug dealers and gang leaders possess. From there it’s just a matter of pivoting these street skills into the world of formal entrepreneurship. For many ex-cons, who face discrimination from employers after getting out of prison, Cat’s program offers an MBA-like training matched with exposure to leading entrepreneurs, investors, and potential employers.
Living with less as it’s described in this article means deciding what kind of person/family you’re going to be, in some sense. If you have no camping equipment, especially if you had camping equipment and you give it away, you’ve made a decision: we are not going to be a family that camps.
Nothing particularly wise there, just something that came to me as I read the article. I guess you could borrow stuff. But I do think that these discussions about simplifying are harder when you have children. Giving kids opportunities to try things necessitates acquiring the equipment required for them to try it. And when they lose interest, how do you know whether it’s temporary or permanent?
I’m now having to do a lot more negotiating and advocating for myself when it comes to money, so I found this discussion interesting:
A little while back, I was contributing a piece to a publication that I was thrilled to be writing for: high prestige, high visibility, great roster of fellow contributors. I was honored to be asked. And when the editor mentioned my fee, I was initially eager to say yes. But something told me to hold back (for once—I am usually a very poor negotiator). I thought about who else was contributing, what demands they or their agents might have made, the fact that there’s probably always wiggle room … and I typed this into an e-mail: “I’ll do it for whatever you pay Sam Lipsyte.”
“We think that its best for Neighbors Abbey that you no longer be Presbyterian” were the words she said. But what I heard was: “Just 3 years in we’re backing out of our 7 year grant commitment, and now you have 6 months to double your annual fund raising from $25k to $50K.” It reminded me of the arrows I shot in scouting camp as a kid. Hers landing dead center. Mine… well I’d pulled the string but there was no chance it was gonna go where I’d aimed. Not any more. I didn’t even have to watch to find out.
Have a great weekend, everyone. Peace be with you.
Our girls (10 and 7) got iPad minis for Christmas. We agonized over the decision. On the one hand, we wondered whether they were too young to be responsible with Pandora’s box. On the other hand, now felt like the perfect time to start teaching them good habits, etiquette and practices. They’re young enough that they actually care what we have to say and are interested in learning how to be safe on the Internet. They want to know the rules and follow them. Plus the stakes are low. The only people who email or text them are family.
And the videos they make of one another are hilarious.
I still feel mildly panicked about their access to this technology. I ask them to be in the room with me, especially when they’re online.
But it’s been fun to share links with them. Pre-tween kids love stuff like this:
Guinea pig, dinosaur costume
So in the spirit of sharing fun/educational/amusing stuff with children, here’s a special edition of link love, kid-style:
Note: BE CAREFUL WITH BUZZFEED. There is kid-inappropriate stuff on the site. But there’s also more kid-appropriate stuff than you might think. Supervise and verify. This particular link is great: otters hold hands in the water. The guy who does the voice of Mickey Mouse married the gal who does the voice of Minnie. A group of ferrets is called a “business.”
Caroline is obsessed with this webcam since hearing a story on Radiolab. The drop of pitch is supposed to go any time now, and by “any time” it could be months or years, and in the meantime she has schoolwork and life and Flash doesn’t even work on her iPad but hey, this is quirky science we’re talking about!
This is an oldie (relatively speaking) but goodie in our house. Alex is a Norwegian guy who did a solo trek across Antarctica and buried food along the way for the return trip. The sheer joy expressed in this video, on day 86 when he is VERY hungry, never fails to give us the giggles.
Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.
This busy but blissful group comprises 8 to 12 percent of Americans, making it “a small and unusual minority within the general population,” writes University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson.
According to his analysis, the happiness level of this group is 12 to 25 percent higher than that of those of most Americans. What’s more, while the general population’s happiness level is going down, theirs is increasing…
So the question is, how does one cultivate this busyness + lack of hurry? Is it a person’s temperament? Or is it a matter of circumstance?
And what might Sabbath—an intentional time to stop, look, and listen—have to do with it?
Be a Little Kinder. I think that 90% of the spiritual life is being a kind person. No need to have any advanced degrees in theology or moral reasoning, and no need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s religious traditions, to get this: Be gentler and more compassionate towards other people.
I like the one about enjoying nature more. Reminds me of one of my father-in-law’s practices. When he comes home from work, he takes a moment between car and house to look up. Just to see what the sky looks like. I love that.
This one gets in my craw. It’s not the most pressing issue we face, but it is a justice issue and a spiritual issue:
Like many of you, I am on vacation this week. For most Americans, Christmas week represents about half of the time off we will enjoy all year long. Compared with Australians (at least 4 weeks off, plus 10 public holidays), Brazilians (22 days of paid leave with a 33 percent salary vacation bonus) and the French (at least 5 weeks off and as many as 9 for many public employees), we are seriously bereft.
But based on this article it would be interesting to do an audit of my time to see how much of my day is spent on Reactionary, Planning, Procedural, Insecurity, and Problem-solving tasks. Good tips here for how to bring things into a frutful balance for your situation.
The book itself is called Listening for Madeleine. From the BookForum article:
L’Engle’s faith was deeply untraditional. A mathematics professor who advised her on A Wrinkle in Time says the three beings who guide Meg on her interplanetary journey—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—were meant to be angels, but they could just as easily be mistaken for witches. And the novel’s dominant image of evil is an undefined blackness that casts its shadow across a wide band of the universe, including Earth. Camazotz, a planet controlled by the blackness, is not a hotbed of violence and depravity but a vision of perfect order. All the houses are identical, the children bounce their balls in perfect unison, and anyone who refuses to submit to the program is punished. “I am freedom from all responsibility,” the evil power croons to Meg. But she recognizes that this is a false consolation, a substitution of conformity for equality. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” she screams.
The fundamental lesson is that it’s OK—even desirable—to be a misfit.
Looking back, I’d say that A Wrinkle in Time formed my early theology as much as (or let’s be honest, more than) the Bible.
Incidentally, I’m putting this post together on Thursday, and Caroline is in the chair next to me with the new graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I gave it to her for Christmas and she’s already on her second reading of it.
I expect there is more of this going on in the animal kingdom than we want to admit:
In a simple experiment, researchers at the University of Chicago sought to find out whether a rat would release a fellow rat from an unpleasantly restrictive cage if it could. The answer was yes.
The free rat, occasionally hearing distress calls from its compatriot, learned to open the cage and did so with greater efficiency over time. It would release the other animal even if there wasn’t the payoff of a reunion with it. Astonishingly, if given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would usually save at least one treat for the captive — which is a lot to expect of a rat.
May your weekend be filled with a small hoard of chocolate chips… or whatever delights you.