Philosophy is the domain of people with full stomachs and comfortable chairs. Questions of what to do and how best to live come easily when you’re not under threat, when the status quo is a perfectly reasonable way to continue. Ironically, in this way the act of questioning allows expression of the basic human need to conquer the world, without having to get up….when no one would fault you for continuing to sit.
But what of the times when the status quo is threatened and action is a necessary response, when the conclusions at which you arrived on an insulated evening might be put to some use?
Well, abstractions don’t help when when you’re heavily in debt and you lose your job, do they? Evening news anchors have the luxury of expounding on the larger forces aligned against you, and explain that you’re a victim, but those people all have jobs!
Times like these demand action, but make no mistake, you’ll be best served by taking action infused with some of the perspective in which you indulged on those comfortable, comforting flights of fancy: ‘What’s the best direction for me to go?’ ‘What do I not want my future to be?’ These are life-affirming questions, and now is the time for answers that are much more than academic.
Beside the point as it may seem now, there’s much more at stake here than finding a job that is viable. It may be a long time before you jump again, so why not try and land somewhere magnificent? That you were forced into action makes questioning and analysis no less necessary. Most people don’t act unless they have to, and if that’s you then recognize that this valley of despair might be one of the few times in your life that you may benefit from your own perspective/wisdom regarding yourself. You have worked so hard for ‘bosses’. You have been the means to the ends supplied to you by other people. Your life deserves some of that energy. That is the opportunity that confronts and invites you now.
It’s so hard to maintain perspective when you are pounding the pavement, virtual or otherwise. And yet, these are the watershed moments when you will set the stage for years to come. The game is tougher. The stakes are higher. The rewards are greater too.
I wouldn’t wish for anyone to have difficult circumstances like a layoff force choice and action upon them. But the product of choice and informed action is life enrichment one way or the other, big or small. Forced decision or not, what if you arbitrarily and heroically decided to begin again in a field that is both more viable economically for the long term, and that you enjoy more? If you were less than happy with your job anyway, then why not, with all weapons at your disposal, by whatever means necessary, decide to wage freedom instead of letting your professional life run you?
Opportunities for re-training are everywhere, and a hundred flavors of government assistance are more ready to help you than you may realize. If you think your local vo-tech is a place for the unambitious, think again! It’s a place for people who need a fast track, for whom a bachelor’s degree followed by the low rung of a corporate hierarchy is absolutely not an option. The same is true for community colleges. The first step is to go see a counselor at either–or both– of these places to assess your interests and aptitudes. Trade a couple of caffeinated afternoons of Starbucks distractions. Consider everything. Consider hi-tech skills in industries that are changing rapidly. There are a thousand well-paid skilled occupations in the health care industry. Curious about programming? Counselors will tell you about directions you haven’t considered, guaranteed. Don’t just look at the money, ask yourself if you’d make the philosopher in you proud!
Look, here’s a nugget, pay attention: Especially consider learning large software packages, in a field that interests you: CAD systems, graphic design software, video editing software, accounting software… The barriers to entry in many industries/occupations today consist of learning to operate software that is critical to their operations, software that didn’t exist in its present form, or at all, five years ago. If you are motivated you can become as proficient at operating this software as people who have been ‘in the industry’ for many years. To supplement any formal training that you take, obviously the net has alternate instruction of so many kinds: video tutorials, forum experts willing to answer questions, etc. There are clients/employers who will value proficiency and motivation over certificates and ‘qualifications’. Put yourself in a position to help one of them to solve her problems and sooner or later, someone will take a chance on you. From then on, you have real experience in something you enjoy that will transform your future.
I’m speaking from experience. In 1989 I had one drafting textbook, a padded resume and very little mechanical aptitude to help me break into the very lowest contract engineering position: drafter. But I had the great playing-field leveler: I was extremely motivated, because of the lifestyle these well-paid contracts would fund when I wasn’t working. The first couple of jobs were stressful, but I knew it would get easier as I learned how to deliver what the client needed, and it did. I also knew ‘my occupation’ would morph into more interesting and lucrative work, and it did. A few years and a few contracts later I had more professional experience, contacts and people skills than a lot of people who’d been working for the same company with the same people, doing the same things, for years and years. Along the way I learned two other new, enormous and confusing CAD software packages (that no one told me to learn!) and used other people’s resistance to change (i.e. my competition) to my advantage. I have many, many friends, in engineering and other industries as well, who have taken similar paths.
I remember a fellow contractor on a job I had, who’d come in a bit hungover and irritable some weekends and loudly trumpet the difference between CAD operators and designers (with degrees), and that the former world be forever inferior to the latter. I’d point out that while some people were spending several of the best years of their lives getting a degree, other people were misspending their youth reading philosophy at the beach. Friendly, though pointed, banter. Every day I came in to work disproved his contention, if success were to be measured by income or job description. I’d bootstrapped myself, and he knew it. I reminded him that I wasn’t taking vodka out of his martini, and that if I wasn’t producing for the client that I’d certainly be invited to leave.
Everyone’s path is different, and the purpose of this post isn’t to persuade anyone to go the way I did, and I hope it doesn’t sound self-serving. Rather it is to illustrate that the terms of the journey are not etched in stone, not non-negotiable. I’d never dissuade anyone from education of any kind, but I fell (or invited myself) into a situation that showed me that there are faster paths than the conventional ones, and I have no problem trumpeting that fact for people who might benefit from it.* People like you possibly, for whom the philosopher’s couch is no longer a viable choice, for whatever reason.
Let these convictions guide you:
There are many more options than you know.
You are always freer than you think.
The fact is, many people who are losing their jobs in this recession will be in a better situation on the other side of it. The extra effort you apply to improve your situation is rewarded in a different way than working well at a job you find unfulfilling. Make the new start you dreamed about when you had the luxury of philosophy.
*(Here’s another little secret: pick the right contracts/situations and if you produce, eventually there might be no difference to the client between 50 and 80 hours a week…..For you though, the extra 10-40 hrs a week might transform your goals from shopping like a king at the local mall on weekends to buying a home at the beach in a country where it’s comfortably warm year ’round…. but that’s a different blog post.)