Career Calling

July 4, 2010

Sabbath, July 4, 2010

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders life and work beyond the job game.]

“The pursuit of happiness”

Over twenty years ago, I moved from Cleveland to Chicago.  My goal was to get a Ph.D. and teach at a university.  The degree part I achieved, but then life took a turn.  I found a job writing resumes and working as a career coach.  A few years later, I started my own business, which – happily, knock wood – is doing well (Last year was tough!).

As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans.”  July 4th is a good time to put aside the hot dogs and beer for a minute and think about happiness – and what we do to get it.  Having advised hundreds of people from all backgrounds, I believe the most important factor in making a change is action.  Yes, planning is important, as is motivation.  In the end many people don’t achieve what they want because they wait. . . tomorrow.

I’ve done it.  So have you.  That’s why we can take a great lesson from the men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.  We think about the American Revolution in an almost childish way.  We remember the success, not the risk and sacrifice.  The British were putting greater restrictions on the colonies, including a stronger military presence.  When Jefferson and his comrades published their noble words, they were committing treason.  Why did they take such drastic action?  They wanted change (where have we heard that lately?), and they were willing to risk their lives to get it.

Today, we complain about politicians and the way our country is run, but what action do we take to change what we don’t like?  We enjoy the game of who’s up and down politically, but we don’t want to do the harder work of learning about issues and following how the people we elect are voting.  In this, we have gotten the (dysfunctional) government we deserve.  Until more people are involved in our democracy, it will be run by those who care enough to act – the special interests.

As working people, we face a job market that offers fewer opportunities, lower starting wages, and less security.  Even so, I see many of my clients moving forward and getting good jobs.  What’s their secret?  Action.  They pursue a new job the same way a good salesperson looks for new business.  Once they’ve gotten that job, they seek new ways to move up with their current employer or ways to move out for a better opportunity.  They don’t wait for tomorrow or next week.  They are active and focused on what will make them happy as professionals.

On a personal level, happiness is a tricky subject.  What makes one person happy will bore someone else or even make them miserable.  We have different personalities and taste.  Some people think contemporary country music is art.  I think it’s a slight step up from American Idol. (I do love Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Alison Krauss – today’s country leaves me cold.). 

In our relationships, friendships seldom survive change.  The people you worked with and talked to every day become strangers once you change jobs.  When you move to a new city or state, most of your friends are left behind.  Some people (my friend Liha, for example) break this rule, and maintain friendships that go back to elementary school.  Again, this happens because they care enough to act.

When Jefferson (and his editors) connected “the pursuit of happiness” to life and liberty, they were doing something radical.  Earlier philosophers had named property as the measure of a good society.  Our Founders had the insight to look beyond what was owned (Maybe they had some guilt in that regard.).  Life is more than property.  At the same time, they were wise enough to understand that life itself is a process – we pursue happiness.  It is not something we get and keep like a house or a gold watch.  We change careers. . . we move to a new city. . . we divorce and remarry, all actions made in the attempt to be happy.  Sometimes we fail.  Sometimes we succeed and smile.  As Jon Hendricks sang in Wynton Marsalis’ great jazz opera Blood on the Fields: “Freedom is in the trying.”

Happy Sabbath – Happy Fourth of July

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