Part of my journey has been to leave the certainties of different career paths – as an environmental consultant and as an academic – to look for more meaningful work. Through various serendipitous turns I stumbled into my current job as a Folk High School teacher. But for a while it was very uncertain where it was all going and this website partly grew out of my attempt establish a livelihood beyond the normal career trajectory. I wrote this note when it became clear to me that I could no longer continue in academia and was looking for a different path.

In a time when the notion of a career is available to a diminishing number of people, a growing challenge is to sustain a living by employing our skills creatively in a patchwork of occupations and connections. Categorising my experience and reaching out to people for work has come with many considerations about the ethics and usefulness of doing so – I am keen not to reproduce the same social relations that characterise the world I am walking away from. I want to create an impression of what I can do without having to ‘sell’ anything and, at the same time, I am asking you to support my work. I’m open for that support to take different forms depending on what is possible and what feels appropriate (perhaps it is as simple as helping me connect with other people and projects). And I will explore different ways of reciprocating in turn.

I’m changing my path in life simply because it feels necessary to live an authentic, fulfilling life in congruence with my personal calling and politics. I’m not doing this because it makes me feel more worthy or noble. In a time when people with my background are expected to pursue a career, to become ‘successful’, or earn a heap of money, I sometimes get misunderstood when I describe what I’m trying to do (see Bill Watterson’s excellent speech about this, illustrated by Gavin Aung Than). Giving up the idea of a career for something more indeterminate and nebulous has not been difficult although I expect that following this path might be. It’s not like I’m saying that I don’t want a ‘regular job’, it’s more like trying to open up new ways to discover what good work means. I’m expecting to have to make things up as I go along and it is my hope that I can support those who are open to this experiment by sharing my experience.

Trying to describe what I do succinctly has been hard but very helpful in clarifying what I’m hoping to do. I’m sure I’ve missed out some useful things and put in other stuff that is irrelevant to some of the small group of people who end up on this site and actually want to work or collaborate with me. This is why I have asked some of my friends, collaborators and interviewees to write a few sentences describing how they have experienced my work. This has helped me see more clearly what it is I do well.

I want to avoid the game that involves an employer and an employee and start working towards something different. Money is secondary but remuneration is important and I’ve got to earn enough to live. What ‘appropriate’ remuneration means and how I value my time are questions that will have to be worked out in dialogue. Quite how this all works is not entirely clear to me yet but it is territory I am actively exploring and I invite you into this exploration as well. When I asked one friend for a description of how I do what I do, he said about the tangle of ideas connected with ‘making a living’:

“The confusion and sheer complication of being bombarded from outside and within by these notions is like being caught in the middle of a pack at the unfavored end of the starting line in a sailboat race. We know we are not heading in the best direction. We know we need clear air to be able to function at our best.”

The point is that sometimes the best thing to do is to turn away, to leave the playing field rather than continuing to play a game that distracts our attention, drains our energy and deflates our spirit. The challenge is to walk away and find clarity. To find the places and the ways in which we can apply ourselves without getting sucked back into the game we want to leave behind.

It seems to me like we are entering a time where this is the sort of territory more and more of us will have to embark on out of necessity. If employment in the formal economy – and certainly high-paid jobs in the service sector – continues to be available to a smaller number of people in the face of social and economic crises in societies based on growth and unrestrained exploitation of nature... well, perhaps then this kind of exploration won’t be considered so flaky and subversive in the future. In ‘The End of the Career: A Long View’, Andrew Taggart observes that:

“What today has led to the end of the career can be felt at every point. Higher education is becoming exorbitantly expensive, overleveraged by loans, swimming in debt, potentially approaching a bubble. Moreover, rising unemployment among 20-somethings and newly-minted lawyers suggests that the social contract linking the accredited institution and the conferred degree to the resilient organization is coming undone. Meanwhile, organizations are “thinning out,” breaking up projects and transferring out work, and “hollowing out,” transforming themselves from a bureaucratic hierarchy into a horizontal network ...  it has become less and less clear what garden-variety success actually looks like and how it is to be achieved.”

What seems certain to me is that this can’t be done alone and requires a social network or community of people who can help each other find the balance and clarity needed not to get thrown by the challenge. Virtual reality can be helpful for this (one place to start is Walk Out Walk On) but only as long as it supports the endeavour in first life and doesn’t become another vacuum for our attention. Working out the meaning of work in a time where careers have become untenable is up to each of us. Although it is not a little daunting, it offers an opportunity to reflect on what might be our calling. And insofar as it brought me, and you, to these reflections, this online space has been helpful for something – with time it will become clearer whether it is also a useful tool for finding a way to employ my personal skills.


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