Employment: What is it really for?
There is a growing sense of unrest in the employment arena. Many people are finding themselves displaced or trapped by traditional employment structures. Recently, on CNN, I listened to a piece about the hidden unemployed - those people that have been "right-sized" and have, for the most part, given up on finding a job. I doubt that these people can be labelled lazy or unintelligent in any way - they may perhaps be too experienced in the downside of corporate life to want to return to it...
The underlying ground for the idea of lifework is captured in the question, "How can I live a creative and fufilling life?" This is a different, but related, idea to the questions of how I can find a job (employment) or how I can build a career (a specific and long term focus in the workplace).
As with all learning that matters, the question of lifework places us squarely in front of our own end - the end of our life itself. It is a time frame, in the intense busy-ness of our lives, that we often forget about, until we reach "retirement" (which, by the way, is a silly notion that needs to be eliminated from our language) - if we have the good fortune to reach retirement. Many people today reach "retirement" only to find out they still, after working 30 years or so, still don't have enough money to live on. There is another time frame that we call a "legacy" - what will be remembered about our lives (we are remembered by what we gave to others, not by what we had for ourselves) and carried forward through the lives of others. This is an essential element of experience design and the ultimate in human networking and connectivity. It is the most fundamental "scope" and "sequence" of learning.
The hidden unemployed, those that are consciously choosing not to seek employment in the traditional sense, are the new pioneers - the new explorers. I would also suggest, based on my own personal dealings with a variety of people, that there are many who are gainfully employed, many of them such as teachers and professors have excellent job security, but relatively uneasy and in some cases unhappy with what they are doing in their lives. Having job security does not lead to happiness either. At the same time, the security of a stable income and a middle-class existence offers some relief from the challenges of everyday life. But does it really?
Of course, much of this revolves around our orientation to money. It is obvious to say that we all need money to survive - but at what cost? I presented an excellent insight from Pearl Pirie and linked it to one of my favorite quotations from Stepehen Biko that describes an orientation to possessions that is a fundamental goal for learning. Any educational institution, political system or corporation that does not place the idea of...
I own this cattle all right, but if someone is starting a house next door, it is custom for me to have empathy with him, it is part of my cultural heritage to set him up, so that my relationship with my property is not so highly individualistic that it seeks to destroy others. I use it to build others. [Stephen Biko]
...as one of the fundamental underpinnings of their mission does so at great risk to themselves, and to others. The words do not need to be the same, nor do we need to quote Biko directly, but the spirit this message is essential to any universal notion of learning.
So where will our hidden unemployed - the new adventurers - go? What will they do with their lives? More practically, how will they take control of their own income in order to simply maintain, and perhaps exceed, a comfortable lifestyle? Much of the activity around these questions is taking place in the murky waters of network marketing. While there are real opportunities in this area (I have been researching the field for three years now), there are many more that simply prey on people who are honestly trying to find something better in life. Unfortunately, much of our training and education focuses more on the narrow assumptions around employability - finding a job, getting a coloured parachute, learning to network, leveraging online job sites, recruiters, and perhaps building a career. A career, however, is something far greater than finding long-term employment in a particular field.
The source of design for "employability skills" is often external. By this I mean that the economic climate, trends in the workplace, the nature of the opportunities in the job market are frequently the assumption upon which a wide range of training and educational platforms are built. I can recall, and I am somewhat embarassed to say this, being part of a school that promoted itself as "preparing students for the 21st century." Most of us working there knew it was superficial dribble that sold well [this is a frequent problem when corporations and educational systems develop "partnerships"] and worked on helping students develop meaning and purpose in their lives. At its best, the corporate-education connection offers students, teachers and parents new experiences and opportunities that would have otherwise been lost. At its worst, the corporate-education connection institutes a kind of branding and becomes a kind of breeding ground for future employees.
We often talk about mobility in relation to technology - and it is of course true to say there is a new sense of mobility in the way we communicate. But there is a much deeper issue at play in the recesses of our society, and that is how to make the ways in which we can live more mobile. Our youth are questionning the validity of the education they receive in fundamental ways. The hidden unemployed are seeking a new sense of mobility outside of the current employment scenarios. They are seeking to design new experiences. These are important narratives - courageous stories that inform all of us about how we can learn to live differently. These are people that take the experience of suffering as an opportunity to grow and prosper. Money and income is a part of the story, but most of us already know that having a lot of money and material possessions has nothing to do with being wealthy in life.
People are demanding more not just from the work that they choose (or are required) to do but from life itself. This is not rampant selfishness or greed as far as I can tell, but it is a search for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is a search for identity and a quest to create a greater sense of unity between the work we do and the kind of life we wish to lead. It places us squarely in the face of the requirement to make money and earn an income in a way that helps us to build our life and the lives of others.