On Having the Courage to Not Qualify What You Do

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In so far as modern society ever promises us access to a community, it is one centred around the worship of professional success. Alain de Botton Religion for Atheists

What answer does the fledgling lifeshifter give to the question “what do you do?” Our answer is critical; it will determine whether we are warmly welcomed or conclusively abandoned by the peanuts at the party of life. If what matters is our business card, what do we say when we’ve gleefully set fire to them to write, to create, to care for our children or to simply be for a while?

I have answered the “what do you do?” question variously dependent on the competitiveness and conservative quotient of the gathering. More often than not it’s been met with a long, rambling response; I used to be [insert title on business card] then I was [insert more impressive job title] at [insert household name] and to ensure the questioner fully appreciates the dizzying heights of my success [insert word “promotion” or “executive”]. I’ve clearly been so successful that I can afford to now do something that is consistent with who I am, that is fulfilling and rewarding.

In other words I qualify what I am doing now with the comfort blanket of my previous professional status. I believe my current life does not count as currency to buy the goodwill of strangers.

Alain de Botton is correct when he says that “those that who have opted to spend their lives looking after children, writing poetry or nurturing orchards will be left in no doubt that they have run contrary to the dominant mores of the powerful and deserve to be marginalized accordingly”. My answer? Just spend less time with people who care about your job title and more time with people who will support you, champion your ideas and regenerate you.

Lynda Gratton concurs. In her book THE SHIFT she explores the impact the speed of change in the nature of work is having on our lives. On the one hand, the negatives Gratton presents are clear: technology driven fragmentation, isolation – a future where a new global underclass has emerged. But, on the other, a future might emerge which is more empathetic, more balanced, where billions collaborate to co-create solutions to the world’s problems and one in which “micro-entrepreneurs” thrive as they craft creative lives.

Micro-entrepreneurs have made their passion their work and in 2025 there will be hundreds of millions of them. These like-minded people, gather around an idea and it is they, not the large corporations that shape the direction of the market (and they will be twice as likely to be passionate about their work as those in corporations).

Gratton suggests the shifts in the nature of work presents an opportunity to write a “personal career script that can bring you fulfillment and meaning”. If we can harness our resources – intellectual, social and emotional – we will create a working life which “resonates with our values and is aligned to our beliefs”.

If we’re to create this life, and avoid living one of isolation, we’re going to need 3 groups; a small group of trusted people, who have some of the same expertise in common, who like and support you – what Gratton calls a posse; a group of people, very different from yourself, on the outer reaches of your network, which you’ll likely know only virtually – the big ideas crowd and finally the regenerative community are real people, with whom you meet frequently, have a laugh, share meals and stories, relax and be ourselves.

The physical place we live in is going to be critical to creating this regenerative community. When where we live is not dictated by where we work, we will have greater choice about where we choose to find our regenerative community. Aside from being exciting, having open space and creative stimulation, what will be critical about this community, is that it allows you to be yourself, to express yourself openly and to cultivate your individuality. Worshipping professional success funnily enough isn’t one of the features of such a community.

So, if you’re struggling to let go of the comfort blanket of the business card, I suggest the shift we need to make is to start hanging out with different people and going to different parties. I never liked peanuts anyway.
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