I’ve explored the wisdom of navigating terra icognita by relying on one’s sense of what’s appealing or compelling at a given moment, and of skipping ahead mentally to one’s preferred life and working backwards until a path’s in sight. Perhaps it’s time to apply those models a little more closely to my own situation.
Recently I’ve begun applying the navigation-by-inclination approach to my current situation, surveying various activities that seem both appealing and capable of generating income. In this post, I’d like to start delving into my personal vision of an ideal work environment and see what that turns up in the way of options.
On the most general level, I know that I crave meaningful work that enables a modest, yet comfortable, lifestyle—in other words, the “mission” and “money” elements of my mantra, leaving aside for now the aspect of “home” (though I will say that paying work I can find not tied to a particular locale would seems to maximize my flexibility).
Speaking of flexibility, I know this is an important quality in whatever work I pursue, along with a great deal of discretion or latitude in setting my agenda and deadlines, plus ample amounts of quiet solitude. Being able to spend time outdoors and travel would be a bonus.
Given all this, as well as things mentioned in recent posts, it would seem my niche lies in nonprofit management, promotion, building, etc.—entrepreneurship with a cause. As I’ve said before, I feel absolutely driven toward work that truly makes a difference, that will leave the world a better place: reducing suffering, cultivating compassion, empowering people.
Yet I wonder how to go about finding this kind of work in a form (or forms) that enable me to cover my basic expenses. The world for which I was prepared and conditioned—one of full-time employment in stable, extended careers—seems long-gone now. This appears especially true for the sort of crusading, windmill-tilting work that calls me, work whose relative tenuousness and low pay isn’t all that new.
So once again, the core question of this blog looms: how do I, a middle-aged man with ancient teaching credentials and modest freelance writing experience, create a life of meaningful, enjoyable and creative work/play, sustaining and sustainable?
And a related question: Am I asking too much? I don’t want just any job; I want a job in which I deeply believe, one that’s making a real difference. Does that make me elitist or unrealistic, holding out as I am for a life where I make money doing things I love?
Over winter break, I had a great conversation with a friend that touched on the question of idealism versus money—whether these two things can be combined, or whether idealism is as much a hindrance as a motivator when it comes to living in the real world. Should I give up on making idealism pay, at least for now, and focus on finding a relatively innocuous steady income? It’s true that this contingency was on my mind when I chose Austin, home to both state government and a large university.
Were I to opt for non-idealism-based work now, it wouldn’t be the first time. From 2004 to 2006 I worked as the administrative assistant in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. I still maintained close ties to Alpine Valley School, and actually, it wasn’t a bad job: I worked with some truly great people and enjoyed access to some free classes and the university library, as well as a public-transit pass. I had adequate health insurance, and my commute to work took less than half an hour by bike or bus.
Yet after two years of asking myself how such an easy, good-paying job could be driving me batty, I realized that no level of innocuous, safe, decent working conditions can fully offset a job that denied me the deep sense of meaning, purpose, and freedom I’ve known with Sudbury schools. And so, when personal circumstances and the school’s financial situation made my return to daily staffing feasible, I jumped at the chance.
So is it once again time (or is the time nearing) for me to back off from a routine of rewarding work that doesn’t pay enough, to stop living off savings while hoping the money will show up before it’s too late? Is it time for me to make generating an income a higher priority and stop draining my savings? Are my fears of wasting time in soul-sucking work exaggerated?
More specifically, should I reduce my volunteer hours at school, drop one of my two choirs and/or not go to the Zen center as much, using the extra time to seek freelancing work and/or apply for government and university jobs? What if I could find a job like that university position, where there was enough down time that I was able to lay the initial foundation for CASE?
I wish the path ahead were clearer. I wish I knew now what to do next.