Career with ValueOver the last 50-100 years, jobs have changed a great deal. “Careers” have replaced jobs. We have traded manual work for desks. No longer do we make things, rather we make spreadsheets, sit in meetings, or make phone calls. Change is inevitable and these shifts come with both positives and negatives. Matthew Crawford wrote a great book on this topic, “Shop Class as Soulcraft”. You should be sure to pick up the book. It details Crawford’s move from high paid desk job to motorcycle mechanic.

Overall Having done both manual and desk jobs I wanted to give a few of my thoughts on career and the value and actualization that does or doesn’t accompany it. I will also give a few comments on the book, and maybe a few ideas.

At some point in adulthood you realize that most people you know really don’t love their job. There are varying degrees of hate, numbness, indifference, tolerance, and even some that don’t mind it. But you will usually be hard-pressed to really really love what you do each day. Much of that comes from the normal progression of grade school to high school to college to corporate job. In my experience, when I find these people that truly love what they do they fall into one of these categories:

– Started / own their own business
– Work in a field that directly helps other people succeed or recover
– They are the type of person that would probably love whatever career they are in
– Work with their hands / create things

There is some psychological aspect to not loving your job. I don’t remember all the details, but if I turn the clock way back, I can actually remember a principle we learned in a psychology class I took that basically showed if you are compensated to do something you will inevitably start to like it less. I remember one of the specific tests that were done for this was paying people to play video games. It showed those people truly started to dislike video games, even those that “loved” video games. Are any of our readers former Psych majors? Comment below if you can elaborate!

In the corporate world you are often far from the product the company actually sells. Beyond that, if you work in a financial industry (and therefore basically something that is intangible) sometimes the product is information or something else harder to see. Working in the finance department, legal department, IT or other support functions you could go months without dealing directly with customers or with the product at all (other than what you read in contracts or see in your spreadsheet). When you are this far from the product and the customer it is hard to see the real impact that your product has. It is tough to feel like you were a part of making that happen.

Adding to the distance from the product, in the corporate setting, it is difficult to measure how well you are truly doing (aside from sales where there is at least a $ measurement). It is hard to tell how well a financial analyst or marketing guy is doing. Performance reviews at corporations are awkward, influenced by opinion and social convention, and often contain a lot of opinion and bias. When you don’t feel like you know the “score” or how well you are doing, it can be tough to really know your value.

The corporate world is not without other benefits that undoubtedly have positive impact on your life: more stable/secure, known benefits and pay, comfortable work environment, paid vacations, retirement packages, regular work hours / schedule. Many companies also have numerous other perks.

Flipping to a world of more manual and creative tasks, you find much of what I have stated about corporate job is inverted. The builder / laborer / writer / artist / creator / and so on put their time directly into the product. It might go as far for some of the aforementioned to do the design, creation, and selling of the good or service they provide. In these careers you are so incredibly close to the product that it becomes an extension of yourself. You also usually know where you stand. If you are hand-making furniture, you will be able to see what the end result looks like. You can see defects, you can feel how sturdy it is, you can notice symmetry and design. You actually see tools and your labor turn wood into a piece of furniture. This is real time feedback and satisfaction (even if you don’t sell the furniture, the sense of accomplishment is there)!

There are drawbacks to a more artisan lifestyle. Often in these niches you are competing against a large pool of people, you often represent yourself and will need to market & sell your good or service on your own. The pay can be sporadic, as can the hours…and you will likely have to take care of medical insurance and retirement planning on your own.. If you work for yourself it is difficult to create an actual paid vacation. Lastly, your work environment could leave you injured, you may rely on keeping in shape and staying healthy to be able to do your job, and you could have repetitive stress on your body.

At the end of the day, you have to try to understand what works for you. if you are painfully risk averse, the peace of mind from a stable company might be a good fit. If you feel unrewarded and need a change, think about something that stirs passion in you, and explore! I really think it is worthwhile to experiment with whatever you think might give you more of a sense of accomplishment and may be more rewarding. Even if it doesn’t become your career, it might be enough to keep you grounded in your day job.

What do you think? Do you want to pursue something different? What is your passion? Leave comments and let’s have a discussion.

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