What is your profession?

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Blue skies in September are magnificent. Image via flickr.com

Ahh, September! The month that signals the end of summer, the start of the academic year, new projects, cooling breezes, blue skies and more grounded energies. I’ve always loved September.

This year is the first in the past few that I’ve not returned to classes since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree last December. Instead, I find myself with the intention of meeting my new, perfect, long-term professional work in the very near future. Sounds good, let’s get right on it!

Except that there’s a bit of a problem. I am one of those humans who has a very difficult time claiming to be an expert at any one particular thing. In fact, I’ve had several careers in my adult life that are seemingly unrelated. I’ve also done all sorts of paid work for money that could hardly be called a career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’ve done what I needed to so I could keep my life and my family’s needs met and going as well as possible. There’s getting by, and then there’s that all-powerful, shiny, castle-on-the-hill word: Success.

Dear Readers, we all know that Success is a slippery slope by its very nature. It’s a word loaded with connotations in many directions, depending on who you are and your point of view. There’s worldly success, which is synonymous with money, fame, recognition, accomplishment at a career and all the trappings of such. We look to famous people we admire and believe they have achieved that shiny goal of worldly success. Then we might look at our own, much more humble lives, and wonder why we haven’t been able to achieve similar status. This is a familiar human pattern to many, and a painful one.

Throughout the years of my working life, I have come to know that my success at work is measured by a few key factors. They include: how happy am I when I’m at work? To what degree is the work itself interesting and worthy of keeping my focus and attention? Who are the people I’m working with, my colleagues, and how much do I enjoy being around them each day? Do I feel that the work I do there is making a positive difference to others and to the world? And, do I feel that my work and who I am as a person is valued and appreciated by the people I work with and for? These are important questions for all of us to ponder when considering a change in our worklife, or when doing the work of applying for new positions.

When I was preparing to finish my individualized degree program last year, I took a course to help promote my degree. The instructors emphasized the importance of memorizing our elevator pitch, the 30 second soundbyte version of what our degree is about. They even made us practice our elevator pitch in front of the class, which most of us managed well. In today’s internet-data driven world, even 30 seconds can feel like a long time. Technology seems to be relentlessly driving humans to do everything faster, including reading (mostly scanning), making decisions and yes, finding that ‘perfect, dream job’ that matches your skills, talents and deliverables with the needs and demands (often unreasonable) of the employer. As I search through job postings on sites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, it’s nearly unfathomable to me to read the sheer amount of skills, talents and experience many employers expect the candidates to possess. One could even argue that some employers are looking for superhuman (AI?) candidates who can perform super feats of amazingness on a daily and hourly basis, all the while keeping a smile on their faces, a can-do attitude and retaining grace under pressure all day, every day.

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Online job searching can feel like you need complex positioning in order to apply. image via https://positek.net

There’s a whole new language for these job descriptions, compared to even a decade ago. Deliverables, flexible, nimble (like Jack of nursery tale fame), passionate, innovative, strategic –we are at a point now where humans are expected to create a brand for themselves, the same as a business or corporation does. My personal brand? This might not strike some of you reading as strange if you are a Millennial or Gen Z person. But to someone like me, who remembers a world where people were simply people, and our name and a simple resume of who we are and the experience we bring was enough basis for a decision to interview, the new personal branding strategies smack of artificiality and egoism. (Think Michael Jackson and David Bowie, who basically pioneered the personal brand phenomenon a few decades back.) Here’s an example of a portion of one job description I read this week:

Creates strategies around vetting, developing and implementing identified priorities,
Ensures successful implementation of all initiatives through the development of action items, performance measures, timelines and evaluation processes,
Provides financial oversight of initiatives to ensure they stay within budgetary constraints,
Oversees the implementation, necessary revisions, and data analysis of the Client Input Survey,
Supports the necessary implementation and advocacy required for the success of the program

What makes you unique? What do you have to offer that no one else has? These are the kind of questions career coaches love to ask. In a world of nearly 7.8 billion humans, it is clearly becoming a little difficult to stand out as unique. Yes, we are all snowflakes, but at the same time, it’s not easy to see the individual beauty of one when standing in a field of billions. And when AI robotics are culling through thousands of resumes, looking for matches with certain words to determine if that human will make it to the next phase of the recruiting process, well it just takes all the fun out of the whole shebang!

One site I looked on today asked me straight up: What is your profession? Now that is a loaded question for a person like me. For someone who has had a straight path in their career, and has one solid title for what they do (think attorney, professor, executive director, musician, etc.) this is a no-brainer. But for those of us who have explored many different paths during their work lives, answering that question can bring anxiety. Indeed, what is my profession at this point in life?

I’d like to answer that for both myself and all of you still reading this post. It may take longer than 5 seconds, so be prepared for more than a soundbyte answer. Here goes:

My profession is in supporting humanity to awaken to their potential as more evolved, self-aware and compassionate beings than they currently are. There is greatness inside each human, but most are asleep to their vast potential as creators of their own lives and caretakers of Earth who is their source of life. My work is to offer ideas, suggestions, inspiration and information, in order to assist any and all humans who wish to awaken to the truth of who they are, and change their ways of living to be in harmony with that truth. This work involves a high degree of idealism, faith in human potential, and extreme courage. It requires a kind of strength of character and tolerance for human folly that takes a lifetime to cultivate. It is arduous, tedious, and even excruciating at moments. But the rewards, when actualized, are greater than most can currently imagine. This profession is one that many humans have taken up during this lifetime, once they awakened to the great need that humanity is facing.

Dear Readers, this is my profession. It’s not one I can tick in a list of boxes, nor quickly explain in an online application to be read by a computer bot. This is why it is so difficult for me to “find a job” or “create my dream career” as the coaches like to suggest. They simply don’t know what to do with people like me.

Once again, I’m reminded of the lyrics to one of my favorite songs. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us and the world will live as one.”

Help Wanted: Writer

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I have the audacity to call myself a writer. With my confidence boosted by my recent graduation from university summa cum laude, and a freshly minted minor in professional writing and a new sense of the possible, I’m ready to begin the job search. Oh boy.

So I do what any respectable college grad would do, I go online. One hour on LinkedIn leads to several rabbit holes and job boards. Before I know it, I’m on Indeed, signing up for job alerts to be conveniently delivered to my inbox. The alert—Writer.

The next day, I receive email alerts from my new friends at Indeed. The subject line: “770 jobs for writers” naturally catches my attention. I click the bait and start scrolling. As anyone who has an English degree and desire for paid work knows, there are nearly as many descriptions of writer as stars in the heavens. I read job postings for the following positions (this is the sound-byte version):

Technical writer—underwriter for insurance company—grant writer—proposal writer—software writer/engineer—advertising copy writer—marketing department web content writer—visual storyteller for another website’s marketing department—and that was in the first ninety seconds of scrolling. Lesson learned, I realize that being a writer means a lot of things to a lot of people. Sometimes it’s tough to remember I’m living in the era of hyper-technology, where bots are the first line of defense for actual, live humans that I have faith exist, somewhere.

Being a person who thinks of writing as an avocation, career, passion and creative undertaking, it’s a bit of a disappointment to see how misconstrued and misrepresented the term has come to be in our post-post modern world. We are at the point where pretty much anyone who knows how to type (on a device of any size) can call themselves a writer and get away with it. And while they may be technically correct (no doubt some dictionary definition of writer states “a person who writes words down somewhere”), to my mind, the term writer has much deeper connotations. It’s like a person who can bang out a simple tune on a guitar calling himself a musician. Or someone who opens a can of chili beans and microwaves them with a tortilla and a slice of cheese calling herself a cook. The nuance seems to be lost.

Back to the job search. Clearly, asking the Indeed bot to search for a word as generic as writer isn’t the most effective way to look for one’s dream job. I need a better strategy. So I dive into websites that showcase people doing interesting things with their lives, in fields that sound promising. After a couple of hours, I produce a list. It looks like this:

Categories of Interest

Social innovation, social entrepreneurship, human-centered design

Mentoring, coaching, facilitation, teaching

Leadership

Advocacy

Collaboration

Design Thinking

Governance

Impact Investing

Measurement & Evaluation

Organizational Development

Philanthropy & Funding

Scaling

Technology

These words appeared from searches stemming from the term global movement of change makers. That’s in my wheelhouse: global change, systems change, creating the new world that so many of us long for, and working towards making the dream of a sustainable, compassionate world into our global reality. The tricky part is, there’s no drop down menu of options that includes those words, sadly enough. The bots are artificially intelligent and can’t possibly understand a person like me who doesn’t fit into neat categories or even sectors. People like me have it harder than those graduates who have an easy answer to the question “what’s your degree in?” They can smile and say, “Bachelor of science in Computer Information Systems” or “Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice” and just about everyone immediately gets it. Business Administration majors are numerous, and so are jobs for them right out of school.

That’s not the case for us English majors and minors, however. People seem both intrigued and confused, or worse, slightly arrogant, once you confide that you hope to get a paid job as a writer. Their lips curl ever so slightly, their eyes glassy, and they’ll suddenly need to be somewhere else five minutes ago. What is it about the English language that so intimidates people? A lot of things, as it turns out. Take the average university English department, for example. Within that one department lurk scholars of many English stripes—literature, linguistics, composition and technical writing, creative writing, film and screenwriting, poetry, children’s literature and even graphic novel experts. Within those categories one can find even narrower fields of scholarship, like experts in medieval English manuscripts, 17th century Romantic poetry, or 20th century film noir genres. Specialization is the key to success in higher education. Where does that leave us multipotentialites?

In a world full of marketers, advertisers, techies, financial managers and engineers, it can feel like those of us who are passionate about using words creatively, with heart and soul, for the purpose of inspiring people to think about the world and what we are doing to it, are traveling a singularly lonely road. However, creative writers are a tenacious bunch. When you’ve got something that you feel is important to say, you can’t give up. You can’t let technology bots and content manipulators get you down. You just keep listening, and writing stuff down. The bus patron’s casual conversation with the bus driver on the commute home might just become your next blog post.