Grow Up (Or Don’t?)

In the past month I’ve had conversations with friends who are professors, pastors, and physicians, and who all feel crushed by the state of their work. My Godin-fueled optimism for the opportunities our era affords us to do our work in new ways hits a real barrier in these conversations, because people are up against serious and systemic constraints that can’t be overcome with an attitude adjustment.

The tension in all of their situations is between the desire to make change and the responsibility to endure difficulty for the sake of stability and providing for one’s family. My pastor friend calls it “Being a grownup.” She has tattoos that her congregants don’t know about, and she separates most of her interests and tastes from her pastoral work. She’s miserable, but, she says, this is part of being a grownup. Is she right?

Or take my professor friends. As tenure track positions fade into the professional sunset and colleges and universities employ more and more adjunct faculty as cheap labor, they’re scrambling all over the place trying to make a living by piecing together various temporary, adjunct appointments. There’s got to be a way to break out of that cycle and to do your work in a way that adds value to people, value they will pay you for, but I can’t imagine what that is. So my friends act as grown ups. They’re killing themselves to follow these new rules.

How much of doing meaningful work today amounts to working within the conditions set by your profession, or how much of it, in the “connection economy,” amounts to establishing your own conditions to make your work work for you?