Stepping stones, definitely!
Yesterday I invited you to think seriously about starting a Way of Life business. Today I want to backtrack, returning to the source of the problem, before returning to the question, “Leap of faith or stepping stones?”
- Work as Necessity. Of necessity, work takes up most of our lives.
- Meaningful Work as Final End. We long for work that is meaningful full stop.
Our Historical Bind
- Corporate Speedup. Since the recession, job growth in the private sphere has been sluggish. Furthermore, if the reporters at Mother Jones are right, then we are witnessing a period in the corporate world which could be termed the “great speedup.” Rather than hire and train more skilled workers, corporations have come to expect workers currently employed to increase their productivity 2-3 times. (Anecdotal evidence: I speak with people all the time about their sense of exhaustion. They tell me they “feel overwhelmed.”) The “great speedup” would explain the finding that corporate profits are up 22% since 2009 while employee salaries remain stagnant.
- Corporate Death. If Venkat is right, then in the coming years the corporation will no longer be at the heart of private enterprise. So, what will?
- University Suffocation. By even the most conservative of statistics, 2/3 of faculty members at any university are NOT tenured or tenure-track. Many are adjuncts making anywhere from $1500-5000/course. (And that $5000 upper bound is rare. The mean is probably more like $2500-3000.) Adjunct life is impoverished in all senses, demeaning in most.
- Institutional Failure. Our current institutions are failing insofar as they are not satisfying the spiritual needs without which we seem lost, empty, and exhausted.
- Job Retraining. Early on in his presidency, Obama has advocated education retraining programs and has called for improving students’ competency in math, reading, and writing. I’m skeptical about job retraining in light of globalization and the rapid pace of obsolescence. My doubts run deeper still: does being a lab technician satisfy our need for meaningful work?
- Jeffersonianism. In 1785, Jefferson made a plea for building a nation of independent workers. “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens,” he wrote. “They are the most vigorous, the most independant, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bonds. As long therefore as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans or anything else.” Given the principles we must grant and the bind we’re in, it follows that we’re all Jeffersonians by necessity.
- Start a Way of Life Business. Might this be an escape hatch?
- Build New Institutions. Escape hatch#2?
Leap of Faith or Stepping Stones?
Leading a meaningful life is of fundamental importance, therefore, yet there are too many risks associated with leaping blindly into a new way of life. My thinking about my life and future is informed by a “stepping stone model.” For the past 2 years, I’ve been slowly “decoupling” myself from “toxic” persons, projects, and institutions that had supported me in order to try out new business practices, new approaches to life, and new institutions that promise to satisfy my higher ends. It seems to be working.
Why not follow me? Isn’t it time?