For the life of me, I don’t know why people have been talking up jobs. All the jobs I’ve had have pretty much sucked.
If you can believe it, I was a security guard for the Chicago Bears back when their summer training camp used to be held in my hometown. Next summer I was a bilingual verifications agent, someone who confirmed that, yes, Jane did want to switch to AOL’s long distance calling plan or, es verdad, Maria quiere cambiar su servicio de telefono (It’s true (or that’s right): Maria does want to change her telephone service).
I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch right around when it was thought to be the hip thing to do: to get paid $6 an hour to wear flip-flops and cargo shorts and to be a “brand rep” following the “style guide” to a T. I was a surprisingly mediocre server at a Marriott, almost dropping glasses of wine as I traversed the thick carpet from the bar back to the restaurant. Oh, and I was an temporary executive assistant at a place that built engine turbines: I entered data into spreadsheets, took calls and wrote post-it notes, and ordered more supplies. So impressed by me or rather because their permanent executive assistant ultimately quit, they asked me to stay on at the end of the summer and I was like no thanks.
After college, I could only find a job–a real blow to my ego–at a mobile home park where I mowed grass until (not my fault, I swear) the mower broke and I was relegated to weed whacking duty, which involved whacking weeds on blacktop and which, therefore, really sucked because when you whack weeds on blacktop, the threads wear down super-quickly and, in consequence, you need to stop this industrial beast, pull out more thread, and start it up again. And then repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
In grad school, I taught disaffected students and we pretended that they gave a shit about Kant or Hume; all semester long we half-winked at one another, knowing why we were there (hint: payment (me) and requirement for graduation (them)). After grad school, for a couple of semesters I taught business writing (again, if you can believe it) at a purportedly liberal arts college that was also purportedly Catholic. It got paid a pittance, and the place felt more like a crappy public high school, one with a super-long commute alllllll the way up to the Bronx by subway. (For those of you who care, that’s the very last stop on the 1 Train.) The name of the school? Manhattan College. Now that’s branding for ya!
Gigging and being enterprising were almost always more enjoyable partially or largely because they were free of pretense and bullshit. Over the years, I got paid (in no apparent order) to plant trees, to move library books from one library to another, to do grunt work around a house. I can’t even remember all the things I need. In each case, we met, I did the work to the best of my ability, they paid me, and that was that. Usually a handshake agreement bound us together. And in time, I became more enterprising and found that I was good at it: among many other things, I set up a successful tutoring business, I personally trained people, I taught people how to rock climb, and so on. I made up stuff that people were willing to pay me for. We came to an agreement. It was usually a pretty good thing.
OK, I suppose you’d say that I never made the transition from jobs to career (nor to the Promised Land of “meaningful work” or to that of “the calling”), and that’s certainly biographically true. I leaped, rather, from crappy jobs to being a solopreneur, that is, to being a practical philosopher who, with others, considers matters of ultimate concern. Yet that would be to miss the larger point: careerism, by my lights, is just a repackaging of jobism in that the former provides a fancier-sounding justification for the latter. It is the abdication of freedom by intellectual means.
Let’s get real. Regardless of how good certain jobs are, they still have something about them that really, inherently sucks. I don’t care if you’re an AI researcher doing cool shit at Google. Is your time your own? Can you come and go as you please? Do you not have obligations to fulfill and responsibilities to meet that you think aren’t patently silly? What about all those pointless meetings? Do you choose to be around these colleagues? How about that commute to the Bay Area, huh? What about where you live–is that up to you? Just tell me: are you a free person?
Jobs may not make us into slaves, but they don’t make us free.
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This, of course, is a literary piece. If you like, you can read more sophisticated anti-job and anti-careerist pieces at Quartz.
And on a personal note: my wife Alexandra and I will be a meditation retreat from Oct. 13-21. After that, I’ll be giving a talk on wisdom as well as taking part in a panel discussion of AI at Global Solutions Forum in Vail, Colorado. For these reasons, I won’t be blogging again until after October 25th. You can expect to receive 6 posts a week around that time.