We Always Have a Career: Identifying, Celebrating, Valuing Life Work

Curious about the processes of a friend’s work and how she experiences sales, I asked “what areIMG_9314 the moments that make you go ‘yeesss!'”, as I was interested in her passions and individualised goals. As we carried on about work we discussed differences and found common ground. I don’t work in the formalised structure of a company, I don’t work in a building with a big logo displayed on the top, but every day we work, I go to the corner of the wooden table in my apartment with my coffee and work. I obsess over topics surrounding equality, inclusion, and shenanigans as I write, read, research, test ideas, develop skills, and at times painfully figure out how to quantifiably communicate it all to others (all a very slow moving process).

My recent “yes moment” was an email I received inviting me to interview for a PhD position. Writing a PhD proposal can take a minimum of two weeks of full work (with months and years of thinking hours) to develop (all unpaid). And in a mainstream discourse around ‘work’ and ‘jobs’, I am met with comments such as:

“Isn’t an interview and that stuff what you do before the work, to get work, to get the job?”

 

What is Work?

Most openly Western feminist/gender movements have challenged concepts of ‘work’ and ‘a job’ alongside the hardening of neoliberal valuing: advocating for e.g. the 24-hour work day of child care to be recognised as the most (under)valued work of society. Or within my pocket of knowledge, exploring concepts of gendered identities and structures and their relationship with work within the lives of migrating men. Thus, questioning the concept of employment, the display of it and how it relates to the legitimisation of manhood (and personhood). Most personal influenced by, in one perspective, my mother’s triumph of multiple jobs while singly raising 3 children, pursuing the highest of educations while driven by a continuous attempt at proving worth, I move through the relationship of ‘identity, work, and worth’ with compassion in how we individually experience these elements. As I continue my childhood briefing, and these socially constructed consciousnesses of work, it is no easy task to expand, sift through, and redefine a more inclusive concept for myself within this valuing system that is monetary-happy and based on the solidification of a sellable object.

 

Moving from a Job to a Career

A Path

A Path

When do we move from ‘work and a job’ to speaking about our ‘work and career (path)’ and why would we want to? By exploring ‘self worth, identity, and work’ in terms of career, we open up the conversation to include (with reference to the definition of career) what we are learning, dedicating our time to, and our life journey in it. And in acknowledging this, then everyone has a career, it is no matter whether it is 24-hour childcare as a mother or the philosopher (who may or may not contribute directly to a field), or the fluidity of what an artist can create in one lifetime. Profoundly, this tiny matter of syntax would then be all-encompassing of the microscopic steps (and whatever form those “yes moments” come in) that it takes to achieve e.g. that one email that floats into the inbox accepting the first abstract, or finally an invite to interview for a competitive research position.

Maybe it would be even more depressing to view life on this spectrum of career, especially early on. The last 10 years I have been involved in the concept of inclusion, dedicating thus far my work to projects and theoretical exploration of it. But, in hindsight, I am only able to name this now, and I recognise the difficulty in addressing a career.

(side note:  “career woman” is a ridiculous word as it implies that it is one path a woman can take (the other being…)… can we still have it all? On another side there is no “career man”… does this mean men have no choice?).

Its not that addressing someone’s career rather than ‘job’ or ‘work’ will shift the (under)valuing that has been constructed and shifted over decades (creating a hierarchy of worth) on work, jobs, or contributions, but it is rather an attempt to advocate for questioning our own understandings of what work is, what a job is, what a career is, and how we assign value of it in relation to ourselves,

IMG_9966 or essentially human life. It is not to encourage dismissing or ignoring of others (possibly devaluing) comments or disapproval of careers, but instead an embracing of all the forms to which a career (no matter employment status or location) may come in. It is to be curious about how and why we passionately dedicate the minutes of our life to a career and its subjects and to celebrate the “yes moments” whenever they come…. while appreciating the forms in which they come in for others.

 

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