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Healthy career choices

Sound Consumer | September 2003

by Larry Gaffin

"Work should nourish the soul and the spirit, as food does the body. Yet, for too many, work is little more than a paycheck and far too stressful for balance."
— description of FoodWorks class taught by Larry Gaffin.

(September 2003)

"Must have pizza and/or sub-making experience at high volumes."

So reads a handwritten, help wanted sign posted in the window of a local pizza shop.

There are many directions a discussion on this job posting might take, especially in these times of high unemployment. One is about the high output, low-income nature of this "$8-10 an hour job — depending upon experience." This is not a living wage and offers no benefits.

The second point is that the employer listed what he considered the most important quality being sought — high-quality work at "high volumes," or in other terms, a brisk pace — a recipe for burnout and turnover.

Yet this ad is symptomatic of what many employers today typically seek — from entry- level to blue, pink and white-collar employees. It's not uncommon to see ads cleverly worded to the effect that the employer "seeks candidate willing to give their all" for the job and organization. At the same time, in the past few years, many employers have given no increases, cut salaries or raised the pay-in for health care benefits.

For those looking for a job, several reactions are possible. Depression and resignation is common: "Why bother seeking new and better employment in a job market offering such dismal prospects? I'd rather be employed in a job I dislike than unemployed. I can't muster the energy to conduct a job search."

Lowered expectations are also not uncommon: "Perhaps this is as good as it's going to get. I'll learn to live on what I make. I'll take whatever job I'm offered and learn to be thankful I've got a job to go to."

The result? The job becomes little more than a paycheck and too stressful for balance. There are antidotes to despair, however, through assessing your career goals:

  1. Having enough — "I've decided I don't need to keep earning more because I've chosen to live on less. Anyway, I want more time for family, friends, leisure, learning, political involvement and service to the community. In needing less, I reduce the need to have ever-higher wages in order to buy more and consume more. I'm getting off the workplace treadmill."
  2. Becoming a more effective job candidate — "I'll study about, practice and become better at utilizing the current and best strategies for seeking employment. I'll put extra effort into becoming not just a good applicant, but the best applicant for each of the jobs for which I apply."
  3. Evaluating assumptions and expectations — "In a very uncertain job market and world, I owe it to myself and my family to assess what I'm trying to accomplish in life. If I'm going to devote a substantial proportion of my life energy to work, at the very least, I'd like to do something that is personally satisfying and, ideally, contributes to the common good.

But what is that "something?"

The answer comes from reading, networking, workshops, career counseling, self-promotion, schooling and luck. During the process there are four aspects of yourself that need evaluation each time you change jobs or careers: identifying your motivation, clarifying the values you want to serve, prioritizing the characteristics of your ideal work environment, and assessing your personality and temperament.

Career professionals can help you conduct this assessment. "Healthy Career Choices for Ourselves and Our Planet" is a class that focuses on what I call sustainable careers decision making — a process of finding work that provides a meaningful livelihood for you and your family while at the same time helping to heal our communities and restore the environment. The class explores jobs with meaning and money, careers that are good for us and the environment, and futures that promote sustainable lifestyles.

The workshop, however, goes beyond traditional career assessment, which helps clients "discover their passions." It assists them in finding a way to contribute to the common good through their jobs. Every business sector contains a wealth of sustainable examples of what triple-bottom-line businesses are trying to be: a few examples are energy-efficient architecture, naturally dyed cotton, organically grown food, reduced and recyclable packaging.

Whether the economy is on the skids or robust, such evaluation and assessment can provide dividends for you, your family and the world.

Larry Gaffin is the director of the Center for Life Decisions, a career counseling and consulting practice in Seattle. The Center offers the widest range of holistic and values-based career services in the Northwest. He can be reached through his Web site at spiritualityofwork.com or at 206-325-9093. He also has a chapter in the new book "Take Back your Time."

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