When discussing the concept of career, I’ve always favored nuance versus strict definition. People love to have a brief “elevator talk” description of what they do and who they are, by extension. The precipitous rush to self-definition results in disaster when you lose your job or lose your faith in what you do. The subsequent headlong crash isn’t pretty.
My father always advised me to have a plan B. Plan B was small side jobs and businesses that he ran. In good times they provided extra income. In bad, they kept the bills from piling up.
When I was in coastal Maine, most of the folks I knew did the same. One made custom fly fishing rods; others worked doing carpentry for summer folk.
This is where the definition of a career begins to get fuzzy. Is it just a side job or a career? In my experience, plan B’s often morph from side jobs to full-blown careers. For example, about two years before the end of my last government job, I began working as a professional woodcarver. The day after I ceased operating as an anthropologist, I was in a boatyard measuring a boat for a quarterboard. Plan B had become plan A. I missed my old life, but my new business was making moderate profits, and I was happy to be in boatyards and clambering over boats again.
I found a part-time job at UPS that had full benefits and covered my family’s healthcare. I was covered. I then began working on another Plan B – picking up jobs as a videographer. I now work primarily as a videographer, and carving is back to being a plan B.
Hidden in the two business launches are avocations and hobbies. Both new career paths started as hobbies and developed from there. As a parent, I was always encouraging my children to establish broad interests. In my experience, those avocations were important when careers stuttered to a stop.
It’s revealing to push beyond the elevator talk to what other things a person has a passion for—the pursuit of poetry, gardening, woodwork, photography, or amateur archeology.
Those other interests seem to suggest an involved, passionate, and complex individual. They may also offer plan B’s in the making.
We don’t get there by nodding our heads. We get there by seeking things that interest us, that we want to explore. Even if they never develop as alternate careers, they offer us refuge when our jobs or relationships don’t provide what we need.
Diversity and growth keep us agile. Or in the words of my favorite Bob Dylan quote: “he not busy being born is busy dying.”
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