Light On Your Feet

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.”

In Between

My life has been full of little interludes. Those are spaces of time that are interim between phases of full-on activity. Sometimes they are restful, and I’ve carefully planned them for recharging. Others have been dry spells. I refer to those times as being on the beach, or being on the hard; both terms I picked up from my father and his former merchant marine buddies. To them, very little could be worse than being on the hard – between ships.
I am pretty much the same way. A few months into an interim period, and I begin to get itchy and feel trapped. I’ve seen friends get stuck in a sort of frenzy when this happens. It’s best to compare it to getting your car stuck in mud or on ice. Some people sit there and continue to spin their wheels endlessly. Others calm down, get out to the trunk, and pick through the material that some thought you should have taken to the dump. You find those muddy old boards you’ve been saving just for this instance. Out they go under the wheel, and away you go.
Career-wise, this approach has life implications. Most people depend on plan A to the exclusion of all else. Despite having periods of being on the beach career-wise. I’ve moved on to new careers because I can rummage around and find something else to do when I’m stuck.
Here are some examples. When I left grad school, there were no anthropology jobs to be found. I returned to an earlier trade as a surgical technician until a job came up. Later, while working as an anthropologist, I learned some additional skills as a journalist and a videographer. Subsequently, I worked as a newspaper editor and currently work as a videographer.
I like to sum it up this way: while living in plan A, work on plan B, and have plans C and D on the back burners. Friends I’ve known waited until Plan A ran aground hard on a reef and sank. Then they started education programs as their benefits ran out. They wind up looking squarely into the face of a phantasm of their creation. Not that my plan will avoid the sort of tragedy that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, but it may help in normal times.

On a final note, I would like you to consider hobbies. Hobbies can become career choices. My carving began as a hobby, and a friend who makes musical instruments started his business as a hobby. If the pursuit does nothing more than providing emotional support when you are on the hard, you are way ahead of many of your peers.

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