Fear and the Future of Work

Recently I have dipped my toes back into the world of working for money. I had been a volunteer at a soup kitchen and a self-described writer for about four years in a super exciting and enviable zip code. I was marching in the streets to stop American foreign aggression and for the rights of minorities. I was jailed a few times. I was fighting the good fight and then I hit the wall of burnout. Like slam face first into it.

I transitioned out of that work by taking a flight from JFK to Cancun and settling with a friend in Playa del Carmen convinced I was either going to start a non-profit or at the very least teach Mexican kids in my neighborhood English. Even as I write this a laugh track explodes in my head. Not only did the suburb I was living not need a nonprofit geared towards serving the homeless but lots of people in Playa del Carmen speak English. It’s a tourist town and therefore not a very good market. Also, I know how to speak English but I failed to stop and consider if I knew how to teach it. I didn’t know the market and I didn’t do the ground work necessary to be a freelance English teacher.

Having failed I came back to the US and resettled in Des Moines Iowa where I went straight away to a temporary agency and they took a look at my resume and threw me into a factory job with a high turnover rate and as I would later find out a very hostile work environment. I busted my ass everyday for two months and then I decided over a michelada and the glare of my computer at about 10pm on a Thursday night that I wasn’t going to do this anymore.

Not because I was better than the work and not so much because I was literally awful at the job but because I was constantly gripped by fear. Every morning I had the fear that I wasn’t fast enough and would be let go. I keep a journal and wrote in it every day and almost every entry is full of dread and negative self-talk. What a bummer. I wanted to reinvent myself and recover from Mexico but I was floundering.

The positive side of this particular job is that we could listen to music or podcasts while we worked. I started listening to The Tim Ferriss Show and was really digging it and eventually stumbled into Debbie Millman’s podcast Design Matters. A lifesaver. Their interviews together are gold and if you need some inspiration for sure check them out. Tim and Debbie riffed on how to design a life. Risk, fear, doing it anyway. These podcasts jolted my body and soul into action. It was time to take a risk. Time to step off the concrete of the factory and hit the ground running.

No longer is the world the one our grandparents and to a lesser extent our parents grew up. No more working at the same factory for 28 years and retiring like my father was able to do. That fantasy had to die. I needed to learn about me and how I was going to use my skills in this new world of work and not rely on just a recruiter or an employer. But to design my life in a way that I was able to rely on myself. New skills, passion for learning and a critical eye towards my own previous work experience.

I started to think seriously of the life I had had in New York and Mexico. What could I learn from these experiences about who I am and who I might be in a job market? What about my work with social justice organizations and all those hours spent making signs to convince the public to shut down Guatanamo. Was that marketing? The articles I had written while in New York about the Fast Food Forward movement. What that journalism?

I recognized I needed to meditate more often and think less of fear. The self-confidence that I had always lacked was popping its ugly head into my job search. I was working at a factory because I thought I didn’t have the skills to do anything else. Wtf.

So I am in the process of shifting gears thinking of myself as highly employable because I am. I have lots of skills, lots of drive and am creative to boot. It’s important to recognize who you are. If you’re sitting down feeling total panic as you stare at the resume you have to update, relax phone a friend. Reach out on Facebook ask someone else to help you help yourself. Ask a coworker you have stayed in contact with to write a reference letter for you. Tada! The light turns on when you read the reference, this is who you are through someone else’s eyes use that to help you see yourself.

Find and keep friends who are on the hustle especially friends on that creative hustle and follow those people on social media. A one time coworker and now friend of mine has been writing articles, recently she signed a book deal and is just a bad ass all around and if I hadn’t been paying attention to her successes you wouldn’t be reading this article. It’s contagious.

The world of work is changing and we need to build the skills necessary to work for ourselves. In many ways, we are our own recruiters. The goal is to step outside of that fear based thinking and the job stability model of the past. Be open to new experiences in new places. Think outside of the box about your own skills. How does that farm work you did for WWOOF transfer to the career you are trying to build? The connections are there but first you have to blow up what you think you know about you and about work.

I’m learning all of this myself and am excited to get to know me and to apply what I know about my skills and my capabilities to a working environment in which I can grow. It’s out there!