For most Americans work means a steady 9 to 5 gig with benefits. But the benefits of a weekly paycheck and health insurance often come with the price tag of long, traffic-clogged commutes, unfulfilling work, and tiresome co-workers.
Work and my father
But so what? as my father would say. Who ever said work was supposed to be fun and fulfilling? Get a hobby if you want fun.
My father came of age in the Depression years of the 1930’s—I was his surprise child, born when he was almost 50.
For my father, money—which provided the means and ability to take care of his family—was the most precious commodity. It was never a question of what kind of work you wanted to do. The best job was the most stable and well-paying.
You’re doing WHAT after law school?
Imagine his surprise at raising a daughter who never once considered these issues when deciding what kind of work to do. Imagine his even greater surprise when said daughter graduates from law school and announces she has no intention of ever practicing law.
And even worse, her dream is to be a complete “free agent.” And I don’t mean the gazillion dollar baseball-playing kind.
Since the mid-1990’s the ranks of free agent workers have increased steadily. The latest figures estimate that today there are roughly 25 million free agent workers in the United States—people who move from project to project and who work on their own.
The similarity in most free agents, regardless of the type of work they do, is that they are willing to swap the security of a corporate workplace for personal satisfaction and authenticity.
Talking ‘bout my generation
As the U.S. prospered after the Depression and World War II, the economy took on unimagined dimensions. So too did the reasons that people work.
My generation, the so-called ‘Generation X,’ grew up focusing not just on the earning potential of a particular career but also on the personal satisfaction it could offer.
For myself, I realized that if I’m going to spend 8-10 hours a day doing something, then I better be passionate about it. I never want to spend the majority of my days pursuing work that bores me, or is morally and ethically reprehensible to me, solely in the pursuit of money.
The beautiful balance
If you really think about it, work is very personal. And if you put a little time and energy into it, you can achieve a beautiful balance between who you are and what you do.
I work on achieving this balance everyday; somedays are much better than others. Of course, there are times when money is tight, and I crave the perk of knowing a weekly paycheck is coming whether I finish the project or not.
But I have never once regretted my choice to pursue the life of a free agent. For me, nothing beats the freedom of being able to set my own schedule and choose to work on projects that mean something to me.
Dad and my work
Eventually my dad came to understand and more importantly accept my choices. For him the only freedom he knew was provided
by money which was the direct result of hard and sometimes deplorable work. But he came to understand that his sweat and toil granted me the kind of freedom he couldn’t dream of.
Before he passed away a few years ago, he told me why my decision not to practice law upset him. He said he knew that he wouldn’t always be around to protect me, and he only wanted to be sure that I could always provide for myself whether I had to or not.
He told me he was proud of me and proud that I wasn’t afraid to take chances. I wonder whether he knows my courage is a gift from him. I hope so.