The title of this post comes from a suggestion that was made to me recently by one of my employers. I currently do at least three things… I’ve always found the ‘what do you do?’ question difficult to answer and a fairly useless starting point if the objective is to meet me and figure me out. ‘ What makes you tick?’, or ‘what are you about?’ seem better questions. As a writer and poet, I often have to write bios for press releases or event blurbs and I often find myself saying something like:
I write and rhyme and learn and teach, I’m an educator and an artist and a dad. I’m a researcher and student, a social commentator without institution. I’m a bard, an imaginator and a performer. I hope. –
But not necessarily in that order and everything overlaps and my preference and priority shifts around dependent on the day of the week.
I guess you can see why I dread the ‘What do you do’ question. My vocation is fairly clear in all the different bits I do but my career is – well what is that – career I mean?
I’m now 31 and pressure has landed on what I should do primarily… As my colleague said ‘It is time to park’. I am a bit torn over this. On the one hand, my training of youth is in its seriously latter stages and I have become a generally well educated professional and experienced artist with a decent portfolio of performance and publishing (it goes without saying that I am still primarily a learner; more aware of my journey that any sense of arrival but) I am increasingly good at my pursuits and vocations in different fields. And possibly therefore, I have become more interested in influence and while those who know me would hopefully vouch that I have no real interest in power or dominance, I am keen on change and transformation in culture and education. A move from system to relationship and from product to process. I am keener than ever to add my voice. To participate a contribution to ideas about creativity and collaboration. So is it time to park? Time to choose a route, a career path into a place of influence and recognition?
On the other hand the pressure to park, to choose the route, to play the ‘snakes and ladders’ game, to join ‘the rat race’, ‘climb the pole’ etc seems to buy in to a soulless and commodified model of career and power. I like and value the ‘portfolio’ approach to life that defies catorgarization and breaks the dualistic ‘in/out’ approach to progression and development. I like being out side the institution of education and arts/entertainments so I can throw stones at the glass house but I also find being in it important so that I have to take responsibility for the windows I break.
The question is how does one move forwards to influence and invoke change in a commodified and systemised shape of careers and education without having to park in one area? If I stay spread across a range of skills, jobs, expressions, does it follow that you stay at the invisible bottom of that field? Jack of all trades and master of none. Does the integrity to influence ideas and approaches require authority in an office.
What are the persuaders which have informed me to want to resist taking control or becoming powerful – is that wrong? Is all top down leadership inherently corrupt (I feel like it would be if I did it) It’s all micro empires either way even if it’s for the change you believe to be right. What has conditioned me to want recognition and influence? Can you have the latter without being seduced by the former? I feel that collaboration is key here because it’s always compromised and dependent on plurality but it also has a life of its own and is hard to influence if you have a clear idea of what you want to express?
Is ‘Change’ a false idol? Maybe being inspired to change and engage transformation is flawed anyway because in fact we all exist in flawed systems which can never be ‘better’ but just arranged differently and the pros and cons are just shifted about in a huge process of swings and roundabouts. The conversations are exciting but the outcomes tend to only produce frustration as the new change still needs changing.
I’m guessing that this conundrum is a normal ‘passing 30’ sort of conundrum. Becoming the generation of contribution and leadership rather than the generation of training which I have been in until now. I am very lucky to have dispensed with feelings of obligation to tradition or traditional ideas of family, career, education, religion, law, etc. I am a product of a post-trational context, but while I am relatively free from obligation, I am passionate about embracing responsibilities in line with the skills and contributions I have and I am trying to decide on the way forward preferably without parking.