The shoulders of giants.

In response to my last post, a good friend sent me a long and very thoughtful email. In said email was shared personal experience and notes of commiseration, as well as a personal anecdote regarding thoughts and problems with the idea of work and ennui.

I have been mulling this over for a few days now and thought that it would be best to address this here as it would act not only as a response to this great email, but also a follow up to some of the thoughts in my previous post.

Now, where to begin…

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Hard to pick photos for this post… so here is one of a very overbuilt outhouse. Read into that what you will.

Ah yes, concerning depression.

One of the first things addressed in said email was the seeming cyclical nature of my attitude/feelings towards my work. With this it was noted that, “With our current timing one could attribute this recent cycle of ours to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but that answer is far too simplistic.” I whole-heartedly agree with this assessment, for while I do, most definitely, have some reaction to seasonal variation, the “cycles” that I go through are far too sporadic and random for this to be a singular factor; plus my problems transcend the seasons… they happen year round, albeit inconsistently.

That said, the nature of my work was, once, more seasonal; but I will have to unpack that a bit as we move through this. In the most current iteration, seasonality has little-to-no effect on my job. Were I doing more actual archaeology, the case would be different, as in these far northern reaches of North America, said pursuits are, by environmental nature, seasonal. This is one of the reasons I got into the museum field (or at least stuck with it) in the first place… something to keep me employed during the winter. However, I do not get much opportunity to do field work anymore. That said, this is only a small piece of the puzzle.

One of the questions embedded in my friend’s email was the idea that there are many people, certainly today, but especially in years past, that worked the same job for decades and were happy to have it. At least, seemingly so. Were/are they miserable but simply did/do not show it, or perhaps show it differently?

Contrarywise, I might suggest that there are people who find a profession, or with great luck, a full time avocation which seemingly gives them pleasure and fulfills some part of their lives. But there can be danger in that, for if one finds some way to earn a living from what they love to do and it turns into a “job”, which then turns sour, one risks losing that which initially gave them pleasure.

Examples of this might be a childhood friend who was a naturally gifted sketch artist and who started down the path of making it a career but backed out. I never understood why, but perhaps this is the reason. Similarly, my brother, who loved to work on cars in his youth – a regular gear head –, got into the auto-mechanic profession and years later seemed ground down by finding no enjoyment in the activity and eventually walked away from it entirely. There may well be other explanations behind each of these examples, I really don’t know.

Either way, there is the issue of both longevity and job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction as the case may be) and I really do not know what all to make of it, nor have a good answer for the question.

Concurrently addressed in my previous post was the issue of depression and while the two may well influence one another in my case, I do not think that they are inherently intertwined in all cases… at least depending on the severity of the situation? I really don’t know and can only speak from/to my own experience. But I was trying to come back around to the idea of seasonality, and so…

Solstice 2014. Photo by Sonia Brown

Solstice 2014. Photo by Sonia Brown

Another kind of seasonality.

I have never been one of those people who “knew what they wanted to do when they grew up”. At 42 I guess I am supposed to be “grown up” and I still don’t know what I want to do. In looking back on my life the principle constant has been change. It would take a concerted effort for me to list out all of the different jobs I have had over the years. The reason I bring this up is directly related to another part of the question embedded in my friend’s email as noted above; do the younger (and by including myself, I enlist here a liberal interpretation of younger…) generations have different expectations when it comes to the reality of work? Again, I think this is too simplistic. I think, rather, that there are numerous, different perceptions to, and thus realities of, what we call work.

I have mentioned bits of my past here before, but to reiterate somewhat; I uprooted myself prior to graduating from high school. I spent my senior year in a vastly different place and situation than I had spent the previous 5 or so years. Then, practically the moment I graduated, I uprooted myself again and spent the next many years on the move, not staying in one place for more than a year and often not much more than 6 months or so. The point here is that, during what one might call the “formative years” of my acquiring a work ethic, I was bouncing from job to job and place to place.

Actually, that might not be quite right. I do not think that “work ethic” is necessarily what is at question here. I think rather, there is more of a concern regarding perceptions on what makes a “good” life. For some, stability and consistency are the order of the day and encompass what is good and right. For others, there is the idea of living life differently, in a more experiential, “caution to the wind” sort of lifestyle. Again, this imposed dichotomy is far too simplistic, but I think that for the purposes of the current discussion it will suffice…

Thus, my hypothesis is that… well, maybe there are two possible hypotheses here, albeit related to be sure. On the one hand, perhaps I am one of those that are “wired” to be more comfortable with change and new situations instead of settling down and finding consistency. On the other hand, as suggested above, perhaps in a time when many people learn the tricks and tools of building a career behavior and skill set, I was casting around investigating many different options. I suppose there is a hint of the old “nature v nurture” question here, but anyway…

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Thanks again to Nuggets. Check him out over at http://inksnow.blogspot.com/

Either way, in regards to the question of job satisfaction, I have held my current job for just over 5 years and this is, by far, the longest time that I have done anything consistently. I simply don’t know how to manage it; the whole idea is a bit foreign, especially given that there is not even really a seasonal variation to it. Given the ideas I have been stumbling through here, I wonder if the same wiring or learned behaviors might not add to my depression, but somehow I think that this is a much more complex issue. Either way, I feel that it is beyond the scope of this current discussion and so I will let that idea lie for now.

There is another topic that was brought up in my friend’s email and this one is a bit more elusive, but one that I have been mucking around with for a while myself; the idea of doing things for the greater good, even when they might at first seem pointless. When it comes to cultural preservation, or any type of resources management, or really just about any aspect of conservation or even academic pursuits, much of what is done is for the benefit of future generations. Certainly we in the present gain from such efforts; museums, advances in medicine and science in general, clean water, wild places… the list goes on. And certainly there are those who may be in the business for personal gain, but we will not go any further down that road for the moment.

Something that I particularly liked about this portion of the email was this; “we always stand on the shoulders of our predecessors and even if our achievements seem obscure or small we are still an important link in the larger continuum”. I completely agree with this and feel that it is true. The problem in my current situation is that I have a very difficult time seeing achievement in my work, neither obscure nor small; hence the problem with pointlessness and hopelessness. And I recognize that this is directly related to my attitude and not specifically the job that I do.

Backing up a bit, I would like to revisit the idea of the greater good. I like to work, especially when I feel some sense of accomplishment, even more-so when I feel that something that I have done has affected or made some difference for/to others. But this is where I have found myself in an awkward situation; I still believe in the benefit of what I do in terms of historic preservation, yet the on the ground, reality seems too much like pointless widget counting and this undermines my sense of accomplishment. Instead of benefiting the greater good, I oftentimes feel that I am wasting time.

Anyway, I am not sure if I satisfactorily responded to said email, nor if I succeeded in providing a decent follow up to the previous discussion. Summer is coming and the Wife and I are preparing for a brief vacation and so, all in all I am a bit scattered just now… especially to be managing such heady thoughts. So for now I will simply bid you happy trails.

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Thanks to the Dude, abiding; in two parts.

Part 1. This ambivalence will not stand, man.

My job bores me. Period. There is really very little about it that holds, or even hints at, anything even remotely resembling interest for me anymore… never mind passion. And I realize this is not a unique phenomenon; many people find themselves in this precarious situation at some point in their work lives.

On the one hand, you know, that is ok; it is a good job in that it is reasonably straightforward, it is secure, it pays well, I like the people I work with. But for this to go on, there simply has to be more than that. The idea of existing as little more than an automaton for an undefined period of time has long ago driven me to drink.

Yesterday, this went by on the facebook…

nil

This struck me as particularly poignant as I am, essentially, in the history profession… loosely defined. Ostensibly I am in the field of cultural resources management; more specifically museum management. More realistically, warehouse management. Most of what I do has little to do with research or preservation, but rather, primarily revolves around the business of inventory management. When our collective history is reduced to making sure the things are all in their right place, well, it does little to inspire.

I am good at what I do. I know something about most of the objects in my care, some much more than that. I can generally, and with relative ease, locate any number of these objects at a moment’s notice, because I have a sort of mental map of the place where they are stored. Moreover, when one of these said objects is not easily located it causes me some distress. Not necessarily out of any particular fondness for the thing generally, but rather, because, being out of place, the thing represents a breakdown of the system. It is this sort of mentality that oft times has given museum people a bad name; if nobody ever touches the things, ideally they will then always be where they are meant to be. Researchers make this difficult.

But therein lies the conundrum… if the things are not being preserved for research, then what are we doing? If we are not meant to learn something from these material remains, then what is the point of collecting them in the first place? Which brings us back around to where this started. I got into this “profession” to study the things because I liked the idea that through such efforts, one could learn something about where we have been, and perhaps with some novel insight, where we might be going… at least that is the drum beat many of us march to.

I seem to have fallen from the purer faith, as it were. More often than not, I feel like Calvin up there in thinking that in the cosmic sense none of this really matters anyway. And, it is more than likely in part due to the fact that, as described, I do not learn from the things much anymore. I just make sure that everything is in its right place.

Boring.

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Part 2. This depression will not stand, man.

So, just to keep things simple, I have had to fully recognize and attempt to come to terms with the fact that I suffer from periods of depression. Sometimes mild, sometimes more debilitating, always sporadic. It was that last part that kept me from fully facing the issue for so long, but in looking back at life, I have come to recognize a certain pattern in my existence. In a word, hopelessness.

Funny thing about this though, once upon a time I saw this as a beneficial, or at least positive, aspect of my character; when looking out at the world I would often think that the whole business of human existence was some mad, pointless struggle against imaginary forces, and that if we could just learn to take it easy and realize that nothing really mattered in any grand sense, that we might all become a bit more enlightened… or at the very least more relaxed.

And to some degree, I still completely ascribe to that philosophy. Just take it easy. And that is cool, but when that attitude takes a turn towards the negative, where pointlessness becomes full blown hopelessness, well then, now you are treading on thin ice. On the one hand, I could function – albeit with some grumbling – at doing something that I found pointless. I would just do the thing and move on, not taking it particularly seriously. On the other, when all things start to seem pointless, then, there seems no reason to do, or care about, anything. Enter hopelessness. This is no way to exist and certainly no way to live.

Dude-Big-LebowskiSo, having confronted this I have opted for taking a different tack… and so far, it seems to be helping.

Work is still mostly boring though. However, when, a few months back, it all started to go downhill and the pointless drudgery of organizing the things came to represent the pointless nothingness of my existence, well then I started to fail… at relationships, at self-control, at even feigning interest. Things started to slip past bleak into dangerous.Thankfully there were no rabid marmots or nihilists to confront.

The promise of summer, via the promise of spring, seems to be approaching … haltingly as it may be moving. Forward thinking leads to forward movement, and while I still generally doubt that there is much point – never mind meaning – to this business of life, outside of, you know, taking it easy at the least and hopefully being excellent to each other if nothing else, there does seem to be reason for continued hope. Maybe, if I can keep managing this relatively even keeled approach, I might even regain some inspiration… of some sort. At the very least, one can hope to be better able to abide. And, I’m doing yoga again, so that is cool.

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