The Pursuit of Happiness

My Twitter feed —  filled mostly with trivial ephemera — had this telling link this morning:  Employees more restless than in 2009 – MarketWatch.  Around the same time I read this blurb, I read an email from my friend and Popdose colleague, Jeff Giles, asking to support a Kickstarter book idea on WOXY — the now-defunct alternative rock station in Ohio. Then I read this article in Slate about Kickstarter and how it could affect the economy if crowdfunding takes off as a viable way for people, to borrow a phrase from the film Flashdance, take your passion and make it happen.  Why?  Well, if more and more people get a Kickstarter …well, it’s not a loan, it’s more of a seed capital/fundraising mechanism, they may opt out of jobs that make them inherently miserable in order to follow their bliss and spend time working on something that they are passionate about.  That means there may be fewer people working in jobs that are predicted to have a growth — and that could lead to lower worker productivity, lowered profits, and a sagging economy.

But you know what? If the Great Recession (or Depression as Paul Krugman calls it) taught us one thing it’s that capital does not care much about loyalty (the worker kind, that is).  If your position within a company can be eliminated, outsourced, consolidated, or reassigned because it’s the financially rational thing to do, it will happen.  It’s happened to me a couple of times, and while it’s a shock when it does occur, it can create an opportunity to reflect on what one really wants.  I know this sounds kind of new agey and, to borrow line from another film (this time Barton Fink), “kinda fruity.” But think about stories you’ve read in the last few years of people largely giving up on trying to find a full-time job with benefits, and instead starting their own company by doing what they want.

It’s not just people who have been laid off who have done this. I can think of one academic who decided working in a realm where the measure of success depends on how much paper (i.e., research) you churn out in a given year, how many people cite your work (footnote worship), and what conference panels you participated in.  So what did he do?  Because the job market was so crappy, he became a motorcycle mechanic.

See?  Kinda of fruity, huh.  Well, maybe not.  If you think about the line “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, it’s clear that people in the United States have something hardwired in their social and political DNA: the freedom to chase after a dream.  Rarely, do we wake up and say, “My definition of happiness is to one day work for a soulless megacorp where I can sit in my gray cubicle and churn out emails, excel sheets, and reports with great frequency.”  Those are the kind of jobs we take to be practical, not idealistic.  So is it any wonder that 38% of workers surveyed said they plan on leaving the company they are working for in the next five years?  When said employees view the companies they work for as lacking direction and organization (and, I should add, loyalty), it makes it difficult to be passionate and engaged in such an enterprise when the emotional and financial payoffs are lacking.

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