There’s a radio program that airs each week, mostly on NPR stations, titled “On-Being” where the host, Krista Tippett, shares with her listeners, a free-flowing conversation covering a particular topic, with a guest who may or may not be an “authority” on the subject, but nonetheless, offers an engaging dialogue that I often find compelling, if not inspirational. On occasion, I’ve contributed to the discussion via the blog on the program’s website, offering input and sharing examples from my own life experiences.
After viewing a recent post by one of the site’s weekly columnists, Courtney E. Martin, I followed the link to a TEDtalk she’d given last year titled, “The New American Dream.” In it, she describes, among other things, an ever-changing technology and innovation landscape that literally seems to evolve overnight, forcing many of us to adjust and redefine ourselves, if we are to maintain gainful employment. Much of what Ms. Martin offered in her talk, I found to be quite relevant. It motivated me to seek dialogue with some current graduates, in addition to revisiting my own course of action after graduation.
As a ripe, eager-to-apply-my-skills sociology major just out of college, I was unexpectedly plucked from the masses of a call center and offered a position overseeing the collection of data for one of the premiere political pollsters in the country. It was heady times for those in the opinion polling business back in the mid-to-late 80s. The “Reagan Revolution” was in high gear, Oliver North was the poster child for a government-sponsored covert operation dubbed “Iran-Contra,” and the Berlin Wall was about to come tumbling down. Indeed, it was quite a historic era to be taking the pulse of American households on any number of meaty issues, both foreign and domestic.
The reason I’ve chosen to highlight this particular life experience is because it’s one of the more blatant examples of when my career was not “in alignment” with my true self, as it so blessedly is now. Though the job had its share of ups and downs, like any other, and required the implementation of underdeveloped methodologies at the time (most notably recording verbal responses on paper over landline telephones and keypunching questionnaires using IBM computer cards). But what challenged me most was that the pollster’s political affiliation was diametrically opposed to my own.
On some level, I’d rationalized that, because my specific job description had very little, if anything, to do with the “politics” end of the business, I wasn’t truly selling out just to make a buck. None of my coworkers, even when socializing after hours, ever expressed a similar inner conflict, so I knew that I was flying solo in this regard. Where I eventually found solace was in seeking out various tasks and projects (often outside of my comfort zone), that would enhance my skill set, therefore building a more diversified resume for future employment.
My tenure at the firm lasted but a few years due to a company-wide “downsizing” (it was the first time I’d heard that term used, and it wouldn’t be the last). I would navigate the waters of corporate marketing research for the next decade and a half, before leaving it all behind for my true calling, early childhood and special needs education.
Personally, the path of realigning my core beliefs to match those of a creative, meaningful career was an exciting one, despite the gaps in employment and financial setbacks that would inevitably arise. Did I struggle at times? You bet I did, but with the assistance from family and my inner circle of friends, in addition to the support of some key mentors and spiritualists, I was able to establish and maintain a fresh, fertile environment that promoted numerous opportunities for growth and personal development.
While revisiting alternative career specialist Dr. Rick Jarrow’s innovative book, “Creating the Work You Love,” a particular passage continues to resonate with me now, as it did years ago. He suggests “we accept who we are and what we want, but need not conceive of this as a problem. Rather, we integrate ourselves by seeing how and where we can make a contribution.”
He goes on to ask, “What contribution can I make to my community, to my world? How can my desire serve the whole?”
One of the more enlightening ways in which I explored those questions was by attending a three-day seminar at the holistic Omega Institute, along the Hudson River in Rhinebeck, New York. Upon the insistence of a former client who was unable to attend herself, and would have forfeited the admission fee, I was to take her reserved spot and, as she said, “reap whatever benefits that would come my way.” Two magical, life-altering encounters presented themselves to me over the course of that long weekend, which I will describe in great detail in a future piece.
As important as it was for me to establish the groundwork for such a major career transition, of equal importance, if not more, was the devotion to “staying present.” By seeking clarity through receptivity, both my heart and mind were wide open to all things possible. Zen Master Charlotte Joko Beck, in her book “Everyday Zen – Love and Work,” describes this present-moment opportunity: “We never grow by dreaming about a future wonderful state or by remembering past feats. We grow by being where we are, and experiencing what our life is right now.”
If one subscribes to the laws of attraction and believes in the unlimited potential that we all possess, then everything I’ve done up to this point, including my brief stint in political research, was in perfect alignment.
Dave Davis teaches preschool for Head Start at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, and does much of his writing at Ditch Plains in Montauk. Two of his pieces appear in the 2016 anthology “On Montauk: A Literary Celebration.”