The Untethered Job

Hello, I’m Kelli Griffin.

I don’t have a job.

Haven’t had one for a long time.

And that’s what this post is about. You know how you intro yourself in polite society. You stick out your hand, say your name, and then it’s expected that you say what you do. I haven’t been able to do that last part.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve held positions and have a solid resume.  I was an accountant, a banker, a public speaker, a pastry assistant, a waitress, and now I’m a solo-prenuer.

None of those things are me… being me.

Writing this, I had a soundtrack running in my head, it was Springsteen, Born to Run.  I love The Boss! (Hey I’m a Jersey girl.) Sometimes music can say what words can’t. I wanted the soundtrack of my life to be a kind of ‘born to run’ theme.

But that’s not my real soundtrack. As much as I’d like it to be the ‘rebel party girl’, it’s not. I’m the Jimmy Buffett song, and not the super popular one. Have you heard ‘Pirate looks at 40’ – Jimmy says it’s about a friend of his “who just could not find his occupation in the 20th century.”

That’s me.

All I ever wanted to do was write and read, read and write.

Which pretty much amounts to heresy in this Western society, with all it’s pressure to get a job, succeed, win, and get ahead.  It’s caused me untold amounts of grief in my family, not to mention the social awkwardness of appearing to be a societal failure every time I have to shake someone’s hand.

And truthfully, I was ashamed of it, initially. Secretly embarrassed that I wasn’t good enough at anything I did to stay put.  And that was the real trouble. Staying put. You see, I have been successful in the job world. I’ve held leader positions, travelled all over the world, won awards. I’ve got two masters degrees, one in business and one in counseling and coaching. I’ve got a post grad certificate in psychology, I’m even a former CPA, for god’s sake.

How’s that for being a slacker or a dummy?

So what’s the deal? Why couldn’t I stay put? Be in a job that would let me stick out my hand, say my name and say, I’m a…..?

There you have it. There’s the problem. I’m the 21st century version of a snake oil salesman. Some people call me a life coach. Some call me a teacher. When I work with a client that needs to hear something they don’t want to hear, I often get called things unrepeatable in this post.

The point is, I do a kind of work that can evoke suspicion, fear, anxiety, and a host of other feelings that can be mighty unpleasant. 

I’ve struggled with this for a really long time. Last year, I took a marketing course at our very own Asheville’s JB Media Institute. In the first session, we had to introduce ourselves.  When it was my turn, I hardly said the words, coach and mentor, and I watched people roll their eyes and withdraw from listening; it was awful but typical. From that point on, anytime I said something in the classroom, it was tainted.  As in, ‘Here we go again, the COACH is going to tell us how to do it…’

The stigma about doing what I do comes from different sources. Some of it is my own co-dependency wanting to be liked and competent. Some of it also has to do with the coaching industry itself.  And some of it comes from the ‘spirit of the times,’ as Jung would call it.

The coaching industry has done a piss poor job of convincing the public that a certified life coach is certified in anything but playing hooky from a ‘real job.’ However, it’s in this other thing, the ‘spirit of the times’, that holds the most significance to all of us.  I started thinking that maybe I was having trouble introducing myself not because my work was shameful or embarrassing but because it signified that I had somehow untethered myself from the ball and chain of a normal work environment. I found a way to work, and be me, that hasn’t quite registered on everyone’s radar yet.

But it will, and soon. Why do you think Microsoft paid $24 billion for LinkedIn? Why do you think LinkedIn has added a new feature to their roster called ProFinder? Why do you think online work portals like Idealist.org are taking off?

Traditional jobs are dying. They’ve been dying for a long, long time, because companies have been dying. Did you know that the average life span of a company in the United States was 15 years, according to a Yale professor, Robert Foster? Yes, companies do have a life span. They are created, as start-ups, they grow from nascent to stable and then to awkward middle-sized companies and then on to maturity. If they miss a beat, get distracted, or simply stick to their knitting as the world goes by, they die, go bankrupt, go out of business, get bought or merge. And the pace of demise is accelerating. In 2015, The Sante Fe Institute took a look at Foster’s data and trimmed that figure down even more – 10 years!

Just seems remarkable, doesn’t it? We think about corporations in the US and we think in terms of blue chip, 100’s of years old. But that’s not true. Companies die, and so do jobs. 

So just maybe a transformation is taking place right under our noses.  As more and more people decide to untether themselves from the respectable or the secure or the stable – which really wasn’t any of those things, anyway – maybe we’ll start meeting more people who just say, “hello, I’m Kelli, nice to meet you” with no need to amplify their presence with credentials.

(The LOTR fan in me is hearing Frodo say to Gandalf, “Before you came along, we Bagginses were very well thought of, never had any adventures or did anything unexpected… ” What can I say, except walking to the beat of my own drum. And you?)