Moving Beyond a Job-Based Life: An Interview With Martha Beck
Martha Beck, PhD, grew up wanting to be an ecologist or a professor. However, after bearing three children while acquiring three Harvard degrees, Martha decided she’d rather just lie down for a few decades. During that time she became an author and life coach. Her books include, Expecting Adam, Leaving the Saints, Finding Your Own North Star, The Joy Diet, Steering by Starlight, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, and her brand-new book, Diana Herself: An Allegory of Awakening. Martha has been a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine since its inception in 2001 and has been a contributing editor for several popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook.
Q: People often conflate finding their passion with finding a job. Are they the same thing?
Martha Beck: The concept of the job does not lend itself to living your passion. Jobs as we know them are part of a hierarchical society that has a pyramid-shaped economy. This industrialized setup is based on factory labor and is meant to keep people infantilized into thinking there’s somebody (a boss) who is going to come in and give me what I need (money). It assumes if I do my chores I’ll get my allowance and I won’t have to grapple with individual survival in its grittiest forms.
This is why we hate jobs and we hate our bosses—because it’s not supposed to be set up this way. This is a child’s experience. In nature you would go out and encounter the world and make your way. And as you did, that would shape you.
When Thoreau said that the majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation, he was talking about jobs.
He wasn’t talking about men in general, he was talking about men under the Industrial Revolution who were working factory jobs.
Q: Have you ever had a job?
Martha Beck: No. And the reason is it never occurred to me to make that my model of sustenance. I was too weird to ever do that, and so I just never even tried! I just made stuff up and thought of a way to make it make money. It’s very much like living off the land except you’re dealing with an economic system.
Q: How can we shift out of this job-based mentality?
Martha Beck: I poke around a lot as a sociologist, and there is literally no industry that is not being changed by rapid technological shifts. There used to be a thing called futurology in sociology, but now they don’t even have that because things are changing so fast that there is no way to predict the future. Jobs are disappearing as computers take over and people are just not needed anymore.
So what do you do with that?
You figure out what is needed and you find a way to play in the fields that you like until you can add some value.
It’s like the Wild West. Jobs are going away—it makes no sense to hold onto a job you hate as it goes down.
Right now, a good place for people to track is the Internet. If you think of something that people want and that they can benefit from, you can offer it out there in the virtual space for a reasonable price. I just don’t see why anyone would do anything else, frankly, unless you love your job.
Q: What would you say to a young person getting ready to enter college?
Martha Beck: You have to follow your heart. College education used to be a surefire job. Not anymore. People from Ivy Leagues are going right home to live with their parents after they graduate. It’s just very, very different and changing so fast we can’t even track the pace of change, let alone everything that’s changing.
Q: Are you seeing any movement toward people returning to jobs that are more about people and less about technology?
Martha Beck: I’d have to do the research on that specifically, but what I do know is what used to be highly prized was high-tech and low-touch. When I was a kid, if my mother made a dress for me to wear to school it wasn’t as cool as the girls who had the dress with the brand-name label on it. Now it’s switched.
Anything that is high-touch, that actual humans have put their time into, is much more expensive and valued than high-tech.
One way to build a living is by creating something (high-touch) and delivering/distributing it online (high-tech). You can also think about what kind of situations you like to be in. If you like high-person interface, you may consider something like party planning. But if you prefer to be in isolation, then you might want to go into physics. It’s anybody’s game right now. Take your pick.
Martha Beck will be teaching Navigating the Storm: Finding Peace and Purpose in Uncertain Times, February 2 – 4, 2018, at 1440 Multiversity.