Refusal of Work and Employability

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Ego
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Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Ego » Tue Aug 27, 2019 12:28 am

Lemur posted this wonderful article in his journal.
Lemur wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 12:07 pm
https://www.zedbooks.net/blog/posts/fre ... usal-work/

Something to read...when I get the 'free-time' to do so. Ironic ;)
I didn't want to derail his journal so I created this thread.

A few snippets to give context:
Whilst our jobs might contractually oblige us to work a certain amount of hours per day, it is clear that we do not simply step out of our workplaces and into a world of freedom.

...

free-time is now in jeopardy for people who are between jobs, and even for younger people who have yet to set foot into the world of paid employment. This is in large part down to the new pressures of employability: the responsibility of each individual to improve his or her prospects by training, acquiring educational credentials, networking, learning how to project the right kind of personality, and gaining life experiences that match up with the values sought by employers.

....

When the development of employability is a practical necessity and a main mental preoccupation, we become increasingly devoted to doing what needs to be done rather than performing activities because they are intrinsically valuable, i.e., because they develop our personal capacities, or enrich our friendships, or simply because we love to do them.

....

Unlike traditional exploitation, which is limited to clocked-in time and imposed externally, through the coercive discipline of bosses and technological control, the discipline demanded by employability is continuous and requires a constant self-policing. Employability represents a ‘decentred’ form of exploitation that people are forced to submit to in an almost voluntary fashion, as the spatial and temporal boundaries that previously confined exploitation to time on the work clock are dissolved.

While we have not had full-time jobs for a long time, we have always tried to maintain our employability. I've been planning out the next phase and found myself thinking about credentials and the prospect of spending some considerable amount time and energy in the near future learning in Fromm's 'having' mode. Something I dread.
Erich Fromm, who made an illuminating distinction between learning in the ‘having’ mode and learning in the ‘being’ mode.
How are people here finding a good balance?

bigato
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by bigato » Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:11 am

I think I am in a reasoable position in this regard, although it is not all from conscious decisions. Over the years, I aligned my career more with what I "am" and became good enough at it that today I can just refuse to "have" more titles, degrees, courses, etc. But I work at a big old traditional bank, an institution that is full of rules, controls, formalities. Not having a degree, masters, phd nor any of that bullshit made it hard for me over the years. Being a programmer balanced that out a bit, since it is a job whose set of skills are relatively rare in the overall population. Even inside the programming field, I moved over the years towards the inner circle of the nerdiest, mostly because I'm lucky that this is the kind of stuff I like better. I prefer machines to people most of the time. So I have stability in this. After I quit this job, if I decide to get another paid job somewhere at some point, I'll likely gravitate towards the same kind of low level programming that I like because those skills are rare and well paid.

You are in a special position though. It's very hard on young people to shoulder the responsibility of choosing their career paths on such a young age, when they know so little about life and themselves. Often years are lost on this pursuit. Sometimes I think that only at 35 or so I was ready to make that kind of choice wisely enough. Good thing that luck was on my side. But yet, I wasted most of my twenties doing stuff for money that didn't align with my personality anyway. Having your experience, you are in such a better position to decide now what you want to do and how you want to direct your life.

So, the path I ended up choosing was, becoming so good at what I am that what I have was not so relevant. But I'm not so sure that was the wisest choice and I was lucky. I could have made things so much easier over the years had I forced myself to dedicate some more to the "having" side. I'm not so sure going against society is such a worthwhile endeavour all the time. But enough of this philosophical bullshit from me anyway.

TLDR: choose a highly specialized technical career path that's well paid and in demand. Become so good at it that formalities won't matter much. Acquire the related "haves" that don't cost you much anyway.

bostonimproper
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by bostonimproper » Tue Aug 27, 2019 6:51 am

I'm between jobs and running into employability anxieties now. One thing I'm considering is that employability are super low for student populations. At this point it would be relatively trivial to enroll in an online masters like OMSCS, which would then give clean slate access to internships and the like with a lower barrier to entry. I'm generally fine starting at the bottom, since in software, that's still a six-figure salary much of the time.

IlliniDave
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by IlliniDave » Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:55 am

Being a relative senior citizen, I followed the script laid out for me during my formative years. Most of my "employability" derives from formal education and prior work experience. Learning to get along with people, function as part of a team, and take individual responsibility where applicable, was something everyone was expected to enter young adulthood with--part of growing up. I got a job out of school and stuck with it. My employer paid for further training (although getting a graduate degree required some of my time, they paid all the tuition and fees). I'm also driving toward the option for OAFA (once and for all) FIRE, so whether future endeavors enhance employability or not is purely coincidence. I haven't been voluntarily unemployed since HS. Any employment I seek after I hang up my profession will likely be for enjoyment, without any real pressure.

In other words, it sounds like I come from an alien universe compared to the majority.

Higher-paying jobs tend to come with an expectation of bringing needed qualifications, and often experience, to the table. It's always good to get someone to pay you to develop those things, but I think people compelled to change course every few years for the sake of changing course might not maintain the continuity for that to happen. I tend to tell people that no job is perfect (there's a reason they lure you in the door with money rather than you having to buy a ticket). If you find one that is not torture to show up to, and has at least some reasonable potential for advancement over time, consider sticking with it and exploit it as a source of OAFA FIRE money.

Frita
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Frita » Tue Aug 27, 2019 9:12 am

In public K-12 education, maintaining employability traditionally means getting tenured and staying. I moved around for DS50’s career. Unlike him in the engineering with just keeping his license current being enough, I need to maintain employment and the public schools here like young, cheap labor with a strong go along to get along ethic.

ERE/FIRE allows one to work for enjoyment. Cognitively I know this yet stayed trapped in a BS job because that was my only option in teaching. My license lapses in a year. I may just let it expire knowing I would have to return to college to have it reinstated. When DC14 graduates, I will be a couple weeks shy of 56. I don’t see myself suddenly moving to start an entry-level teaching job.

Learning to have is easy. Learning to be is complex and involves a shift that is countercultural for Americans.

Good work advice from others here! Mine would be to avoid teaching (public K-12, uni, and charter...the systemic cancer is similar).

SustainableHappiness
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by SustainableHappiness » Tue Aug 27, 2019 10:12 am

I've started and consequently stopped 3 different possible career paths in the past 2 years besides my first career which got me to a feeling of financial freedom 2 years ago, including:

Public speaking (still a possibility)
Online marketing and analytics
Consulting

Only teaching has stayed consistent as something I enjoy intrinsically and happens to boost my community standing (which is a little silly, because it is the least amount of work of all of them...????)

All of them were started as interesting projects, all of them ended because while doing the work I didn't enjoy it, or had to push to motivate myself to complete tasks.

My biggest intrinsic motivation is my kids now. All other work pales in comparison, so even though freelancing in digital marketing had the potential to make me a lot of money and become an industry super star, finding insights in facebook/google/website data was fun the first few times, but a weekly list of tasks was crap, so when it started to slow I let it end, ditto for the rest even though I had exciting future plans. I realized the excitement was in the planning for employability, not the employment itself...BARF. These feelings are hard to deal with.

Public speaking may still happen, but it is very, very driven by the "employability" factor of how others perceive your skills/experience. In my "having" phase I accumulated some and college teaching is also still leading me to inadvertently become an expert in a field even though I do it for the students and interesting networking.

Anyways, employability desires have stuck around longer than financial desires on my ERE journey. Unfortunately, my ego prevents me letting them go for now. Gotta have something to tell the parents when they ask...

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Ego
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Ego » Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:40 am

IlliniDave wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:55 am
Being a relative senior citizen, I followed the script laid out for me....
I believe we are the same age. Senior citizen?
IlliniDave wrote:
Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:55 am
It's always good to get someone to pay you to develop those things, but I think people compelled to change course every few years for the sake of changing course might not maintain the continuity for that to happen. I tend to tell people that no job is perfect (there's a reason they lure you in the door with money rather than you having to buy a ticket). If you find one that is not torture to show up to, and has at least some reasonable potential for advancement over time, consider sticking with it and exploit it as a source of OAFA FIRE money.
Very true. This is one of the downsides (there are others) to changing course regularly. I may be wrong but I believe that that type of employee development is quickly becoming a thing of the past as both employees and employers now expect job-hopping.

----

I'm trying to figure out the opposite of employability. If I constantly have a program running in the back of my head that works out how things look on my CV, what other mental processes does it crowd out? What are the mindsets and characteristics fostered by those who eschew traditional careers?

For instance, if I have a steady paycheck does my jugaad dissipate? Do I lose my entrepreneurial Macgyver skills?

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Aug 28, 2019 7:21 am

Good article. I very much liked this bit. This is why learning transcends hedonic adaptation.
Even if the ‘useless knowledge’ Russell refers to has no direct economic or social utility, he still argues that it has a vital character, in so far as knowing things can often make life richer. Life is more rewarding when we take an interest, and what we choose to interest us scarcely matters from this point of view. Knowing something about the history of cinema may improve a person’s enjoyment of films. Learning how to modify computers, make clothes, fix bikes, or cook Asian food each brings its own pleasures. Russell gives the weirder example of apricots. He says that apricots have always tasted slightly sweeter to him since he learned something about the origins and controversies of their cultivation in the Chinese Han Dynasty. As well as being economically useful, Russell believed, knowledge could be an inherent part of the joie de vivre and a source of mental delight in itself.

Ego wrote:I'm trying to figure out the opposite of employability.
My first thought was "employer-ability." If you can't find a job, make a job for yourself and/or partner up and/or make a job for others. Of course, maintenance of social reputation towards economic security or gain is not a new thing. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin describes how he took measures to create the reputation of being harder working than the other printers with whom he was in competition. He would wheel his own loads of paper stock through the streets at the crack of dawn just so his potential customers could note this behavior. OTOH, in the good old rollicking days of the 18th century, this sort of thing was well mixed in with all sorts of other interests and strategies and adventures.

By analogy, this topic also brings to mind the notion of maintaining "marriage-ability" and a delightful essay I once read on the topic of what sort of dress you might wear if you are meeting your lover vs. looking for your next husband. The reason this analogy exists has to do with conventions concerning contract. Why the Beatles' line "But I've got a driver and that's a start." is so funny. Also this:
But this affair having turned my thoughts to marriage, I looked round me and made overtures of acquaintance in other places; but soon found that the business of a printer being generally thought a poor one, I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable.- "Autobiography" - Benjamin Franklin
IOW, I think a good deal of the problem simply has to do with lack of comfort or experience in going outside of most conventional form in the realm of contract. For most people these-a-days, figuring out how to make money outside of applying for a new job with a corporation is as unfamiliar or apple-cart upsetting as the notion of a woman directly proposing marriage to a man.

SustainableHappiness
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by SustainableHappiness » Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:00 pm

I just got the chance to read the full article. Really interesting. However, my experience of leaving FT work has had a different twist. I do not know if it was having babies that changed me, or doing intentional work vs career grinding, but in my process of becoming a chill individual, my thirst for knowledge for the sake of knowledge has changed considerably, which contrasts with some of the article.

One person close to me accused me of having “lost my sense of wonder” recently, which was really concerning because I view that as a key characteristic in living fully. I had to mull that accusation over for a couple weeks before I decided anything about it besides anger and frustration.

But I realized my contentment has simply made some knowledge that I don’t care about (the apricot example is a good one, in the close person's case it was where wine was from) worth a “cool” and move along. I like trying lots of wine, taking my time with each glass, but I am not frantic about questioning and pursuing why wine is the way it is. On the flip side, I have gotten significantly better at playing with toddlers which involves shouting, pulling up weeds for no reason from the sidewalk, staring at ants, etc. etc. I believe these two traits are related, but I don’t know how exactly.

I also started reading more science fiction and fantasy novels I really enjoy reading vs some non-fiction books I read to “have” the content. I’m more willing to throw books away instead of forcing myself to churn through them to extract knowledge.

One thing that is silly… I teach students who are taking an applied program with the explicit intent to arrive at a certain type of entry-level job and am therefore a part of the problem with education that the article notes. As I run from employability, I explicitly help students build their employment persona and am most fulfilled when they reach out to me to provide them an employability reference and then they get employed…Life, eh?

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Wed Aug 28, 2019 12:29 pm

@SustainableHappiness:

Toddlers plus part-time work = full time work.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by unemployable » Wed Aug 28, 2019 3:05 pm

You're trolling for me, aren't you?

Frita
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Frita » Wed Aug 28, 2019 3:37 pm

@7Wannabe5

Toddlers + part-time work = full-time work + part-time work

SustainableHappiness
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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by SustainableHappiness » Thu Aug 29, 2019 5:59 am

@7W5 + Frita

Agreed, minus any element of soul-suck that made my last career so unappealing, plus more elements of joy. Full days, not bad days.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by jacob » Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:54 am

Employability reminds me of institutionalization. I've noticed how the overly educated have a hard time imagining themselves going back to school. It's not that they are resistant to learning, but that the school system of learning seems rather ridiculous when seen from "the other side". Imagine how it would feel to the average adult if reschooling had to start back in kindergarten instead of college---because that's just the way we do things.

There's basically something that is lost, call it schoolability, once lots of experience is acquired. Potentially it is this experience that has replaced the schoolability. It could also be schoolability has been lost due to the ability to teach oneself. If you can teach yourself, what would be the point of schooling? In particularly, I think we have to differentiate between schooling and learning. Hopefully learning never dies, but schoolability can certainly fade. After this is lost, it would be very hard to sit in a classroom and do textbook exercises. Why do textbook exercises, which are ultimately a waste of time, if you're used to learning new things by solving real problems in real life?

I think of employability a bit similarly. I think schoolability translates into employability---or at least that's the point. At this point, I have a hard time imagining working a job for someone else, that is, not on my own project. There are two reasons for that. First reason is that I've just been working on "my own thing" for too much of my life by now. Even when I was nominally employed as a postdoc and a quant, the idea was one of "freedom under responsibility" i.e. "produce or die" (publish or perish). Essentially do what you will how you want as long as something comes out. The one early position I had where the boss and I didn't see eye to eye on this caused lots of friction. So even then I think my employability was perhaps rather low having been replaced by independence.

To widen the scope a bit, I think there are employees, employers/managers, and sole operators. Each of these require a certain mind frame. I think if you stick to one of them for too long, it becomes very hard to enter another.

The second factor is money. This is pertinent to the semi-ERE discussion, which seems to have two sides(*). On the one side, there's the argument that too much money causes one to become lazy, lose the edge, etc. and not engage in society which after all is largely about working and consuming. On the other side, the argument is that working and consuming is just a phase of life---it just so happens that 95% of humanity doesn't manage to get out of it before they die of old age whereas most people do manage to graduate the schooling phase. The argument here (against semi-ERE and employability) is that one should search for meaning/living outside of employability once one is able to graduate from that rather than artificially design to stay within it.

Whichever is correct, it also appears to be hard (in the "unpossible" sense) to switch between them. E.g. I find it very hard to be motivated to work for money when I already have more than I need... OTOH I sure as shit am not going to give it away just so I can experience the supposed pleasure/motivation of trying to re-earn it. Or consider someone who has been in prison for decades so that prison-life is all they know. If they're are released the world-without-prison seems too overwhelming, etc. and lack identifiable meaning and thus they commit a new crime to get back in. How is this different than trying to leave decades of employment?

(*) It probably has more than two sides once we add more personality types to the discussion. Achievers, Killers, Socializers, and Explorers would see employment very differently. Each job can be seen as a game that caters to a certain type or certain types. For example, an administrative government job would generically appeal to socializers (lots of watercooler talk) but there's not much to explore and so it would be death to Explorers. An academic research job appeals to Explorers but unless you have some Socializer in you, you're not going to advance. On top of this is a meta-game called "work in general" and that also appeals to different types. I suspect FIRE appeals more to Explorer types than other types.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by black_son_of_gray » Thu Aug 29, 2019 11:58 am

@Jacob As I was reading through your post, I couldn't help but think that the friction you describe and the "unpossibility" of switching in terms of "finite" and "infinite" games a la James Carse. ERE is a finite game. Careerism and most conventional employment (and most conventional thinking about FIRE, even) are finite games. For someone who's coming from an infinite game orientation, finite games and their silly rules and prizes and transactionalism just aren't appealing unless you just really love some aspect of that game itself (maybe sentimental, maybe admiration of skills, interest in the structure of the game, etc).

Finite games exist at multiple levels and are nested, such that being at the bottom of the totem pole (like entry level position at mega-corporation) has so many more onion layers of regulations, protocols, power structures, restrictions, etc. than being at the top of the hierarchy. So moving from ERE>small business owner with only yourself as employee, while inducing some friction, wouldn't be nearly as bad as ERE>big box cashier.

With the right mindset going into it, I think it's possible to participate in finite games as an infinite player and not get too bogged down by the friction, for some amount of time anyway. Couple years? After that point, the rules of the game are learned, the skills are acquired, and you're just left playing a silly game for points that don't matter. Hence the itch for serial careers?

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Ego » Thu Aug 29, 2019 1:35 pm

jacob wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:54 am
I think there are employees, employers/managers, and sole operators. Each of these require a certain mind frame. I think if you stick to one of them for too long, it becomes very hard to enter another.
My goal in the past was to maintain the status of all three, employee, manager and sole operator. The idea was to keep my options open. I find that the more dedicated I am to the sole operator part of my life, the harder it is to be a regular employee with a paycheck. Harder in the sense that as an employee I am neither fully responsible nor fully in control. I like having both responsibility and control. Or maybe it's the other way around.... I don't like not having both.

But there is a sort of weakness to not being able to deal with life as an employee and I worry that - as you say - if I do not hold down a real paid job as a regular employee for too long I will lose the ability to do it. I don't want to lose that yet.

An opportunity opened recently that is somewhat akin to my dream job if it were say 20 hours a week. But it's not. It is full time. When I started thinking about what that really means.... preparing for work, getting there, a long unnecessary lunch, then commuting home.... plus the fact that it would crowd out the other income streams.... I passed. Reluctantly. When we return I am going to start dropping hints that I'd be willing to jobshare it 50-50 with someone else. You never know.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by Loner » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:01 pm

Great read, thanks for sharing Ego.

Employability really is a veiled way of talking about a candidate’s level of submissiveness, or conformity. Why? Who else than a submissive person will jump through all the loops that are required to remain “employable”? Employability is a good signal because it is much more expensive for someone who is intrinsically motivated to do all that’s required (and useless wrt your actual skills) to stay employable (play the right sports with the right people, attend the same boring events, dress right, etc.).

And it starts early. School does a great job in preparing us for employability. Just like students will care for their GPA and do the right extracurricular activities just to get in the best college and post-grad (the “next step”), employees will tend to fill their CVs with the right jobs and activities that enhance their career possibilities (the “next step”).

Personally, I never tried being (very) employable. I just detest the idea of employability too much. Good thing I’m naturally frugal, and thanks ERE for solidifying that. Having been self-employed for all my non-student working life, I can nicely avoid it. I have a portfolio of previous work, and that’s enough. No need to attend the right events, or dress right, or anything of the sort.

Funny enough, I ran into a client (I do writing) the other day at the supermarket. She was with her husband and children. Nice people. I live in a normal neighbourhood, but they live in a fancy place, and on that day, I needed to go the fancy supermarket in their fancy neighbourhood, and that’s where I met them. Having just changed a strut on my car, I was dressed with white pants full of grease and dirt, leather riding boots, and a half opened button-down shirt. At that moment, I was entirely unemployable. Not a pretty sigh, though pretty comfortable. Anyways, I expected them not to call me for further work, especially given that they are in a very conservative sector (wealth management), and hence likely conservative people. But to my great surprise, they did.

Either that’s the joy of not having to represent a business when you work for them as a contractor (not as much as when you’re an employee anyways), or it’s jut that sometimes we tend to self-censor ourselves much more than is “needed” because of the common fear of consequences. Reminds me of Browning’s Ordinary Men, in which he explains that although there had never been a case in which refusal to obey an order to kill unarmed civilians resulted in execution, the men in the battalion he studied went on anyways and killed many, many jews. Also, Milgram’s experiment.

Fear of consequences is sometimes worse than the consequences themselves.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by jennypenny » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:23 pm

jacob wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:54 am
To widen the scope a bit, I think there are employees, employers/managers, and sole operators. Each of these require a certain mind frame. I think if you stick to one of them for too long, it becomes very hard to enter another.
This is so true. One work-around I've found is through volunteer work but you have to be deliberate about your choices. I would always volunteer for the same type of work -- mainly projects where I'd be in charge. Now I try to mix it up and volunteer for things where I'm just a cog in the wheel or doing mostly grunt work. I think it helps to keep me open to different types of jobs.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by IlliniDave » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:30 pm

Ego wrote:
Wed Aug 28, 2019 1:40 am
...
I may be wrong but I believe that that type of employee development is quickly becoming a thing of the past as both employees and employers now expect job-hopping.
I'm only familiar with my employer and one other that I interact with the management of on a daily basis. While they do expect job-hopping, neither company likes it and both are very concerned with retention. Problem for them both is that retention costs money.

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Re: Refusal of Work and Employability

Post by classical_Liberal » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:46 pm

jacob wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 7:54 am
It probably has more than two sides once we add more personality types to the discussion.
I would modify your previous statement to reflect my "side" as follows: ...there's the argument that too much money causes one to become lazy, lose the edge, etc. and not engage in society which after all can be about working with others towards common goals. Which, in concert with mastery of individual issues, are ultimately the things that bring life satisfaction
black_son_of_gray wrote:
Thu Aug 29, 2019 11:58 am
@Jacob As I was reading through your post, I couldn't help but think that the friction you describe After that point, the rules of the game are learned, the skills are acquired, and you're just left playing a silly game for points that don't matter. Hence the itch for serial careers?
I think you may be on to something here. Hence this need to maintain employability is really just having enough employability capital to make the "height requirement" cut for the next field of interest. Which is different in kind to the employability capital needed to move up the ladder in a singular career path.

In @lemurs journal, when he posted this link originally, I made the comment that the idea of needing to maintain employability insidiously invades the minds of many pursuing ERE. I think I'd like to refine that comment. It insidiously invades the minds of potential ERE'ers only if they view the path to employability as up a singular career ladder. Which, of course, is not that case. It only seems that way when too much time is spent in that particular cave.

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