There Are Only 3 Jobs That Matter

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

We live in interesting times. Perhaps, one could reasonably assert, “end times”. Things that we have relied upon to be constant are changing, and rapidly — more rapidly than many of us can accommodate, integrate, and understand.

In conditions such as these, meaning becomes elusive. What we’ve relied upon for sustenance, comfort, and stability either ceases to exist, or ceases to provide. Trying to live a meaningful life amid this kind of chaos is a struggle. It first hit me in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2008. A bunch of people lost their jobs. And they didn’t want them back. I could see it in their faces, their postures, their…capitalism-induced PTSD. There was a realization that much of it (“it” being the work, the stories we told ourselves about the work, the things we did with the money we got from the work) was bullshit. Unsatisfying. Soul-sucking.

Again, at the Winter Solstice of 2012, there was another recognition — not just in me but in many around me. More hopeful this time. Along with the end of the Mayan Calendar I felt the shift into a new, unscripted era, compounding the uncertainties around meaning and purpose.

At some point, I started thinking harder about what really mattered. And when that didn’t get me far enough, I started thinking harder and more clearly about the circumstances. And I got depressed.

I said to a dear friend, “The world is dying.”

And she said back, without missing a beat, “Yes. But at the same time, a new world is being born.”

And that made a lot of sense to me. I took it in. And that’s when I realized that there are really only three roles that matter —

  • Emergency Room
  • Hospice
  • Neo-Natal Care

It’s like this:

Emergency Room: When something is falling apart, some of us are really skilled at stitching it back together. At least for awhile. There are often heroics involved. (There’s also a lot of ego involved in emergency room work. We’ll have to be careful not to try to stitch together that which cannot be saved. We’ll need to develop the discipline of triage).

There’s value in emergency room care even at the end of the world, because, as they say, “all the trees and all the flowers and all the fruits of tomorrow are present in the seeds of today.” We will be carrying some things forward into the new and unfolding future, and those things are worth saving.

Hospice: But let’s be honest. Death is coming. Big Death. I was talking with a Native American elder and chief, sharing my desire to create this big gateway through which disaster could be averted. He looked at me with sage, sad, knowing eyes. And he said, “You can’t save it.”

It dawned on me in that moment just exactly why we’ve been turning to Native American culture and wisdom over the last 50 years or so. It’s because, I think, they understand catastrophic, senseless loss. And we’re about to experience that, at a scale none of us is prepared for. Except, perhaps, the Native peoples.

We’ll need a lot of hospice work. The challenge of setting down our attachments, especially in an attachment-addicted culture, will be enormous. Those who can lead the way, who exhort and encourage us to let go, to let things die, will be, at first, vilified — then desperately, achingly sought out. And, like Moses at the edge of the Jordan River, we’ll probably be left behind when the time comes. It’s important work. Best to see onself as the proverbial “hollow bone”, though. And probably best to be old (or an old soul), because Death is an indomitable task master.

Neo-Natal Care: Here’s where the sunny optimism (and naïveté) of the young will blossom. Innocence — true, unvarnished, maiden-in-the-garden innocence — will be the greatest blessing here. Many seeds will fail to sprout. Many will sprout and die. But some — hopefully, enough — will take root and be vibrant and grow thick and strong and tall, the scaffolding of a new world. Those who can tend joyously to those seedlings — and who can compassionately surrender to the circumstances that cause many others to fail, and still look with sparkling eyes on those that remain — they will be the nursemaids of our collective future.

So what’ll it be?

Best pick a role soon, and start honing your skills. As that Native elder, with a wry smile in his eye, once said to a colleague of mine, “You’re late. You’re not in trouble… but you’re late. Get to work.”

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