Ideas are wonderful phenomena. They can be exciting as well as fun, especially when they bring one to the brink of possibly carving out a creative path for the journey one is traveling. I have been thinking lately about what the notion of the good life actually means. One of the reasons I liked being a professor for so many years is that graduate students can keep teachers tied into any creative sense they might possess. Although I’m retired now, I work with practicum students and postgraduate interns through my private practice. Recently I had a discussion with a practicum student who indicated that she is interested in career counseling, but not from the typical angle in which that genre of counseling is approached. She is more interested in what work or career means to people. What kind of value do people place on the notion of work and career? How does work fit into the way they envision life for themselves? My practicum student’s thoughts strongly resonated with me because I’ve have sought for several years how to talk with clients about work and career along the lines of valuation. Yet my thoughts have continued to float around in kind of a haze that I cannot quite articulate. How would I build a practice around such thoughts? What would my work with clients in this area actually look like? What would the work that clients and I pursue entail? Ideas are wonderful phenomena indeed. They come and they go. Some of them have handles onto which one can grasp. Many of them slip into and out of consciousness and are lost forever in cyberspace or some kind of other space. If ideas are going to fructify in one’s life, then they must move from that vague sense of haziness in the mind to becoming fully articulated. Somehow and in someway, I believe thoughts around work and career in conjunction with personal values can open up life and allow one to glimpse into some possible meaning about the good life.
Values and Career
Values exploration has become somewhat of a hot topic in counseling for several years now. An emphasis on values has always informed spiritual counseling. The resurgence of values exploration has come about especially with the popularity of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Additionally I have never worked with a client where at least in some small way work or career hasn’t surfaced as a concern for the client.
At one time I thought I would enjoy the work of a career counselor. Such work is specifically delineated so as to help people find possible career paths or the type of job at which one would be efficient as well as enjoy. The notion of working with clients to help them find a job is not an idea that really interests me. I am more interested in the way people’s personal values relate to the jobs or career paths they have chosen. I’m particularly interested in the value and meaning that people place on work for themselves. Questions come to mind generated by this fuzzy idea I have of branding a practice. What place does work play in people’s lives? How does a job or career serve a person in terms of the way they desire to approach life? Is a career one’s ultimate goal, or is it a means that serves other ends? Is one’s work one’s passion? Or does work enable a person to pursue more meaningful passions? How does work or career fit into one’s idea about the good life? These questions and more presently form a fuzzy framework for how I envision the future of my work as a counselor. The goal, of course, is to fully articulate that framework, which is now nothing more than a vague idea.
No. I’m not going to present a diatribe on goats’ milk, how it compares and contrasts to cows’ milk, or any other kind of milk. I will however present an anecdotal story that might lead people to think about values and work, and what might make up the good life.
Several years ago – I can neither remember the specific date nor the name of the individual involved – I read an article about a woman who worked in the power world of corporations and pulled off a success that took a lot hutzpah to get to the acme of her career. She gave it all up. And what was her reasoning for giving it up? She wanted to purchase and work a goat farm. At least I think it was a goat farm. It struck me in a way that I’ve not forgotten what that article was all about. From the acme of being a corporate CEO to goats’ milk and goat’s cheese. What was that all about? Simply put, it was about her pursuing and doing the very thing she has always wanted to do. Goats’ milk? Who knows why? What does it matter? She wanted to do it. Like anything else, she had to learn the skills that it took to make a goat farm work. The article was primarily about needing and learning the skills one needs to make a go of whatever kind of dream one is pursuing. One doesn’t simply sit around, and with the wishing all comes true. But the article about this woman’s major transition in life brings up something even more important. For her, a goat farm carried deep meaning for her, and it was her take on the good life.
The Good Life
No. I’m not going to delve into the entire history of ideas whereby countless individuals have addressed how they view the good life. What interests me along these lines is more about how people understand what entails a balanced and meaningful life. Work or career is but one component of a well-balanced life. But in our culture, it is a supercharged and an important component for most people. Work can mean a lot of things to a host of individuals for the simple reason that each person is unique. And each individual has an angle on how he or she wants to tackle life. Along these lines I hope to shape my future private practice as a professional counselor. These are questions about life that truly interest me. As I discussed with my practicum students just the other day, articulating this vision for a private practice is a key that will open up whole ways of rethinking and approaching the work they want to do. On some level such reflections will lead to what professional entrepreneurs call branding. The articulation I seek to unfold within my own mind is much more than merely branding, as important at that is. The avenue I’m seeking to clarify at the moment is about how I think about life in general, and how my thoughts and values will shape the way I hope to develop my practice. As I stated earlier, there are few if any clients I’ve worked with who have no broached the worlds of work and finances somewhere along the line we have worked together. Work and money, like it or not, are always important parts of our lives. And please, that doesn’t mean that all one cares about is the filthy mammon. It doesn’t mean that one is a coarse materialist. What it does mean is that understanding how to navigate the worlds of work, career, and money contributes to a well-lived and fruitful life.
Theoretically, I believe my spiritual beliefs, values exploration, some existential thought, all encased in ACT provide an excellent framework for how I hope to articulate my vision for what I hope my practice to become over the next few years. I’m somewhat excited about moving forward on this vision because it dovetails with some other literature I’m reading in the areas of economics and an anarchist approach to life. The ideas of a well-lived life, living in accordance with my values, and the pursuit of a balanced and fulfilling life require personal liberty in a context where political power is viewed as the enemy of human decency. These ideas fold into what Albert Jay Nock called the humane life that brings about civilization. My spiritual beliefs form the foundation for all these thoughts, and they provide the means by which I make meaning of life. Meaning making is another important component of a life well-lived, or the good life.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/August 14th, 2018