Life Lessons from Your Work

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In today’s world most of us engage not just one job throughout our adult lives but several, from early jobs as a youth gaining some experience or training to later career work that might be better attuned to our interests and sense of purpose.

As a self-discovery exploration I invite you to make a list of your workaday jobs.  Note your age when you started and (if) finished each job, and write a brief job description. Then consider for each job:

What LIFE LESSON(s) did I take away from this activity?

To pilot this Tool, allow me to briefly engage with this myself to see where it may lead:

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  • Horse drawings (around 6-7 YO): I loved to draw horses (always wanted my own horse and never had one, though I did get to help with horses at local stables in Pennsylvania with my sisters and friends). After feeling I had mastered a basic horse drawing design, one day I went around the neighborhood door-to-door, offering my artwork for a dime per drawing. Neighbors were supportive and I felt a sense of accomplishment. LIFE LESSON:  It is okay to share with others your creative products.
  • Ice picking at the community Peach Festival in Lewiston, NY (15 YO): First paid job, and I didn’t stay with it long enough to be paid.  Terrible work without any safety gear. I still have scars on my hands from inexpertly hacking away at a block of ice for some stall owner who did not care.  LIFE LESSON: Use proper discrimination before accepting a responsibility; be sure you will be capable and safe.talkeetna-1624101__480
  • Crab and salmon cannery, Yakutat Alaska (19 YO summer) LIFE LESSON: Life is a Great Adventure!fruit-3215625__480
  • Grape vineyard and peach orchard, solo farm hand (20 and 21 YO, summer work to help pay for college spending): This was my first real job, a job of choice. I knew I needed to work but did not want a “normal” job such as waitressing or secretarial labor. This was outdoors and I worked mainly alone in the fields or driving a tractor. The farmer gave me many responsibilities, which I loved! (…Until the day he became inappropriate with me; I left shortly after that, not to return.) LIFE LESSON: Follow the beat of your own Heart; Enjoy responsibility and work hard to excel.   I learned how I dearly love to work hard and produce positive results.
  • Ushering and parking booth attendant at a new performing arts center (22 – 24 YO) : I enjoyed every aspect of this and was promoted to Head Usher. LIFE LESSON: Exciting opportunities abound (I almost accepted a job in NYC becoming a nanny for a world class symphony conductor’s family; loved the variety of shows and the elan of performance.)architecture-3111558__480
  • Tutoring English at my undergraduate college (21-22 YO): Fell in love with teaching. LIFE LESSON: I can be of positive service through sharing knowledge by helping facilitate learning in others.
  • Research Associate and Teaching Assistant, and Faculty adjunct at community colleges, while in  graduate school (14 yrs in grad school). LIFE LESSONS: Many. professor-1993129__480
  • University teaching (pre-tenured and then tenured faculty, and Chair two terms), 25 years. LIFE LESSONS: The importance of following my own inner guidance and developing detachment from academic politics or personality clashes; enjoyment of working with wonderful students; also the value of maintaining my spiritual focus and creative activities separately from the academic setting.fantasy-3313964__480images are from pixabay.com
  • Spiritual services roles (44 yrs, many different roles and opportunities). LIFE LESSONS: How to be a spiritual co-worker with others in voluntary roles; and how to stand back to help facilitate spiritual seeking and growth in others.
  • Writing for publication (many years): LIFE LESSONS: Persistence, commitment, dedication, willingness to work and rework; editing; then eventually morphing the project to team-based efforts and ultimately being able to release and share the work with as broad a readership as the book may reach. (Joy and the desire to produce more in service to Life!)

So, what might your history of Life Lessons from Working reveal? I see in mine a widening arc of responsibilities and a growing love of creative expression and Service. I love the feeling of independence that comes with varying responsibilities along with the expansion of knowledge and the capacity to grow from working with others as well as alone. I can hardly separate work from life as a whole, as the lessons have abounded holistically.

As I now prepare for a fast approaching retirement from my main academic position, this exercise has helped me to understand that this process will never dissipate but will only continue to expand!

So, what is YOUR story? I invite you to engage your own reflections about your Life Lessons from Work!

Resurrection / Rebirth!

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The final stage of the Hero Cycle that we are exploring with this year’s themes is that of Resurrection / Rebirth. ‘The End’ is always a New Beginning!  Whether or not you believe in reincarnation (I do), we live out our lives in epic proportions, undergoing many cycles within greater Cycles as we spiral through our life experiences to reach the heights of our aspirations and fulfillment.

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With my research into life path mapping that I have conducted over the last fifteen years, I have discovered there are three primary types of Life Course Schemas or cultural models of a lifetime that are overlapping in our cultural outlook today. I call these Linear, Cyclic, and Seamless Life Course Models. I want to describe the Linear and Cyclic Life Course Models for you here.

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Linear Models are predicated on a long held view of the life course emphasized in developmental psychology and proposed primarily by Erik Erikson in 1950 (Childhood and Society). This model postulates eight developmental stages everyone passes though as they mature. (You can read about this also in Gail Sheehy’s book Passages and in her later, updated New Passages book). Many of us have been conditioned according to this Linear-stages or step-by-step model of a lifetime, but in today’s “post-modern” reality, this Linear model really does not hold up so well for most people. Instead of ‘one education, one job or career, one relationship,’nowadays most of us find ourselves needing to be flexible and to adapt to major interruptions of our plans as we go along.

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The Cyclic Life Course Model accounts for our need to adjust to life’s changes. I have found in my interview research that people who have experienced major, early life disruptions as a child such as from their parents’ divorce tend to have developed a Cyclic Life Course model on their own. Some will say life occurs in cycles like decades, seven year cycles, twelve year cycles or some other periodic cycle. These folks also say they do not experience or worry about “mid-life crises,” because as one cycle ends and another begins, they always have the opportunity to refresh and renew!

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images are from pixabay.com

So how about you? Do you hold to more of a LINEAR model of life, with set stages of development you aim to achieve? Or do you hold a CYCLIC view of life instead, remaining flexible and open to start anew when a cycle ends for another to begin? (BTW, You might hold instead to a SEAMLESS model, believing that life just happens and you can adjust to whatever comes your way.)

I invite you to contemplate and journal about a CYCLIC approach to your life. Make a timeline of major life events to see if you discover any sort of cyclical pattern there. If so, where are you at in your current cycle? Are you ending a minor or major cycle? Starting a new one? Or are you right in the middle of one cycle, giving your all as you develop your talents and relationships?

I welcome YOUR Comments and Story!

Jungian Re-integration: Gathering Wholeness

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Allow me to share two difficult stories around the theme of re-integration this week. Carl Jung recognized three stages in the process of psychological individuation that are closely tied with the three phases of the hero cycle or the three stages of rites of passage cycles. For Jung these three stages of individuation include: integration, disintegration, and reintegration. The story of Isis descending to retrieve and reassemble the dismembered parts of her brother-husband Osiris well illustrates this process.

We may feel as if we are whole until some disruptive experience  dismembers us and we feel we have  “fallen to pieces.” Then we must “pick up the pieces” and “put ourselves back together again,” resulting in a new self with regard to difficulties we have faced.

On NPR on Saturday, I listened to a story that reminded me of this theme of Jungian reintegration. A mother, Sarah, was dealt the worst blow life has to offer: one of her two twin sons, Caleb, died from a genetic illness. Sarah donated Caleb’s body to science. Yet she found she could not leave it at that; two years later Sarah followed up on where various body parts of her beloved son were delivered and to what use they were being put.  She found that Caleb’s cornea was still in use in studies of infant blindness; DNA studies comparing her two twins’ blood samples had revealed thousands of discrepancies of an epigenetic nature; and Caleb’s retina was a valuable resource in a Philadelphia study of infant illnesses.

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In tracing what had happened with her son’s donated parts, Sarah was re-integrating her very memory of Caleb. He had not died without purpose or consequence, and Sarah’s decision to donate his young body to science had served more than to alleviate her own suffering. Sarah summed it up nicely:

“The choices you make affect others.”

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images are from pixabay.com

The second story I wish to share is as grim as Sarah’s.  Just yesterday while driving on an interstate highway to Denver, I passed a male deer which had just been struck by a vehicle. It was terrible. The deer had been impacted at its rear so that both of its rear legs were broken. I pulled off The highway to call the state police. That poor deer was scraping itself off from the highway shoulder, in terrible agony. He could not survive for long in that condition. The state troopers would euthanize this Soul’s mortal body. I knew this was the only way for this Deer Soul to return to wholeness spiritually, though it could never return to its physical family. I stayed until the troopers arrived, sending what peace and love I could to the struggling animal.

Reintegration is a reassembling of parts of the Self which may have been lost or dismembered through crisis.  As we pick up the pieces we go forward with what we have left, hopefully contributing to others from the lessons we have gained from our ordeals, so that others may suffer less down the road.

These stories are grim indeed.  But they remind us of how life may also deal harsh experience. Yet, the hero cycle or rites of passage allow the process of individuation to be always an upward spiral of growth and purpose.

I welcome always your comments and stories.