The Conundrum of Right Livelihood: Getting Out of the Rabbit Hole, Introduction

This series of posts stems from a chat I had with a friend about finding *right livelihood and the lack of self-help gurus who address the middle place, also known as limbo, or as I like to call it, the Professional Rabbit Hole. This is the place where I seem to have fallen, career-wise, and I’m not finding satisfactory help or reading  material on this issue. The goal of this series is to document my process from being employed in an unsatisfactory job (my current situation) to finding a job and employer I love and/or fruitful self-employment. My hopes: these writings will help me, and maybe others, who are feeling particularly stuck career-wise. Here is a little background on how I got here—maybe you can relate:

I have 30+ years of work and volunteer experience, a bachelor’s degree, a certificate from the Leadership for a Sustainable Future program, and have been self-employed. I’ve worked hard, long hours, skipped lunches, waived overtime, shown up sick, all of it. However, as an employee, I have found a lack of professional growth opportunities. I can’t get the experience I need to move beyond barely-above-entry-level, and management doesn’t support upward mobility. I also can’t get promoted. In my current job as a civil servant, I cannot work above my job class to get needed experience. However, I can be given plenty of assignments that are at least one or two steps below my classification, which keeps me stuck on the employment carousel. In the three years I’ve worked for local government, I’ve become jaded and frustrated with the entire system. Management is incompetent and nasty at times, and they make up the rules as they go. Meaningful leadership is generally lacking. The work itself is boring—as an administrative aide, I’m using skills I developed 20-30 years ago. The “foot in the door” is a myth—there is no where to go, and most departments either promote from within, have highly specific requirements for the job, and/or prefer to hire from the outside. Government, for me, has been a dead-end. The non-profit and academic sectors aren’t much better.

Given my work situation, I’m looking for other opportunities. However, searches at Idealist and Indeed lead me to dread and overwhelm. Jobs that look interesting are: 

  • Located in an expensive area to live without appropriate compensation;
  • Want three employees for the price of one; and/or
  • Are looking for experience that I don’t have because I can’t get it in my current position.

All other jobs pay $10+/hour less than what I’m making now, and are at an even lower level than I’m working currently. I also seem to either sort through hundreds of jobs, or have a list of three (is there any in between, anywhere?). Finding a job that’s a good fit looks grim. 

That’s my struggle of finding a job and employer I enjoy, while making enough money to survive. The other struggle is finding the right “help.” I’ve gone to JobLink, participated in workshops, talked with career counselors, taken the MBTI® and Strong Interest Inventory® tests. I took a couple of online classes in Project Management (but can’t get experience using what I’ve learned). Over the years, I’ve used a plethora of tools developed by a variety of self-help gurus. Many have helped me spiritually and creatively. A lot of them teach self-love as a way of moving forward and getting what you want out of life—but I already love myself. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful—they just don’t seem to address my particular situation. The help I find in this genre for careers is one of three categories:

  • Ground-zero for people who don’t know who they are or what they want;
  • Entrepreneurs who already have a business and want to grow it; or
  • Successful business owners who want to take their work international.

There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. I have yet to find the book, So, You’re Stuck in this Wonky Professional Place of Neither Here nor There, Are Educated and Skilled, Know Who You Are and What You Want, but Can’t Get From Point A to Point B to Point C—Here’s What to Do About It.

That’s where I am, in the middle—the rabbit hole—not so far down that I can’t see the light, but not out in the sun, either.

*I’m defining right livelihood as work I love that serves a higher good/bigger picture, effectively uses my skills and talents, provides a better-than-surviving wage, and where I am treated with respected. Right livelihood definitions may vary from person to person; and I reserve the right to tweak the definition for myself, as needed.

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