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The Labor You Love

Doing the work you love can be a compelling work or career life story.

Article by Tom Gilbert - © September, 2012

When I was a teenager I dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. What a job! You get to play for a living. And I dearly loved the game; still do, if truth be told. But in High School it dawned on me how great the level of talent is to become a professional athlete. That dream was simply beyond my ability, regardless of how badly I wanted it.

Life is like that. Dreams are important and necessary. We all need to reach for them. But we also have to be willing to modify those dreams if they exceed our reach. This is especially true when it comes to our work life and careers.

I continued on to college and discovered a new passion that turned into a fascinating career in the radio broadcasting industry. It was a good ride and I got a chance to be an on-air personality in several different cities. I held various management positions in the programming departments, responsible for creating music formats, promotions and events and coaching other radio talent. And I met lots of amazing people, from performers to listeners and the many people who work in various capacities of the radio and music industry.

I was drawn to this line of work almost by chance. A friend and co-worker at a restaurant hosted his own radio show at the college station. I visited one time and suddenly discovered the joy of picking and presenting music for the free-form format. This led to my own Saturday night show for the University of Oklahoma radio station. It was a talent just waiting to be cultivated. At the start I was amateurish with my announcing skills, but I was good right away at picking music. I would weave together songs and create theme sets and turn people on to the wonderful musical and songwriting abilities of various artists. It was cool and fun, a real labor of love.

The radio industry has undergone radical change since I started in the 1976. Like many other industries it became more corporate and consolidated. Less creativity, more sameness. Less art, more bottom line. The motives of owners were often good, but the end result was less satisfying for me, and I believe for a lot of listeners who’ve since become disenchanted with the medium.

I am now in that part of my life where I should be contemplating my retirement years. But I won’t quit working anytime soon. I still have many things to accomplish; more dreams to achieve. The creativity awakened in me from radio has evolved over the years to a love of interviewing people and writing about their lives. As a history buff I also enjoy the place each person’s story has in our overall tapestry of personal history stories. In essence, this is the definition of history – the recorded stories of people, places and events.

It is expected that most people will hold several different jobs and multiple careers in their lifetime. The days of working forty or fifty years at one company and retiring with the gold watch are from a bygone era. Most of us reinvent ourselves throughout our lives as circumstances dictate and opportunities appear.

An interesting exercise is to write down the various jobs you’ve held in your lifetime. I’ve done this and came up with over twenty different employers. I started with early summer jobs as a youth such as mowing lawns and a paper route. I also put in my time at various restaurants, from bussing tables, taking orders and seating customers to washing dishes or preparing the food. In college I cleaned the house of an elderly lady. One summer I worked in a steel mill and also painted a lake house, cleaned away debris and put up a fence.

Odd jobs can help make ends meet when you are starting out, or even later when faced with periods of unemployment. This was true for me and at those times I tried out working as a customer service representative, real estate broker apprentice, web site developer and freelance writer.

In 2008 when the recession came down hard I lost my radio job of the time (a promotions director for a country format) and started seriously considering a new career. I’d been dabbling in the personal history field since 2003 and I looked for that to be my new fulltime endeavor. But it is hard to generate a successful business in the midst of one of our toughest economic downturns. It was too high of a risk to put all my eggs in one basket, so I went back to school and became certified to teach school, all the while working on various life story writing projects.

In the classroom I discovered the joy of helping young minds learn about history and people’s stories. But to teach well requires a lot of time and energy. And I found the siren song of my own personal history business (Your Life Is Your Story) too compelling. This led to a decision to focus my energies on other people’s stories through interviewing clients and writing, co-authoring, editing and coaching people. I do this so they can preserve their personal history. It is a high purpose calling and I find myself energized and excited about this work. It is truly another labor of love.

There are still bills to pay and living expenses, along with the cost of running a business. I am regularly faced with the need to continue to develop best practices, market my services and generate income. Towards that end I continue to invest in my training and development and to work smarter, not just harder.

The key point I hope you glean from this article is the importance of doing meaningful work. Your labor should have purpose. More than likely that means earning a certain amount of income, but also finding work for which you are passionate. That can be a challenging task. I’m no trust-fund baby or lottery winner and I face economic uncertainty as I follow my bliss. My hope for you is that whatever job you hold not only provides fair financial reward but also the inner intrinsic rewards that make life worth living.

Chronicling your career can be helpful as part of your life story. Many of us spend a great portion of our life at work. Look back at this time of your life. Consider your accomplishments and contributions. How have they shaped you? What lessons and values (good and bad) have you learned that are important to pass on to others?

My work as a personal historian includes helping you identify what story you want to tell and why. A project that includes a memoir or history of your work life, career, business accomplishments or company history is worth considering. If you’d like to explore this idea I welcome the opportunity to speak to you about it. I can create a compelling written narrative worth preserving in a printed or online format. Every project is different and the price is dependent of the amount of work, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Together we will explore ways to fit your budget. My contact information is online here. I look forward to speaking with you about your work experiences and hearing about the labor you love.  


Everybody has a story to tell!
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