Me? Non-judgmental?

I got a great and at least partly unfounded compliment the other day.  It came in a coaching session with a young woman who’s considering her career and work options.  We were talking about things she’s been successful at and enjoyed in her life.  “You’re so non-judgmental,” she said.  I laughed, thinking of all the many ways in which I am not, at all, non-judgmental.  But what she meant was a kind of non-judgmentalness that I’ve acquired in the course of my life from watching how much better the world works when people are doing work they’re suited to, and what a disaster it is to try to pretend that there are good, respectable jobs, and then jobs a person should be ashamed of, or feel like a disappointment for having chosen or resorted to.

I once watched a guy riding on the back of a trash truck spin a sidewalk can liner through the air in an arc that shimmied it perfectly into place in its cage on the sidewalk, with a giant grin on his face; exuding a vitality that defied the suggestion of having settled for manual labor.  He leapt on and off the running board of the truck as it made its way along the street.  And, at least then, every time he showed up to leap and bound his way through his route, the city put money, good money, in his bank account.  It’s possible that he’d have been happier with some other job that might draw higher esteem, but I very much doubt it. He looked at home where he was.  I’ve seen the same vitality on carpenters, baristas, snowplow operators, restaurant hostesses, bus drivers, secretaries, farmhands.   And I’ve seen the profound lack of that vitality in many who hold the kind of jobs we think we’re supposed to want and obtain.

I’ve heard people say that it’s not a good idea to try to get everyone to go to college because someone has to serve the food and pick up the trash.  That may be true, but it’s not a good reason not to encourage anyone who would benefit to study or pursue anything they’re inspired to.  Instead I think we’d do well to notice and acknowledge things like this: for some people, hopping in and out of a truck is the perfect job, and sitting at a desk would be excruciating and detrimental.  For others, a life spent in front of a computer is heavenly.  For others, any one task or set of tasks repeated day after day would be tiresome.  And for others, the same would be comforting and preferable.

There’s plenty of preference and suitability to go around.  And not only does it get work done when we let all of it be just as important and worthy as anything else, people get to live more satisfying, vibrant lives when they’re able to pursue what makes sense for them to pursue, what suits them.  It may seem impossible to succeed this way, because there are salary discrepancies between various lines of work, and massive cutbacks in others, and all manner of other obstacles.  We can’t, in the short term, control most or even any of that, and it’s true that it has an impact.  But these realities may be all the more reason to empower people to go after their best most suitable lives.  If we remove the stigmas attached to different kinds of work so that we don’t narrow the options of young people who are setting out into the world to figure out how to earn a living in a tumultuous economic climate, we set them up to find access to their deepest determination and commitment. Even the jobs that have always seemed secure are not necessarily, and so if a person is fortunate enough to have the support they need to never give up at finding the right match for their capacities, to go after that match with the full force of themselves, won’t they be much more likely to stay afloat, and even to find a niche for themselves that can lead to distinction and success?

So yes, I suppose I am non-judgmental, in this particular way.  I didn’t come this way, though.  I had to learn it by watching what’s actually happening around me, what’s actually making people thrive against the backdrop of topsy-turvy times.  It’s not what it used to be; it’s not what most of us were raised to believe it would be.  But it’s here.


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  1. I can think of many examples of your theory. One in particular is a story of a guy I knew in college whose dad wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor; anything “credible and upstanding” that his son could make a living at..that is anything but a musician, which is what his son really loved, was good at, and thrived at. While I believe his father’s intentions were well-meaning, all of us could clearly see the toll this took on our friend…to be forced to do something he didn’t like and wasn’t very good at.
    As his college career progressed, our friend continued his musical pursuits along side the doctor/lawyer track and to me seemed miserable in the process, with the exception of those moments when his guitar was in hand showing a fellow student how to play a cool Pink Floyd rif, or jamming with a few of us in the basement of the dorm.
    A few years later I ran into him and found out he was playing in a band in the Carribean, having the time of his life, AND making money and loving what he was doing.
    While this is only one example of many, I am convinced it is possible, too.

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