Underemployment has taken on several new meanings in this struggling economy. David Shuster of MSNBC asked one of his guests what the term means – the response: “It means that people are working part time in stead of full time. What? It seems as if the pundits just make stuff up to fill their 30 second requirement.
For a long time being ‘underemployed’ meant that one was working below one’s individual capacity. A person might have a well paid job, in meaningful employment, manufacturing the stuff the rest of us want – but still be underemployed.
Properly employed means to fulfill one’s intellectual and emotional capacity in the work force. The reality is that most people get a job, get married, have children, incur debt – and are shackled by the ‘golden handcuffs’ of responsibility. They are much more well suited to other forms of employment – but they cannot take the financial hit of switching jobs. The financial hit might come in the form of lost wages and tuition costs to retrain – to prepare for the ‘right’ career.
I remember well back in the 1970’s when computer science was all the rage. Everyone at employment agencies and in the media recommended an education in information systems, information technology, – all things computer. I personally knew several people who had the intellectual ability to perform the necessary logic functions required by a career in information technology – they obtained their bachelor degree, went to work, made good money, and were miserable. They were underemployed because they were not working in a career that fulfilled their personality needs.
Heck – I even know physicians that are unhappy in their work. They would have been happier working in social work – but the cost of their education can not be justified by the salary of social workers.
Here is the question: Should we work for money or for personal fulfillment? And: Are these elements mutually exclusive?
They are not mutually exclusive. Joseph Campbell, a 20th Century philosopher, became known through his interviews with Bill Moyers on Public Television. Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” Some people scoffed – what is he, some sort of hippie or something? Campbell’s point, as I took it, was that if one had a job in a field that one enjoyed then you would never have to ‘go to work.’
One of my daughters drove us nuts as a child – she loved animals. Anything that had to do with animals was her thing. We had guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, gerbils, fish, exotic fish, a skunk, and pet mice. As a young adult she took a job cleaning kennels at a local veterinary clinic. In time she was promoted to veterinary assistant. She enrolled in a two year community college program on Veterinary Technology. Today she is a Registered Veterinary Technician – leading a team at an upscale vet clinic. She does not think of work as ‘work’ – rather she is excited almost every day because of new opportunities to help an animal that struggles in the world of humans. My daughter is not underemployed.
Folks, here it is, the world of work is huge. There is a job for each of us – a job that will fulfill us personally and give us a healthy income. To make a career change after taking on the responsibility of family can be financially difficult – but the ultimate reward of a life worth living is many times more important than remaining underemployed for a few bucks an hour.