Roger Marolt: Making a living that actually enhances life
There are not as many people beating paths into the backcountry this summer. Last year where there were washboards and near misses on mountain bike single-track, today I coast around banked turns worry-free and grind up switchbacks head down. Where parking lots at trailheads looked like freeway pile-ups last summer, now I lift the tailgate after a hike and sit on my bumper savoring the last moments of a serene day in the high country.
The crowd I run with did not predict this. But, perhaps a larger crowd shrugs their collective shoulders at this observation and says, “Of course fewer people headed into the wilderness this summer. Things opened up after winter’s COVID surge, and we had better things to do.”
It’s what makes predicting trends hard, this thing called “personal experience.” Enjoying nature is a big part of my life. I love it. When people came in droves to enjoy it last summer I thought, “Oh no. The cat is out of the bag. The masses have discovered this. Things have changed forever.”
I was wrong. Apparently lying on your back in a brisk breeze on rocky soil, staring up at the mist of stars in a moonless sky didn’t change many minds about what electives to sign up for this semester in the school of life.
And so, too, perspective must also be respected in judging what is being popularly described as The Great Resignation, the mass movement leading to a nationwide labor shortage.
It seems many don’t want to work anymore, at least not like they used to — that is, spending more time in the office than at home or stressing to serve those who are seldom satisfied and even less appreciative. The label “burn out” has been slapped on the phenomenon. I don’t like that. It sounds dystopian. But, like me predicting overcrowded outdoor exploration through my tree hugger’s eyes, the people describing this “crisis” are mostly happily employed pundits and journalists. They don’t get it.
I don’t believe what is happening is mass burnout. I enjoy work. I know satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment can be found through it. I know it puts food on the table and skis in the rack. Instead of being sick and tired of work in general, I think people have learned during the COVID hiatus that they have been underestimating work and the satisfaction it can bring and have, perhaps, been focusing too much on monetary rewards in the past. It’s OK to expect more from our jobs.
I hope this is the alarm bell for the great awakening we have been dreaming of since at least the days of the yuppies; a re-energization, the actual and concerted quest for genuine fulfillment. It is not that we are sick of work, rather we are sick of working for what we now recognize as nothing.
The “nothing” is everything we have traditionally done for appearances. It is a weak commentary on our lives when the most important question we must answer for those we meet for the first time is, “What do you do for a living?” Our job titles have become more important than the names our parents lovingly gave us.
I hope this movement is the rejection of hyper-consumerism, resume building as a creative outlet and raising our kids as trophies instead of unique human beings. Maybe we finally see that the rat race is a 50-year marathon and the prize is really just a plastic participants’ medal faux finished to look like cheese. Perhaps the memory of how air quality improved across the globe when we stopped commuting every day during the pandemic was not a fleeting moment.
The problem of the labor shortage has been laid squarely on the backs of workers, as has become our habit of doing with anything economic. We label the load as “entitlement” and “laziness,” but that is actually reflective of our own sense of privilege and unwillingness to work at solutions. In the end, the business world will have to figure out ways to dignify those who work to feed us, satisfy those who keep our world sparkling clean and make it shameful to hire people to walk our dogs because we are too busy for them.
Perhaps we have finally figured out that the less we demand from the material world, the less is the cost of living in it, and we are embracing that idea. Who knew?
Roger Marolt thinks the biggest worldwide event in our lifetimes will result in major cultural changes. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Some very philosophical and long-overdue discussions are finally happening among the members of the Aspen-Piktin County Housing Authority board.