On Writing: career, identity, and redefinition

On Writing: career, identity, and redefinition

 

In the autumn of 2016 I took a full time job with the federal government. Our mortgage was up for renewal and banks look favourably on steady income if, like me, you’ve had a break in what’s considered regular employment (such as freelance writing). So I mined my pool of transferrable skill sets and re-entered the structured work world with what is considered one of the most desirable employers for those seeking financial stability.

I told myself I can do this; I’m not defined by how I collect a paycheque and in my heart I’m really a writer.

There’s a reason jobs like these are described as offering ‘golden handcuffs’ – and no, it’s not a sexy thing. For the most part it’s one of the most secure employment environments, regardless of your skill set, and offers a decent income in some of the more limited job markets like that of my Okanagan community in rural British Columbia.

The handcuff part of the scenario announced itself early on: my time was scheduled with little flexibility (Monday through Friday, set hours); I would be part of a union and unable to negotiate my working conditions outside of that contract; in accordance with a Values and Ethics guideline, I had to disclose ‘outside income’ – my work as a writer – and declare any perceived or potential conflicts of interest. The outcome of this disclosure was that, as a condition of my employment, I had to refrain from lobbying government (goodbye, Free My Grapes) or doing work/writing that could be perceived as critical of government (farewell, writing about meat inspection regulations) or anything that could put me in a potential conflict of interest (adios, long form essay on BC wine sub-appellations). Work I’ve been doing for years.

Sustainable Food Systems Mar 2013
Chefs Derek and Jeff. How can I not write about these two? Really.

I signed the letter, kept the job, and a light inside me began to slowly dim.

What was asked of me is not unreasonable; I agree with all of it. Public servants have an obligation to serve the public. Their salaries are paid by taxpayers (me included), and to have any potential or perceived conflict of interest does not support democratic governing. I needed to ask myself some hard questions. Am I a writer who finds ways to pay the bills, or am I someone who pays the bills and finds ways to write?

In hindsight, taking this job was an exercise in redefining what career means to me and how career is tied to personal success. That meant unravelling the tightly wound perception of vocation as definition of self, value, and place of contribution. It turns out this is more difficult than it appears, considering place of contribution and value, at an early age for many on this continent, are concepts closely fused with vocation.

We do it so frequently it’s barely on our radar. It’s done to us almost daily, sometimes indirectly. There’s an expectation of identifying one’s self in a predefined career path with clarity and intention. The steps we take in our adolescence when we’re busy making poor choices are received as the footprints on what will be our career path. So it’s no surprise when, in our adult years, something as simple as an introduction to a new person can inadvertently focus on what we do – after all, that’s who we are. Or who we’ve learned we’re supposed to be.

It’s been a few years (ahem) since I navigated the network of high school career pathing trails, but I recall aptitude tests and interviews to determine The Path I would take to Become Something. I was interested in literature, so perhaps librarian was in my future. By showing interest in learing about others, maybe counsellor was the right choice. I was creative – had I considered teaching dramatic arts? Among the network of trails no one path shone brightly enough to dim the others. I was fascinated by all of them. My career counsellor was frustrated and asked me to ‘really focus’; I was confused and felt I had disappointed her. The recommendation: first choice librarian, second choice teacher. Off I went with a list of post-secondary institutions that would offer the best education to fit these selections, and a pile of grant/loan application forms.

Recently, a friend asked if I could speak to one of his 10th grade students about what it’s like to be a writer. For months my subconscious self had been struggling with what it meant for me to be a writer and so I was taken by surprise (and flattered). Who am I to engage an inquisitive youthful mind on career pathing? Am I a writer? I felt unprepared and 16 years old again, but this time I’d be speaking with a version of my 16 year old self. Trippy.

I asked her some questions and listened to hers. She has a curiosity about social constructs that manifests in opinion essays and poetry, self doubt, and introspection. Her classmates provide her with perspectives different from hers that encourage her to ask why and engage in dialogue. She wants to express her thoughts, share them with the world. She doesn’t know what career is out there for her, based on this, other than maybe writing for National Geographic and travelling. She wants to travel.

If, when I was 16, I had been able to speak with someone who identified as a writer, the conversation would have been framed with some similarity. So I took the opportunity to share my thoughts as I would have liked to hear when I was 16.

If you don’t see yourself reflected in any of the career paths laid before you, that’s okay. If you’re more interested in who is attracted to certain careers than the career itself, that’s okay too. Be curious. Be a pilot, a physician, a server. Take a job and do it to pay the rent. Aside from learning the foundational pieces of language, what a storyteller needs is more lenses through which to see the world. The broader the horizon against which you filter the world you take in, the better prepared you’ll be to reflect it with your own voice. A career is what you make it, and how you define it. What you do to pay your bills might be different than what you do to be who you are. Don’t choose a path if you don’t want to – you can choose all the paths. Experience the network of trails.

I quit my job.

It was easier than I had made it out to be. I’m a writer, and if I can’t write then I’m trying to be something I’m not. At the tender age of 43, I’m not financially stable enough to throw caution to the wind without a way to keep those mortgage payments happening; I’ve been the majority income earner for the duration of my partnership and that means if we want to pay the bills I need to make a certain amount of money. How I earn that money is up to me; if it doesn’t look like one of the predefined jobs or careers, that’s okay.

Hi. My name is Jeannette. Nice to meet you. I love Canadian literature, baby cows, and advocating in the BC wine industry – among hundreds of other things. What are you interested in?

Joy Road 1.6 Mile 2013
Chefs Dana and Cam, a thousand stories in their hands.

published at HelloBC: wine, food, and art at Liquidity

The Okanagan Valley has risen from a strong agricultural foundation, growing as a diverse cultural tourism destination with each year bringing new recognition of the local bounty. It boasts award-winning restaurants, wineries with new international acclaim, and a vibrant arts scene. So it’s no surprise to see a winery embracing this cultural diversity and adding their own unique offering to the mix. Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls is equal parts winery, bistro, and art gallery.

[…read more at HelloBC]

Liquidity 6

published at HelloBC: Big White

When the mercury dips below freezing, BC locals head for high altitude. The Okanagan may glitter with sunny beaches and warm lakes in summer, but by winter the locals know to climb up above the valley floor and go to where blue sky days take on a different meaning: deep powder, snow-capped mountains for miles, and après any time of day.

[….read more at HelloBC]

 

Big White 10

published at HelloBC: unexpected Okanagan eats

When it comes to food, BC’s Okanagan Valley has something for almost any set of taste buds. It’s easy to see why chefs flock to the region: the growing season is phenomenal, farms (and farmers) are plentiful, and despite increasing notoriety, the area retains an aw-shucks loveable quality. From white table linens and sparkling flatware to roadside take-out joints, there’s no shortage of delicious places to eat in the Okanagan. And there’s more beneath the surface – if you’re willing to look for it.

[…read more at HelloBC]

Miradoro table 1

get a job – in BC wine country

Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm
Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm, July 2014 – author photo

 

You’re so lucky to live in the Okanagan. I wish I could.

Guess what? You can.

In 2006, my fella and I decided to leave the big city. I was working in human resources at Vancity Credit Union and he was (still is) a merchandiser with Canadian Tire. Our combined income was probably what many expect a single person to live on in Vancouver. So when looking to purchase a home with a garage (my fella wanted the garage, not the home), we chose to move somewhere else. One year later we’d sold our condo, found jobs, and bought a home.

I miss Vancouver. I love the Okanagan. There’s nothing wrong with holding those sentiments simultaneously. Did I give up a skookum gig with an upward career trajectory? Yes. Are we living in the same fashion here? No. We could if we wanted, but we didn’t move to replicate our urban life. There I didn’t write. Here I do. That’s difference enough.

My first gig on moving to the Okanagan was in a winery tasting room. I washed and polished glassware, swept the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. Daily cashout included sipping a glass of wine. In my second week I found a rattlesnake curled up behind the front tire of my car – so I lingered on the patio with another glass of wine.

When I was inevitably laid off at the end of the season I found a job, this time in an office for administrative-y type work. That kept me going while I finished university (I drove to Vancouver every other week for the first year we lived here, to complete my undergraduate degree) and while I stretched my writing wings until I could eventually dive into the unfamiliar world of freelance work.

The timeline: five years.

This time of year, many of my Okanagan business friends are hiring staff for the season. While I can’t help you make the decision to haul stakes and join us in the wilderness (the tasty, BC wine wilderness), I’m happy to share with you some of the awesome gigs available at lovely places where you could work with nice people.

Local Lounge * Grille (Summerland): Top of the food chain for service and quality, with a stellar new executive chef on board as of April. Relentless in their pursuit to deliver excellent customer service, this is an ideal environment to excel at over-delivering. Hiring for both front and back of house, email your resume to employment@thelocalgroup.ca.

Miradoro Restaurant (Oliver): Flawless dining experiences, for both service and cuisine. Restaurateur Manuel call-me-Manny Ferreira and executive chef Jeff van Geest bring their A-game to every day. They cultivate one of the most engaged and proud teams in hospitality. Hiring server, server assistants, and back of house, email resumes to info@miradoro.ca or stop by in person. (PS: Tinhorn Creek is also hiring in the wine shop, vineyard, and for grounds maintenance)

doLci Socialhouse (Osoyoos): A brunch/mid-afternoon/evening watering hole, frequented by locals and recently refitted from the former “doLci Deli”. Now with a focus on small plates, evening specials, and local beer/wine/spirits, doLci is the answer to the ongoing Okanagan question of what do we do in the evening?. Answer: hang out here. One more thing: house cured bacon. Now hiring servers and cooks, apply to lunch@dolcideli.com.

Wine Jobs: They’re everywhere right now. Search for a particular winery you’d like to work at and check for employment listings. Or, visit one of these aggregate sites:

  • Wine Plus+: MW Rhys Pender posts BC wine jobs shared with him
  • WineBC.org: the British Columbia Wine Institute posts BC wine jobs on behalf of member wineries
  • Wine Jobs Canada: MW James Cluer posts wine jobs from across Canada

The next time you think I’m lucky to live here, know that yes indeed I feel that I am – but I (and those living here) work very hard to stay here, so luck really has nothing to do with it.

~ Jeannette