In recent years the depressed economy has created opportunity by necessity. So many people without jobs have decided that since failure is a guaranteed anyway, they might as well go out with a bang and doing something they love. It seems that it should go without saying that people will not always pay for what others love, but that point does need to be made. Chris Guillebeau did make a good point of reminding his reader of that very thing. Guillebeau’s whole message, the idea of a simple, passion-driven, micro-startup is one that should resonate with many. I was raised by a father who started and ran his own business for many of my growing up years, to a degree it was a very successful business, but as the success has faded with that business the discourse has grown in the family over how to develop a successful plan doing the things we like to do. I read Guillebeau’s book within the first couple of weeks after I received it, the first half in a single setting in bed until about two in the morning. I immediately referred my wife to read it and this past week it has been in her stack of reading. The point is that Guillebeau has written an excellent guide, not a philosophical discourse on ways of thinking about business and passion, but a hands on guide for actually doing it. While there are many who may not understand the value in Guillebeau’s suggestions, it is nonetheless a book that can increase one’s understanding of making a business succeed.
When I came to the history department, I was relatively confident that I wanted to teach and that I wanted to pursue a doctorate in the subject. As the disillusionment began to develop over the semesters, and my own life took a couple of turns, I had to face the fact that my passion was, and is, not in teaching, in the classical academic setting. Ultimately, I am working on a degree so that I can provide a living for my family and it so happens that I am passionate about history, but in a very awkward, sometimes anti-historical manner. What I have tried to develop is an understanding about the relationship between my passions for administration, hospitality, and history. The readings this week come as no surprise to me in a history course. They were written by people who have had to come to terms with the reality of the world, the reality that classic academia, while it may always exist, it fundamentally shifting and unless one has an advantage by the way of education of connection, getting the few positions that remain, is a near impossibility. The other thing that they had in common was the basic premise that one should work at what he is good at, and often what we are good at, is what we love. The difficulty becomes the indebtedness that often accompanies a degree of any sort. Such debt feels like a weight that makes it difficult to accept the possibility of making a salary on one’s own. In my own case, I feel as if I have enough debt (which is basically an economic risk) that I don’t want to take on more risk as an owner in a business. As Guillebeau pointed out, however, traditional jobs no longer provide the safe shelter that they used to.
What this all means for historians with shiny new degrees and no department or museum in which to hang their hats is either positive or negative, it comes down to philosophical positioning—do I groan and complain about a system that is saturated with workers, and not creating more jobs, and not paying for the jobs they do have? OR, do I accept the reality that those traditional jobs don’t exist anymore and grasp the opportunity that exists in other realms? I have to consider that many of the most revered universities and colleges in our country were not begun with a full staff that was offering cushy full-time positions. Maybe the situation in which we find ourselves now is an opportunity, not only to redefine who we are as historians, but what education is, how people learn and what value we offer.