for our future . . .







Does Your Career Have a Future?

by Linda Buzzell-Saltzman

Note: this article is a follow-up to “Lifework: Meaningful Careers in the Emerging Sustainable Society,” published by HopeDance in issue 50.

In the first article in our HopeDance series on meaningful work in the emerging sustainable society, we looked at a number of factors important to consider if you’re preparing to make a career change, including simplifying your lifestyle and getting out of debt.

This article will cover the exciting new possibilities that are opening up in all nine Sectors of Society for those who understand what’s coming and want a career with a future.

“The tide is already turning. Global society has begun reversing directions into an Age of Restoration. Though this movement remains relatively small today, it’s growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a matter of when, not if. The enterprise of restoration promises an unparalleled economic boom and global jobs creation, starting with a Marshall Plan for clean energy. It’s time to repair our relationship with the living world and with each other. If we let our hearts guide us, we won’t go wrong.” — Kenny Ausubel, co-founder of Bioneers

The emerging sustainable society of the 21st century will involve both restoration and creation. Although we have much to learn from past and present cultures that have understood how to live in harmony with the earth, future work in our own culture will not just involve returning to the ways of previous societies, however enlightened. We will be challenged not only to restore earth’s habitat but to create a whole new way of living, respecting and benefiting from the best of both traditional and modern ideas, technologies, tools, community patterns, energy sources and methods drawn from many cultures around the world. In the post-carbon era of energy descent and changing climate, this new sustainable society will probably look radically different from our own.

Unfortunately, too many secondary schools, colleges and career counselors – unaware of the forces that will change our future — are still training people for the jobs of the past that may no longer exist in 10 or 20 years. They are making the fatal assumption that things won’t change much and that society will continue to be much like it’s been in the run-up to the peaking of fossil fuel availability. But that’s as nonsensical as believing that the ride down a roller coaster will be like the climb to the top.

So the first step in planning your future career direction is to educate yourself about what’s happening and the changes that are coming

Every sector of modern, globalized, industrial-corporate society is becoming unstable and unsustainable as we approach the end of cheap fossil fuel and face increasing environmental challenges and planetary overshoot. Many existing systems are already showing the first stages of disintegration as overly-complex, late-peak-oil economies begin to crumble and energy descent begins. Evolution biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes this process as the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis. The new sustainable society currently consists of what she calls “imaginal cells” here and there within the body of the caterpillar. As the caterpillar begins to fail, these cells begin to grow and connect with each other. The body of the dying caterpillar becomes food for the emerging butterfly.

We’re somewhere along this process of metamorphosis. Each sector of society needs to be reinvented to make life on this planet truly sustainable. This is a HUGE undertaking, which means there is plenty of work to be done!

But different sectors are proceeding at different rates in making the necessary changes. In some fields, like medicine, the shift is already well under way. Alternative and integrative medicine are now fully accepted in many places, even by modernist insurance companies. It’s entirely possible for an alternative health practitioner to make a decent living and enjoy a growing practice.

The organic food industry, slowly picking up steam since the 1960s, is now growing at 20% a year. More and more farmers and market gardeners are making a livable income by supplying this increasing demand. There are new challenges, of course, as corporations try to take over the organic food industry and force it into the unsustainable monoculture agribusiness model that involves centralized distribution and long-distance shipping — but this won’t last long as fossil fuel prices make trucked-in food uneconomical. Suppliers of local organic food will, I believe, soon find themselves in a very advantageous business situation as food from afar becomes more and more expensive. Like our early American ancestors, we may be willing to pay the extra cost for luxuries like chocolate or coffee that we can’t grow locally. But fruit, veggies or meat from New Zealand or Chile? I think not…

There are other fields – like textiles or clothing, for example – where the transition to sustainability has barely begun and much pioneering work remains – perhaps by you. Just a glance at the labels in your clothing will help you realize that textile and clothing manufacturing was exported from this country decades ago. If a fossil fuel shortage made imported clothing too expensive, how would we cover our bodies? Perhaps in the future, our vintage stores, plus local spinners, weavers, knitters and seamstresses will provide the answer.

Every sector of society is in some stage of evolution between modernism and sustainability. As you explore these career arenas, keep in mind that there are meaningful work possibilities for forward-thinking people both within the existing (and often dysfunctional and crumbling) modernist structures as well as in the emerging sustainable society. You may be someone who has a traditional profession or job but can work from within the current system to be part of changing things — or you may want to be part of the pioneering process of creating entirely new professions and jobs in the emerging sustainable society. A third possibility is that you may want a “hybrid” career, partly working within the existing system and partly free-lancing as you build an alternative business.


But before you decide on the type of career you will pursue, you need to choose a sector to focus on. The goal in choosing any career is to start by understanding your special gifts, interests, personality and callings, so an important first question to explore is “What sector(s) have you been drawn toward since you were a child?”

You can use the list of 18 Career Areas grouped into nine Sectors (see this list ) to help you answer this question and choose your future career direction.

Read each sector description carefully and place a check mark next to the sectors that appeal to you most.

Then ask yourself the following questions about the sectors you’ve check marked for further exploration:

• Do I want to be part of the process of helping society transition from the unsustainable version of this sector to the sustainable, day in and day out?

• Do I feel passionately about the need for change and reform in this sector?
• Am I excited enough about this prospect that I feel I can sustain the hard work and challenges involved?

Once you’ve decided on a sector or two, the next stage is research. You need to find out how far along the sustainability transition process the sector(s) you’ve chosen have evolved. The question here is:

• Is this sector still dominated mostly by caterpillars or are there quite a few butterflies around?

As you learn more, you may decide a particular sector isn’t for you — or you may find yourself getting more and more excited about being part of the transformation of this sector, seeing how your unique gifts and background will fit in and be useful in the emerging sustainable society version of this arena.

As you do this exploration, it’s important to listen to and trust your inner “Geiger counter” which will tick more quickly and loudly as you get closer to a calling that’s right for you. But if the “tick, tick” is slow and listless, let go of that area even if it seems “logical” or “practical” to pursue it.

Once you’ve chosen a specific Career Area you’d like to work in, the next question is how to prepare for the transition.

If you’re fortunate enough to hold traditional credentials in your area (a medical degree, experience as a farmer, a teaching credential, etc.) you may find that you can find work in traditional jobs but then tweak those jobs towards sustainability. Retired kindergarten teacher Judy Sims is an inspirational example of what can be done by folks working within the system. She created a garden at Monte Vista Elementary school in Santa Barbara and used it as the basis for a whole curriculum based on nature. She even developed a school “farmer’s market” and got kids hooked on eating veggies!

Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-educated physician, is another person who used his mainstream credentials as a platform to take off in a whole new direction. He has founded a medical school for integrative medicine at the University of Arizona, written popular books and provided alternative medical advice to millions of people on the internet.

So if you have credentials or licenses of any kind, before you chuck them overboard consider the possibility of transforming how you use them and taking your field in a whole new direction. The good news is that many jobs still exist for people with traditional vocational credentials and they have regular pay and (some) benefits.

But if you decide on employment in a traditional system, also be prepared for some of the hassles of late-stage hypercapitalism: the demand for long hours, tight pay, uncertain job duration, understaffing, outsourcing, crumbling infrastructures, increasingly bureaucratic conditions and sometimes even the requirement that you do things you know are destructive either to people or the environment. Also, be aware that the system that employs you is in the process of self-destructing, so don’t get lulled into thinking you are in a sustainable long-term option. Many previously stable careers may disappear in their present forms. Experts disagree, but it’s possible that in the future there won’t be as many opportunities for tourist agents, stockbrokers, real estate agents or even accountants. And previously sluggish careers like railroad maintenance, equipment repair, alternative energy and farming may become much more appealing and rewarding.

Some people choose to continue to make at least some of their money from a full- or part-time mainstream “day job” while pursuing a new career on the side. This takes a bit of juggling, of course, and you have to be honest with yourself about whether you’re a born multi-tasker. But for many people, this will turn out to be an excellent, if occasionally stressful, strategy: taking the money from the old system and career and reinvesting it into the new.

Sometimes halfway measures just won’t do. Perhaps you have a clear, exciting idea of what will be needed in the future in your sector and career area and want to start right now! If you have an entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit, this is exactly what you should do. Many of us will become the Bill Gateses of sustainable society! An example of such a pioneer is Russ Teall, who has developed a plan for helping cities become energy-independent by planting oil-rich jatropha trees on waste land and using the resulting biofuel to run city vehicles like ambulances, police cars, fire trucks etc. Brilliant ideas like this may allow us to keep some of the critical services of modern society that we won’t want to give up.

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© 2004 Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., M.F.T.