Should You Quit Your Job? The Next Phase.

 I've joked that life goes like this: In your twenties you worry about whether you'll ever have a career; in your thirties you worry about keeping it; in your forties you wonder if you've made anything of it; in your fifties you begin to muse upon things that have nothing to do with your career; and then you hit sixty and you decide that those other things are really what's important and you stop giving a damn about your career. It turns out my comedy routine is pretty much on the money! 

Does the name Barbara Bradley Hagerty ring any bells? You might recognize her as a former stalwart of National Public Radio. After 30 years in journalism and more than 20 with NPR she suffered from what is often tritely labeled "burnout," literally lost her voice, and resigned. She has a new book titled Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife in which she discusses some of the details, but the essence is this: Ms. Hagerty reached a point where she couldn't keep calm and carry on; she needed a change. As she reports in an Atlantic article, she is among the great majority of workers who stopped finding meaning and joy in her work. According to her research, just 1/3 of Baby Boomer or Gen Xers experience those things in their jobs. But here's the cool part–you can quit and move on. Her research shows that making a change is good for your health, your sanity, and all the things that really matter (friendships, family, physical robustness, happiness, warding off Alzheimer's…).

Hagerty doesn't suggest a dreamy Flower Child do-your-own-thing solution, nor does she advocate jumping into the dark regardless of money. What finds, though, is that there is tremendous benefit in recognizing when you've reached your growth potential in your current post. At such a point, a change is needed, and it doesn't have to be a radical one. In fact, most people end up making lateral moves, not dramatic ones–it's the change of scenery that reactivates creativity and satisfaction quotients, not the task itself. Hagerty shifted into writing, hardly a radical departure from radio journalism. As she notes, radical reinventions are very rare and there's not much evidence they induce any more happiness than small shifts. Two things stand out: you have to disengage your auto pilot and your next job needs to be challenging in ways the one you want to chuck isn't.

In my view, there are factors Hagerty hasn't considered or soft sells. She doesn't look at the structure of power and work. There's nothing new in her findings–alienation studies were a staple of 1960s/70s sociology. Moreover, American society needs to hold accountable the ruinous economics polices of free marketers, bean counters, and ideologues that have created toxic workplaces. Burnout is pretty easy to explain when you consider that many jobs now done by one person used to be done by three. And we simply need to stop worshiping amoral CEOs and investors who use workers as play toys, whipping posts, and lackeys. (A resurgence in unionism would be a useful first step, as would a workers' bill of rights, tighter business regulations, oversight of investment practices, and the construction of significant obstacles on movable capital.)

So maybe Hagerty isn't the keenest sociologist out there–but she's still right: there comes a time in which the healthiest thing you can do is change. It's a palpable moment–the realization that you've reached the end of what you can do where you are. Too many of us hang on thinking that either the job or we will change. The first is seldom true. It's a basic axiom of sociology: people change faster than institutions. Is your job too small for your soul? Move on.

One of Hagerty's sunniest findings is her finding that as we get near 60, happiness tends to increase. Got that? We get happier when we stop caring about work! I've been lucky–I adored my life as a high school teacher in my 20s and 30s, a researcher in my 30s, and as an academic in my 40s into my 60s. I even dare to imagine that I've been pretty good at these things. But here's the deal: my hearing is failing in ways that make the classroom harder. Can I continue, or is it time to leave? I don't care! I no longer think that Western civilization needs my research or, more accurately, I realize I've made a few contributions of which I'm pleased to have made, but Western civ never did need these to survive. Moreover, the academy has changed in many ways I find distasteful. I still love my students, but they too can carry on without me and I won't miss grading their papers. I'm starting to feel like this whole work thing just isn't needed for the next phase of my life. Retirement? I don't know what that means other than it's a change from what I have been doing. I don't fear or dread it; career simply doesn't matter as much as it used to. I'd like to think I've become wise, but self-importance is among the things I've jettisoned. So let me quote someone who truly was wise, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: " There is nothing permanent except change."


2016 MLB Preview: National League West

2016 MLB Preview: NL West

T. S. Eliot once remarked that April is the cruelest month. One of the ways in which that's true is it's the opening of the MLB and a few teams that have no chance of winning the Big Enchilada will have brilliant opening months. But, Alexander Pope was also correct when he wrote, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Each year at this time I launch into my MLB predictions—a bit of prognostication with as much likelihood of being accurate as running the bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Have I learned my lesson? Of course not! Here we go, starting with the National League East. Here's my order of predicted finish:  Giants, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres.

10, 12, 14 and 16
The San Francisco Giants win in even years and my calendar says 2016. They are betting that Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardizija are better pitchers than their records suggest and that Matt Cain's injuries are behind him. That's hoping for a lot, but a staff headed by Madison Bumgarner still looks better than anyone else's in a year in which the NL West is poised to return to its status as MLB's worst division. The SF offense, spearheaded by Posey, Belt, and Crawford, isn't fearsome but will get the job done.

If the Giants falter, for the first time since it snowed in Phoenix, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a shot at the division, though it would require breakout years from a few guys to complement the magnificent Paul Goldschmidt—an MVP candidate—and A.J. Pollock. But stealing Greinke from the Dodgers was a coup and I like the upside of Patrick Corbin. But it says here that the pitching is too thin and that a roster headed by Red Sox flops like Miller and De La Rosa won't get it done. I'll say second, but fourth wouldn't surprise me.

For once, the Los Angeles Dodgers don't come close to have to having a fearsome henhouse of hurlers. There is perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw and then not much: hot/cold Scott Kazmir, an untested Japanese import (Maeda), a so-so Korean who missed all of last season (Ryu), and still-wet-behind-the-ears Alex Wood. Not enough. What date do you have in the annual "When Does Puig Become a Distraction" pool? I've got July 1. I like Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager, but then it's a steep falloff. And, yes, that includes Joc Pederson, my vote for the most overrated prospect in the NL.

The Colorado Rockies held onto Carlos Gonzalez for the moment, Gerardo Parra is serviceable, and Nolan Arenado is a star in the making, but the Rox are always several pieces short. Pitching? All one needs to say is that Jorge De La Rossa (9-7, 4.17) is the ace and Jason Motte the closer. Ouch!

Last year a lot of people (not me!) saw the San Diego Padres as a possible playoff team. Nobody feels that way now. They have exactly one guy that another team would give major prospects to acquire: pitcher Andrew Cashner, and his stock is falling. Things are so bad in San Diego that Fernando Rodney is the closer and management is considering a swap of bad contracts: James "Longball" Shields for Pedro Sandoval. Who in their right mind wants the Beluga Panda?  If things go very well the Pads will stay out of the basement, but I'd not wager on that!


Rams a Hard, Cold Icelandic Gem of a Film

RAMS  (2015)
Directed by Grimus Hákoarrson
Aeroplan Film, 93 minutes, Icelandic with subtitles, R (naked old men)
* * * * *

My father and my aunt held a grudge for 25 years before they abruptly stopped feuding for the simple reason that neither could remember why they were mad at each other. Such foibles are central to this glorious little gem of a film from Iceland.

Sheep herders Gummi (Siguroùr Sigurjόrsson) and his older brother Kiddi (Theodér Jùlísson) live side-by-side in a remote section of Iceland, but the wire fence running between their properties has less to do with ovine management than with the fact they’ve not spoken for 40 years. Both raise an heirloom sheep that is the wooly Rolls Royce of their region, yet are fierce competitors in local fairs where little more is at stake than yearly possession of a forked stick for best ram in show. It doesn’t take long to realize that Gummi and Kiddi are the titular rams of this film. We also infer that the dispute probably has something to do with the fact that their parents entrusted Gummi to maintain the stock because the elder Kiddi is a drunkard.  

Though Gummi is the brooding sensitive brother, each is hard-headed in ways that explain why each is a gray-bearded bachelor. Their gray beards and stocky bodies also alert us that each has become more ovine than human; in fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that they love their animals, especially their respective prized rams. Gummi and Kiddi are perversely content in their spiteful silence, but must confront the twists that fate puts in life’s skein. Shortly after Kiddi’s ram bested Gummi’s by a half point at the local competition, Gummi notices the telltale signs of scrapie in that ram. This is serious business; if scrapie is detected, the only way to eradicate it is to destroy all of the herds in the area, their pens, and hay. Is it scrapie, or Gummi’s revenge? Or is Gummi actually trying to preserve the family flock? Will the brothers pursue a vendetta to the end, or cooperate in the name of a greater goal?

There’s probably not much in this description that makes you to see this film. Let me add that it’s very slow, nearly silent in long stretches, and subtitled. I can hear you mocking: “Oh sure, Rob—I’ll make a mad dash to view a film in Icelandic about cranky sheep herders where very little happens and the old farts appear nude. Woo-hee!” And I’ll tell you that if you miss this one, you are passing on a gorgeous film that is more moving than a mall full of overwrought Hollywood tripe. In structure it’s a black comedy stitched to a drama, with its gags analogous to the offbeat humor of a film such as Fargo. Its drama is either heartwarming or heartbreaking, depending upon how you interpret material that is deliberately open-ended.

Iceland nominated this film for Oscar consideration, but the Academy passed. Although I’d certainly not dispute its choice to bestow top honors on the stunning Ida, I’d put Rams just a notch down from it. Don’t judge this film by its setup; it’s like Nordic furniture: stark, clean, sharp-angled, and enduring. --Rob Weir