Good (Career) Literature Deserves Some Respect

Good (Career) Literature Deserves Some Respect

There was an engaging article about book clubs in this past Sunday’s New York Times.  As a writer, I was thrilled to learn that there are still millions of Americans who not only sit still long enough to read a book, but they then invest an hour or two of their time to discuss it with friends.

My first thought, of course, was to wonder if these clubs ever read a book about career self-management.  Now to be clear, I’m not talking about job search books, but rather, those that deal with the principles and practices of managing a career successfully.

All of the examples in the Times article involved groups that focus exclusively on fiction, and, more specifically, on what might be characterized as “great literature.”  And sadly, at least to this point, that leaves out books about how you derive more purpose and meaning from the one-third of your life you spend at work.

Yes, I realize that makes me sound just a bit cynical.  But come on, I was an English major in grad school, and even I realize that there’s more to learn than what can be gleaned from the pages of Middlemarch or Ulysses.  Especially in these times of epochal change, wouldn’t it be interesting, let alone helpful, to explore how we can turn employment survival into prosperity?

I suspect that this unwillingness to spend time with a career book derives from the conflicted state of our minds.  Many of us are walking contradictions these days, at least when it comes to our work.

On the one hand, we’re apparently pretty satisfied with our own situation.  A recent survey found that the majority of American workers are happy with their job and employer.  In fact, just 21 percent said they intended to make a change this year or next.  That’s a much lower figure than in other recent recoveries from a recession.

On the other hand, different surveys have found that there is a high level of anxiety among the workforce.  And why shouldn’t there be?  Job security?  It’s gone.  A rising standard of living?  Not since the 1970s.  A better life for our kids?  The middle class is now being squeezed into a faint memory.

Every assumption we’ve held about work for the past forty years has now been overthrown.  If you’re a Baby Boomer, for example, you thought that you’d be pretty well set by this time in your career.  And if you’re a Millennial, you were convinced that a college degree would provide a well-paying job.  Those convictions have turned out to be pipe dreams, not for everyone, of course, but for far too many Americans.

Which brings me back to my original question.  Why aren’t book clubs even occasionally reading a book about the exciting possibilities and very real dangers of today’s hyper-morphing workplace?  If we read “great literature” for the insights it can give us about life, wouldn’t a book that can give us a better understanding of our careers qualify as at least “good literature?”  And, doesn’t good literature deserve at least a little respect?

Thanks for reading,
Peter