My Zodiac sign is Pisces, so I spend a lot of time exploring alternative realities in my head. In one subset of these realities, instead of whatever my job is right now, I’m doing something else with my time. An ambition I’ve had since the university is to do a different job every day for a full year. The Dutch don’t work a lot of hours each year (1,430, compared to 1,670 in the UK or 1,757 in the US, both of which are nowhere near the top of the list.) so it would come down to about 180 different jobs.
By no means this dream implies I’m unhappy in my current jobs. The fact of the matter is that I’m already doing tons of different things. As a rule of thumb, I do two things that are outside of my comfort zone each year. This year, like all of us, I’m above average.
Today’s newsletter is about jobs, past, present, and future. As always, thanks for reading this. You are, by far, my favourite audience. Thanks!
My very first job was at a printing office. Aged 15, I packed millions of Christmas cards, carried paper, swept the floors, and brought everyone coffee. I worked hard enough to earn a place as an assistant printer, operating and maintaining a truck-sized offset printer. They also offered me formal training and a proper job, which I declined. (And in an alternative reality, sometimes accept.)
I have three strong memories of this time: Des’ree’s song Life which played endlessly on the radio, the backseat of the owner’s Mercedes (the first time I ever sat in one), and the smell of paper.
Every time I ship a Quantum Culture workbook, pack a box of a game we produced or receive a new book, I smell and relive my first job. It taught me a lot about paper, ink, and the value of sweeping the floor.
This week, another smell brought me back to another job. I received Funnel, the new candle holder of ROTGANZEN, the design studio of Robin, Joeri, and Erik. It is a beautiful piece of design, made of porcelain. At university, for a while, I worked in a family-owned pottery factory. It was a perfect job as their morning shift was from 6 am to 1 pm, which allowed me to make it to my afternoon classes. We’d debate HRM or edutech while the smell of fresh clay lingered in my hair. Funnel smelt like a long and productive day on the factory floor and university seats.
I studied at the University of Twente. Not very successfully, until I met Joy Clancy. She taught north-south relationships and international development and I did an extra minor with her. Then she kickstarted my career by bringing me on board in her projects. When we last met a year or two ago, she told me the toolkit about gender and energy we created all these years back was up for renewal. That toolkit paid for a large part of my internship Lima and time in Barcelona to learn Spanish. The editor of the work also went out of his way to structurally improve my English. Without him, I would likely still mix up “economic” and “economical.” It also taught me of the profound harm that well-intentioned but poorly designed projects can do to minorities.
I was reminded of Joy this week when I reached out to another professor in Twente. While she is, without a doubt, a key person in my professional development, I cannot help but feel I haven’t lived up to the hopes and energy she invested in me.
There are many jobs I’d like to do. Three jobs, in particular, have always had my interest: chef, mayor, and first responder.
I’ve been considering chef as an alternative reality career for basically all my working life. I love the hard work and clear deliverables of a kitchen. Also, I don’t mind being on my feet for 16 hours. One of the things I love about 2020 is the take-out food that you have to prepare at home. The other week, we brought home food from a popular restaurant in Amsterdam and ‘heating’ the main dish involved more steps than 99% of the kid-friendly meals I cook on an ordinary day.
Mayor is a different story. I like how it combines real responsibility with an evident community and the need to work with everyone to make things happen.
I’ve long wanted to become a first responder — specifically a first responder in disasters — because, in my mind, it demands 100% dedication and the ability to manage vast amounts of information and uncertainty. I like to think I’m good at that. But then, I’ve never been able to put it in practice beyond tiny crisis situations.
This week, I met the director of a large thrift store in Leiden. We discussed future challenges for the circular economy and their brand new circular design store. Obviously, the job appealed to me. Later, I spoke with an astronomer working on astronomy for good. Check. Then, on Wednesday, we hosted a debate about art and climate change, and again I felt like changing careers a couple of times.
The Worldbank expects the world to plunge into the worst recession since World War 2. Many people already lost their jobs, and countless more will do so. Consequently, numerous new jobs will be imagined by people eager to work. Many of these will be blue-collar jobs, working on the energy transition and other huge societal challenges.
For the coming time, I’m settled in my current job and enjoying it. In the next few years, however, I will transfer from the first third of my career into the second. Until then, I’ll be imagining what I’ll do and learn and achieve in the fifteen years until I come up to my third third.
What about you? What are the jobs that you’ve always wanted to have or will have in the future? Warning: you may inspire me to take your career as well, albeit in an alternative reality!
At work at the Workhouse Museum in Ripon in the UK.
Jasper, thank you. I'm reading this as I ready myself for a big job transition: from having one to not, for an unknown length of time. And appreciating the history of jobs I've had, the ones I didn't get or take, and the ones yet to come.
My first job was in a flower store, dethorning roses. When I see a bouquet today - especially one wrapped in cheap cellophane with a ribbon - I can feel the small cuts on my fingers from 25 years ago.
There are jobs I'd love to have for a week and others I imagine for "real." On my one week list there is rigger, circus performer, pro athlete, tree-topper. On my other list, I've been curious about what it would be to be a full-time writer, library director, local politician.
For the first time, I'm trying to prevent myself from imagining what's next professionally. I feel great gratitude to have the privilege to take a break in 2021. It terrifies me a bit. I've never taken a break from driving hard towards professional goals before. I'm hopeful, and curious, to see what interests me on the other side.