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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Matter of Degree

The other day my daughter mentioned a teacher who announced to the class that he would not accept the words “can’t” or “won’t,” a sentiment with which my husband and I heartily agree. Thus you can imagine how disconcerted I was the next day, when the outplacement consultant suggested I write a list that includes the activities I want to perform in a new job, as well as the things I “won’t” do. Raising my eyes to him and noting the difference between “prefer not to” and “won’t,” he verified, “Yes, the word I want you to consider is “won’t.”

While every exercise required of me during this self discovery process has been a challenge, I’ve been muddling this one over for five days now and am not any closer to a resolution. “Don’t want to” is gray, subject to change based on experience. “Won’t” however, is finite, black and white, a line drawn in the sand.

When I began concentrating on the “won’t” list, as often is the case when I’m uncomfortable, flippancy checked in. “I won’t run into burning buildings,” I scribbled (even though I respect and am grateful for people who do). “I won’t ship out as a merchant marine for six months at a time, leaving my family behind.” “I won’t work in a mortuary.” But cynicism is not my game. Abashed by my own glib notes, I conceded that while these jobs may be objectionable to me; they are valid and crucial careers that other individuals love. Getting serious, I reminded myself that over the years, my husband and I have promised that if we ever find ourselves poverty stricken, we’ll do whatever is necessary to pay the bills.

And then I realized why “won’t” is so difficult. “Won’t” is a luxury. While I won’t (ugh!) kid you that there isn’t some belt tightening going on in our family, my husband and I are relatively conservative and he is employed. So, it appears, I have the luxury of “won’t.” I can take some time and analyze my desires and be selective about the type of employment to pursue. But how about the people who can’t? What about a single mother who just lost her job? What about the multitudes of families where both parents are unemployed, with say, medical bills to take care of and more that three mouths to feed? What of the families, who lived beyond their means, unfortunately, before a pink-slip arrived? In each of these scenarios, the word “won’t” loses its scope and breadth. “Won’t” implies the ability to take risk—and in spite of my optimism for my career future, those who know me are aware that I’m not much of a gambler. “Won’t” also requires direct analysis and decision-making whereas I have been guilty of allowing my career to grow organically for an awfully long time.

With all of this in mind, I’ve been contemplating that side of my list. But having been trained to the “never say never” school of thought, the word “won’t” is a failing grade. Star students in my class say phrases like “I’d prefer not,” or “We’ll see,” or “It’s not my favorite, but I’ll try.” Occasionally, they whine “Do I have to?”—while knuckling down.

In my mind, "won’t" is a word that needs a crystal ball. If you can assure me that this recession will break, if you can promise me the perfect job is out there, if you can convince me that we will be able to get my daughter through college, then perhaps I can complete this list. So, considering the enormity of these statements, in order to get anything at all on the other side of the tally sheet, I had to rename it to the “Strongly Care Not to List." For the moment, it seems as if the “Won’t List” is a great big nope. But there is another outplacement meeting this week. Maybe during that I’ll be convinced not only that I can, but also that I should.

1 comment:

Barb C said...

This has great flow and wisdom Liza. And you "concised" it like we talked about today.

Barb C.