Walking among us are men and women who have found an antidote for the American epidemic of dissatisfaction with work. They have done this by leading secret lives. At a time when an ever larger number of Americans find work no longer ennobling and never much fun, these people enjoy their jobs. But they decided that work--even challenging professional work--is still work. So they signed up for a second shift, an avocation that earns them psychic income in the currencies of artistry, adventure and passion. What they do beyond their jobs, they do for themselves, and that has liberated them from the work place.
Pamela Jones, for instance, belly dances at night and programs computers by day. Lawrence Eanet is a jazz pianist and, by the way, a doctor of dermatology. John Danforth is an Episcopal priest. He also works as a U.S. senator from Missouri.
"I live two lives," says Washington salesman/magician Michael Russell in a remark echoed by the dozen people profiled on the following pages. "Selling office supplies feeds the body, and magic feeds the soul."
These people may be on to something. "The notion of a person having only one professional interest is as realistic as expecting one romantic interest in a lifetime," says psychologist Marilyn Machlowitz, author of the recent book Workaholics. "How can something you picked at 18 be the only thing you want to do at 58? Or 38? Or even younger, because the midlife crisis comes earlier." Dual careers, she says, are the wave of the '80s.
"For an individual and a corporation, a double life is a good thing to plan for," adds Machlowitz, who believes workers are happier when they have satisfying interests outside their jobs.
"The problem is that large organizations don't allow people to develop their multiple personalities," says Richard Margolies, a Washington psychologist specializing in the work place. Those with narrow tasks in huge workshops, white-collar or blue, don't feel they are involved in making decisions, he says, and that is inherently frustrating.
Whatever the reasons, a recent study by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found a dramatic drop in job satisfaction--a drop so widespread it occurred in every part of the country, in every age group, in every occupation, in every social class.
It may be that Americans expect too much from their jobs.
One romantic ideal is to build a life in which job and avocation coincide. In his poem, "Two Tramps in Mud Time," Robert Frost wrote: My object in living is to unite My avocation and my vocation As my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one, And the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done For Heaven and the future's sakes.
More often, in a work place increasingly specialized, people set their sights on a single-minded climb that is someday to climax in the top income bracket. There is, however, only so much room at the top. And sociologists say that as the huge baby boom generation begins to compete for a relative handful of premier jobs, most will get a harsh lesson in the realities of the marketplace.
What are the choices? Unite avocation and vocation, or wallow in bitterness for dreams unachieved, or find a balance so that gratification isn't dependent on the whims of employment. Simply put, slip some eggs into other baskets.
And that is what the people on these pages have done. They often work as compulsively at their sideline interests as do workaholics at their jobs. They are satisfied in their work, several having had the same job for nearly two decades. But they have no interest in sacrificing everything in their lives for the next promotion, a fact Machlowitz says many employers resent because it supposedly reflects a lack of commitment to the job--or perhaps a freedom of spirit that distresses managers who clawed their way to the top at the expense of family, friends and leisure.
There also is among these people a strong sense that avocation and vocation must be separate, and though some could make a living at their second jobs none has an interest in doing so. Robert Ott, a Montgomery County computer expert who with his wife builds one exquisitely crafted harpsichord a year, says he would never build the instruments for a living. "The spark would go out of it," he says. "This way I can lavish work on an instrument others grind out."
People capable of simultaneously focusing such intense energy inside and outside the work place are heroic, and perhaps poor models for a society confronted with occupational malaise. But it also is possible that their secret lives point out a path to renewal.
"I thought I had a career problem," says Larry Eanet, the piano-playing dermatologist. "I was conflicted. But in the last five to 10 years, I realized that I am the person who does both. I learned to integrate the two. When I play music till 1 a.m., next day I don't go into the office till 10, even 10:30. I feel good about it. I satisfy myself--and my patients."