One reason I am suspicious of job references and calling someone’s previous employers: Who checks the references of those giving references?
If supervisors and colleagues I have worked with ever had a meeting, expect a chaotic scene demonstrating the difference between a job and a career. Some would give such loving testimonials that I would know what pancakes must feel like when syrup gets poured on top: So sweet!
But that love fest would get interrupted by others rudely saying: “Wait, I thought we were here to talk about Casey Lartigue, Jr. That’s the laziest man I’ve ever hired.”
I’ve had jobs where I warned colleagues not to be standing near the door the moment I was no longer obligated to be at the office. “Don’t make me knock you down at quitting time,” I would say, with the mindset of a bruising football player about to score a game-winning touchdown. On the other hand, I have worked so late at the office that I have gotten locked in the building by security guards.
What gives? I think it is the often-stated difference between a job and a career. When people ask me what is my job, these days I say: “My work is freedom.”
I thought about this back in 2007 when I was co-host of “The Casey Lartigue Show” on The Power, a black political talk network on XM Radio. “Drive-by callers” often wanted to tell me how to run my show. Then I heard the perfect response one day by another host in response to his own drive-by callers: “Get your own damned show.”
As he would tell such callers, in essence: “This is my show, my work for three decades, I decide the content. If you don’t like it, you should go through the process of setting up your own show, convince someone to take a risk on you, and attract an audience.”
Harsh, but I reflected on the difference between jobs, careers, and “my work.” I am now getting prepared to speak at Harvard University (May 24) and Korea University (May 30). It will be my third speech at Harvard University, but this time is special because it is based on my own “work.”
In March 2003, I spoke at the first “Alumni of Color” conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. My topic was the Washington D.C. voucher program that I was a leading advocate of and activist for during 2002-04. I wasn’t the main person, but I had a key role as a researcher carrying both a briefcase and a protest sign, combining my research expertise with my activism. It was the beginning of my career, but it didn’t yet feel like my “work.”
My speech in April 2003 at Harvard University Law School was about the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. I was pleased to speak at Harvard for a second time, but I had no connection with NCLB. It felt like winning an Employee of the Month award at a job that I didn’t care about.
My third speech at Harvard, four days from now, will be at an “Innovation Symposium” being hosted by the Harvard University Extension School Alumni Association. I will be discussing my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors.
It is, as that talk show host might have said, my own “work.” It feels like a step beyond a career. We didn’t benchmark other projects, we created it based on what we heard from North Korean refugees as well as our own observations. No one knows more about it than my co-director and I do. I have gone through the process of creating my own project, convinced people to take a risk on me, and attracted allies.
I still have “drive-by experts” who want me to do what they want. I recently received a Facebook message from a black American advising me to return to America to help black Americans, rather than helping North Korean refugees. He didn’t specify the “work” he was doing that might attract me.
I blocked his account. Even obsessed critics have suggestions, but that’s like searching for a $20 bill you dropped in a sewer. Neither is worth the time, effort or drama.
My “work” is not for everyone, and that’s fine. The same with my column. Many columnists resemble radio callers pontificating with simple solutions about things they have no control over, such as advising the U.S. to pull troops out of South Korea or to sign a peace treaty with North Korea immediately. I often like to talk about “my work” in this column.
When I get comments from drive-by readers, I tell them: “Write a letter to the editor.” When they persist, I tell them, “Get your own damned column.”
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu