What is Anticareerism?

Anticareerism: A critique of the notion that one ought to frame one’s life course around work in an occupation or ‘calling.’

Welcome to The Anticareerist. I’m D. JoAnne Swanson, aka Danica, a “professional anticareerist” and independent writer. I’m best known for the work I’ve been doing for over 20 years under the names Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS, previously at whywork.org), Radical Unjobbing, Rethinking the Job Culture, and now The Anticareerist.

My perspective on anticareerism is informed by deep ecology, anti-racism, decolonization and indigenous sovereignty movements, feminist philosophy, animism, Norse polytheism, meditation and other contemplative practices, my appreciation for LGBTQIA+ communities, my love for the arts, my love of Sweden, and my seething hatred of the exorbitantly expensive, nightmarish US health “care” system.

The Anticareerist is a newsletter (hosted on Substack, with all-access issues re-reposted here on this blog) in which I unpack and critique the ideology of job culture, the Puritan work ethic, and “earning a living.” It’s my custom to put earning a living in quotes to emphasize its injustice and to encourage critical thinking about it.

What is anticareerism? What is unjobbing?

Unjobbing and anticareerism are neologisms. When I changed the name of this project to The Anticareerist in 2017, I used those two terms more or less interchangeably to describe “a world beyond earning a living,” a field of study of my own design. I originally wrote that anticareerism…

“…is not a critique of work in general, but a critique of “earning a living,” i.e. compulsory paid employment for survival. The message of anticareerism is that “earning a living” is a fundamental structural injustice.”

But after further conversation with Kate McFarland, who coined the term anticareerism and gave me her permission to use it for this project, I amended my writings to better reflect her original definition (which I like better anyway).

Unjobbing is a term I adopted from Michael Fogler’s 1996 book Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook, though a keyword search on unjobbing reveals that it has been used in several different ways. (There does seem to be general agreement that Fogler is the one who originally coined the term, however.) Sophia Hass uses the terms unjobbing and dejobbing the same way I do, and her blog introduced me to the term dejobbing, which I love.

Intuitively, most people probably read anticareerist as “the opposite of a careerist,” which points to the focus of this project. Kate came up with the term anticareerism to target, specifically, the notion that one ought to frame one’s life course around work in an occupation or “calling”.

So Kate and I now use unjobbing and anticareerism as conceptually distinct and independently important terms targeting different (though deeply entangled) aspects of our culture of paid work and professionalization.

A few of my goals for The Anticareerist:

* To facilitate a shift away from “job creation” and a job culture based around an assumed standard model of paid full-time employment.

* To facilitate a shift toward creating conditions in which wage labor is no longer necessary to meet our basic survival needs, including a shift toward an unconditional basic income for all.

* To help us dismantle and unlearn indoctrination into the Puritan work ethic and the many ways we internalize productivism, the idea that human value or moral virtue should be judged by “hard work” or economic productivity.

* To expose the deep sorcery of colonial capitalism and the insidious ways it conceals its own violence, especially the ways it normalizes compulsory wage labor for survival.

* To make the structural violence that underlies “earning a living” visible – to show that it is a form of violence, no matter how widely and uncritically it’s accepted or how benignly it’s dressed up as “independence” or “self-sufficiency.”

* To explore how processes of land enclosure separate people from their land-based means of subsistence and force them into dependence on wage labor, and to facilitate rebuilding of a thriving commons that can support life without compulsory wage labor.

* To counter get-a-job nonsense, “laziness” rhetoric, “dependency”-shaming, and other pernicious lies of job culture.

* To decolonize time and explore the deeper meaning of leisure, non-doing, and doing nothing.

* To affirm the importance of consciously and deliberately cultivating a culture of leisure-as-resistance.

* To encourage respect for the value of rest, nourishment, silence, stillness, solitude, endarkenment, and incubation.

* To encourage respect for ecological intelligence.

* To facilitate feminist valuation of caring labor, housekeeping, emotional labor, and other forms of unpaid work disproportionately done by women and other marginalized people.

* To facilitate the support of creative work in ways that preserve creative freedom, and to promote a flourishing of the arts by freeing artists from the need to take day jobs for survival.

* To inspire visions of a world beyond “earning a living.”

A few things you will NOT find at The Anticareerist:

* Advice on how to quit your job or drop out.

There are no quick fixes or ten-easy-steps paths to life beyond “earning a living.” However, I’ll sum up in a single sentence my best advice to those who want to learn to live without a conventional job:

Learn how to listen to the land, and let it guide you.

Maybe right now you read that as some hippie bumper sticker slogan. If so, that’s fine. The guidance will still be there for you to tap into if you need it.

* Phrases such as “anti-work” or “post-work” to describe what I do.

Nomenclature like this is inaccurate and misleading. “Work” isn’t going away. It isn’t work itself that sucks, anyway. It’s compulsory wage labor for survival. There’s a difference, and I aim to help clarify it.

* Policy analysis, statistics, etc.

I leave this stuff to the folks who enjoy it. I’m not among them. My writing is inspired by – and, hopefully, appeals to – something deeper and more primal that is inaccessible to me when I perceive the world through a statistical mentality.

* Vague, whitewashed “spiritual” language and New Age bypassing such as “love and light.”

This is deep sorcery of colonial capitalism: white supremacy dressed up and profitably marketed by empire. I am a deeply religious polytheist and animist, which certainly comes across in my writing; however, I do my best to avoid bullshit pasted over with a veneer of “spirituality.” Since I was raised in a New Age family, I know the lingo – and the pain it can cause – all too well.

* Advice on “financial independence” or “doing what you love.”

I’ll tackle those topics at length in future writings.

I think of anticareerism and unjobbing as concepts or perspectives, not as behaviors or beliefs. These are the terms I use for unearthing and re-examining underlying norms and assumptions about work, jobs, leisure, money, oppression, and interrelated subjects. The Anticareerist does not critique work in general; my critique is aimed at “earning a living,” i.e. compulsory paid employment for survival.

Anticareerism and unjobbing do not claim that work is inherently bad.

Anticareerism and unjobbing do not claim that money is inherently bad.

Anticareerism and unjobbing do not claim that no one should be paid for their work.

Anticareerism and unjobbing do not claim that everyone should quit their jobs.

The message of The Anticareerist is that “earning a living” is a fundamental structural injustice.

As always, I encourage readers to use critical thinking skills and draw their own conclusions. I hope my work will speak to the best in all who read it.

Asked to elaborate regarding her take on anticareerism, Kate says:

“I am not opposed to work or even jobs; however, a fixed occupation is no part of my self-identity, the level of my salary is no part of my self-worth, and progression along a path of professional advancement plays no role in structuring my life course. I believe that it is necessary to maintain a fluid, open-ended, and adaptive approach to work, education, and other opportunities for self-development–formal or informal, paid or unpaid–not because of the changing labor market or the like, but because of my own ever-evolving interests, priorities, and goals; as a human being, I am too complex to fully attain a ‘life well lived’ within the confines and strictures of a traditional career path.”

“The anticareerist grimaces at the job culture pervasive in contemporary society, yet the anticareerist, as such, needn’t be opposed to jobs. Indeed, the anticareerist might happily decide to take a job as a way to learn a new skill out of personal interest, gain social connections, contribute to a favorite non-profit organization or small local business, make money (recognizing that, in present society, money is freedom), or simply get out of the house–or any number of reasons. What the anticareerist would not do, however, is take a job as a means of professional advancement, nor would she conceptualize any job she happens to hold as a stepping-stone to higher paid or more prestigious jobs along a career trajectory.

“Of course, the anticareerist might well prefer to find her own personal success and sense of accomplishment outside of paid employment. She might then complain that she is forced to take an unwanted job merely to a make a living. What the anticareerist would not do, however, is complain about a so-called ‘dead-end job’ as that term is typically meant–for she does not take the value of a job to depend on its potential role in advancement along a career path.”

My own interests in what I call unjobbing or anticareerism, as a field of inquiry, have led me to pursue interrelated topics such as:

  • dismantling the Protestant work ethic
  • critiquing careerism
  • unlearning the beliefs and behaviors through which the work ethic is internalized
    (e.g., shame about ‘laziness,’ blaming poor people for their own plight)
  • critiquing compulsory wage labor, a.k.a. wage slavery
  • developing a leisure ethic
  • critiquing productivism, the idea that human value should be judged by economic productivity
  • countering get-a-job nonsense and lazy-bums rhetoric
  • supporting the feminist movement to make emotional labor more visible and reciprocal
  • properly valuing care work, housekeeping, and other unpaid work
  • supporting the unconditional basic income and guaranteed livable income movements from an anticareerist perspective
  • encouraging leisure – for its own sake, and as a form of resistance to productivism
  • decolonizing time
  • exploring gift culture
  • philosophical inquiry into the nature and value of “doing nothing”
  • nurturing ancestral connections to land
  • investigating the history of land enclosures that forced people into wage labor for survival
  • preparing for a future of de-centered employment
  • creating ecologically and spiritually inspired alternatives to conventional employment
  • building a culture of leisure that includes women and marginalized people

This list is incomplete, and may be revised. It’s taken me twenty years of voracious reading and study to define this independent field of inquiry sufficiently enough to come up with this list, however, so it’s a good place to start!

See also my 2010 essay “What Is Radical Unjobbing?” for some of my earlier thoughts.