Perhaps you’ve seen posters around Philadelphia for the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, or you’ve been lucky enough to attend one of their events. The ads for the “Time Travel Plaza” have captured my attention, and I keep wondering about what I would like to see and do—and the people I would want to meet—if I could actually travel through time.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how your great-great-grandparents lived? I think it would be fascinating to see how and where they lived, what their relationships were like, their awareness of the events of the day, and how they made a living.
So let me invite you to create your own time tunnel! To explore how people made a living, jot down who in your family’s history did what—as far as you know. Ask your parents or review any family documents you have.
Then add more details to your list. Ask yourself not only what they did, but why they did it. Where did they do their “work”? How did they complete their tasks?
If you know the person or have heard stories, can you ascertain anything about their psychological make-up? Did their personalities affect their career success? Positively or negatively? How did they define success? (Or did they?)
Add the circumstances of history. What was going on in the world at that time? How did most people live and how did they provide for themselves and their families? Did they work on their own? For someone else? Voluntarily? Where and how?
Consider biological implications. How did gender affect the livelihoods of the people on your list? Race? Health? Did they have choices or limitations based on their physical being?
As you populate your time tunnel, add historical or fictional characters to your list—especially to fill in gaps regarding certain eras and/or certain types of work. Have you included someone from the 1950s? The 1920s? The 1990s? Or even the 1750s or further back? Are there individuals on your list from work in industries as diverse as medicine, business, education, entertainment, government, agriculture, manufacturing, childcare, law, journalism, science, social work? Are there artists? Leaders? Laborers? People who worked within the systems of the day and those who worked outside them?
Then, walk through your tunnel and observe the work lives of the people in it. Does anything startle you? Impress you? Dismay you? Challenge you? Motivate you? Educate you? As you gain insight into what work meant for these people in your time tunnel, do you glean any new perspectives on what work means now in the twenty-first century? Perhaps you’ll formulate questions about what work might mean for you that will help you choose a career, change a career, or move ahead with confidence and determination in the career you’ve selected. Bon voyage!
With deference to and acknowledgement of the 2013 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, and Professor Jim Larkin’s Penn class on “Self, Role, and Expectations in the Workplace.”