(Note: I will be hosting a live discussion with author Rory Groves about his book Durable Trades. Click here to join the discussion.)

Your children have a thirst within them.  They have received from you their whole life, and to a greater or lesser degree, one day recognize their life separate from yours as they gain the maturity that grows only by appropriate independence.  I’m talking work, vocation, jobs, career, education, and so on.  You love them dearly, so you are not necessarily excited for them to exit your home, but you also long for it because you know that for them to be fully alive, they need to enter their vocation and their maturity.

The problem is, we too often propose paths to the future that are antithetical to the very things we have asked our children to cherish.  We are Christians.  That means we seek first the glory of God, then the good of our family, then the good of our neighbor, then the good of our community, and – really – our comprehensible responsibilities really stop unless there is clear is a supernatural calling to go forth elsewhere.  Living these rooted and connected lives is not only good for those around us, but it is the simple and natural call of all men, to till and keep the garden and be faithful to our vocation.  It makes us happy as individuals too.  It was an extraordinary exception for Abraham to be called from his own land and people to be established in a new place, not to mention that his people are still there, so the lesson is permanence not mobility.  But too often we propose implicitly to our children that happiness is to be “liberated” from these things so that we can go discover new opportunities simply unavailable to you – presumably – in your home and community. 

We accept the world’s narrative, that the jobs of the future are the jobs we should fight and prepare for.  Jobs in fast-paced finance, kingdom-building (then selling) entrepreneurship, media, marketing, and tech – these are the jobs you do so you can “crush it,” which I guess means do a good job, yes, but probably means beat the competition and get rich – the quicker the better.  STEM is critical.  You’ll need to be able to navigate polite conversations, like delighting in Joe Biden bringing dogs back to defecate on the White House lawn (“I know, right?!”).  These careers change quickly with a changing world, adapt to evolving market landscapes, and master the agility of the predator, not the prey.  These are also jobs that are not settled, so you must constantly train and watch out for being replaced.  So, you must always be moving up or you might get moved out.

Many of us have grown skeptical or tired of this disposition, but few of us are willing to “impose” on our children some education or disposition that might – gasp! – lead to them missing out on the future.  I mean… it’s coming, right?  Gotta be ready for it… 

Something Else, Something Enduring

I cannot tell you how glad I am that Rory Groves has given us an alternative outlook in his book Durable Trades.  This book is a refreshing reconsideration of the exaggerated promises of progress and “the future” by looking at the distant and not-so-distant history of both ancient and modern jobs. 

For the not-so-distant past, Groves points out something that is as obvious as the dollar is green, but we miss anyway.  That is, for the last few decades the “jobs of the future” have become the jobs of the past in very short order.  Simply put, in the same way that the modern economy created the industrial job and then either replaced those jobs with machines or exported them within about one generation (give or take), the modern “tech” economy created a bunch of jobs but is rapidly replacing them with machines or exported them to cheaper labor pools.  Looking at it, its hard to think we didn’t see this coming.  Oceans didn’t stop whole factories from moving to new continents, so if a job can be done through a wire or signal, how fast can it be exported?

As for the distant past, Groves notes that many jobs that existed centuries ago still exist.  We tend to consider only the evolution of mass-employment in the industrial model, but too easily (and erroneously) think other jobs just stopped existing, even if we see them and their fruits daily.  Not only that, but such jobs also offer something that “modern” simply don’t – durability. 

Durable jobs are stable because, unlike an overwhelming majority of modern jobs, they fulfill stable human needs and not just consumer needs created by marketing, which is often the professionalized violation of the 10th commandment.  This “durability” has byproducts as well, like stability and satisfaction.  By and large (but not totally), we’re talking “trades,” not just jobs.  This is work one doesn’t merely do, but master.  They were once called “vocations,” as Wendell Berry often points out – work suited to us uniquely, as if God had given it to us, which also allows for the idea that the work we do and the family we are given can be integrated and mutually enriching.

Beyond Success

We all want our kids to “succeed,” right?  No, not really.  What we want for them is happiness, and we know from reason and revelation that they cannot be happy if we do not reconnect certain things, most especially the family, work, and dignity.  Durable trades simply follow a different inner logic than those of rapid-fire industrialism.  As a matter of historical and verifiable fact, industrialism has not followed a logic that has led to the flourishing of the family.  Yes, it had much to do with the creation of the middle class in our country, but it also has much to do with the selling out of that same middle class. 

Something better than the rat-race is available.  And that’s the point of Durable Trades.  The raging river that is the “job of the future” is still raging indeed, but there’s also a stable spring right over there that you can drink from.  Jumping into the swift river of “upward mobility” and “career opportunity” is still there, but the river is in a ravine that requires you to sever ties with your land and people and rush on down with the current once you jump in.  Some might love the “dynamism” of endlessly changing jobs and skills, but for those that long for stability and family-friendliness, durable trades still exist.  That’s their defining quality.

Therein, Groves does more than lay bare the obvious – he wades through the romance (which is worth doing) into the practicalities of economy (which, remembering the true meaning of the word, includes one’s household).  G.K. Chesterton wrote a poetic defense of sensible economy in An Outline of Sanity – I think we can safely say that Grove’s book is a guidebook for sane employment.  After a brief but powerful introduction to how we got where we are with the current economy, Groves spends the meat of the substantial book carefully analyzing different trades and rating them on scales of historic stability, resiliency, family-centeredness, income, and ease of entry.   In a thriftly closing section, he helps us to rethink the idea of work altogether.  I know what you’re thinking: “That sounds really helpful!”  I know!  It is helpful.  If you have children that want to grow up to be humans living in an economy of human scale and human goods – get them this book. 

Some might think – especially knowing of my past ramblings on this site and others – that the trades herein are all of the back-to-the-land or hand-tool-only sort.  No sir!  Yes, this book outlines the feasibility of trades like farmer and arborist, but it also considers trades like practicing law, an “intellectual job” if there ever was one.  I was struck with the idea that a man could have St. Thomas More as a patron saint and have the same job as he.  Talk about durability. 

I’ve used up many formulations of “get this book” in other reviews, as honestly possible, but now I don’t know to properly say this, so let’s keep it plain: Read this book.  (If you’re a Brother level subscriber to Sword&Spade, we sent it to you as essential reading).  Especially if you have children or young souls in your care.  They need to read this book.  They need to see and know that there are options out there for a life that operates on a whole different logic than wealth, opportunity, and status.  This book will not help you “crush it” in your work, but it might help you grow something worth tending.

(Note: I will be hosting a live discussion with author Rory Groves about his book Durable Trades. Click here to join the discussion.)

By - 05 / 04 / 2022
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