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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Yellow Springs author draws from personal experience in guide for right livelihood

Maxine Skuba's office door.
Maxine Skuba's office door.

Renee Wilde interviews Yellow Springs author Maxine Skuba.

One in five people say they will change jobs during the next year in a search for more meaningful work. It’s a quest that career counselor and author Maxine Skuba understands. Her new book, Right Livelihood: A Spiritually Grounded Guide To Finding Your 'Spot' In The World Of Work, uses the Buddhist notion that what we do, and how we do it, has far reaching effects on us and the world around us.

Skuba draws on her personal experience as a recovering job junkie to help others in their own journey. The author has been many things, from a waitress, apprentice cobbler, fabric artist, to a tornado rescue worker, and a teacher. “My last job that I actually retired from was a part-time job,” Skuba reflects, “working in Dayton for the Good Samaritan Crisis Care.”

By her count, Skuba has held over 60 different jobs. “ Yes, a collection, if you will,” she says laughing. “I love collections, and so I collected jobs. I was always questing for something bigger, better.”

We’re sitting on the porch of Skuba’s small house in Yellow Springs, located on a dead end street in the heart of the village, which also serves as her office as a career counselor and artist. Birds are singing on this early summer morning, insects are humming, and the occasional deer meanders through the yard foraging as the charismatic author recalls how her many diverse work experiences led to writing this book that she hopes will help others on their own quest.

“We all have many, many dimensions,” Skuba says, “ and I’ve been exploring. I think that I have explored different aspects of myself in different relationships with me and work, and me with people, and me with different environments.” That’s a sentiment that resonates with the nearly 57 million Americans who quit their jobs in the last year.

The Harvard Business Review reframes the Great Resignation sweeping the country as a Great Exploration - a series of individual journeys that are reshaping how and why we work, live, and think about our futures. Skuba calls it finding your spot. “The spot versus the non-spot, not only for jobs, but for people and situations that you’re in,“ she says. “And, sometimes we don’t know it until we can compare it with another situation or another person. Because we put up with a lot. We put up with conditions, neighbors, friends, that maybe are not that helpful for us, or don’t feed us as much as we need, or as much as we feed them.”

The real danger of staying in a non-spot too long, like the wrong job, Skuba writes in her book, is that the situation will eat away at your self-esteem. “There is something that I see with clients, I see with myself, I see with friends,” the author tells me. “I call it the resistance to our good, the resistance to our god, the god within. And, this is something that I think Maryanne Williamson has talked a lot about - kinda being afraid of our success, afraid of ourselves and our abilities. So we’ll procrastinate, or we’ll put it off until we’re on our deathbed and then have some regrets.”

You might remember Maryanne Williamson best as the colorful 2020 democratic presidential nominee, but she is also the author of a famous quote often misattributed to Nelson Mandela. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,” Williamson writes in her 1992 best selling self-help book A Return to Love. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

For those searching for the Right Livelihood, Skuba suggests starting by finding your personal pattern. Her book describes methods for finding our inborn giftedness based on the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA) pioneered by Authur Miller and Ralph Mattson, in their book The Truth About You. Do you like projects with (a) beginning, middle and an end? Or do you like routines,” Skuba uses as an example. “Some people, they come to work and they know exactly what they’re supposed to do, there are no big interruptions, they do it and they feel good at the end of the day. And, I’m glad there are people like that because I was not one of them and I faulted myself for not being one of them.”

She leans back in the wicker chair on the porch, surrounded by some of her artwork, and looks out over the garden. “I needed to look at what was right with me, rather than a long history from a dysfunctional family of asking myself what was wrong with me.”

Skuba writes in her book that “we are truly the gardeners of our souls and lives, holding seeds that we can choose to plant, and as we nurture those seeds, they grow into gardens that feed and nurture us.”

Renee Wilde was part of the 2013 Community Voices class, allowing her to combine a passion for storytelling and love of public radio. She started out as a volunteer at the radio station, creating the weekly WYSO Community Calendar and co-producing Women’s Voices from the Dayton Correctional Institution - winner of the 2017 PRINDI award for best long-form documentary. She also had the top two highest ranked stories on the WYSO website in one year with Why So Curious features. Renee produced WYSO’s series County Lines which takes listeners down back roads and into small towns throughout southwestern Ohio, and created Agraria’s Grounded Hope podcast exploring the past, present and future of agriculture in Ohio through a regenerative lens. Her stories have been featured on NPR, Harvest Public Media and Indiana Public Radio.