Hire a 'Wantologist'? Our Wild New Service Economy
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The Fiscal Times
May 4, 2012

Don’t know what you want out of life? No problem. Hire a wantologist!

This new profession actually exists in 2012. Just fork over a little cash (a couple hundred an hour or so) and this individual will help you figure out your most important goals in life – and help you get closer to achieving them.

Sound like a bunch of hooey? Consider Esther James, a wantologist in San Jose, California. She has a PhD in psychology from NYU, practiced for twenty years as a Jungian psychologist, trained as an executive coach – earning $250 an hour – and has now transitioned into full-time life coaching in the wake of the economic downturn, as she explained to sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Hochschild, based at the University of California, Berkeley, profiles James and many other personal service providers in an enlightening new book, The Outsourced Life, which describes how the market has risen to meet the needs of increasingly harried and needy Americans.

To Hochschild, James explained the job of wantologist this way: “First you ask your client, ‘Are you floating or navigating toward your goal?’ A lot of people float. Then, you ask, ‘What do you want to feel like once you have what you want?’ A person can earn $400,000 a year and still not feel secure. We set every kind of trap for ourselves.”

Hochschild puts these out-of-the-blue service professions in the broader context of a society right now that “undermines community, disparages government, marginalizes nonprofits, and believes in the superiority of what’s for sale.” As she told The Fiscal Times in an interview, “The wantologist’s profession is fledgling at the moment, but it’s very real – it’s its own speciality. I’ve seen the ‘wantology workbooks.’ I’ve talked to the clients. Services like this are only going to proliferate. A lot of things that seemed weird yesterday aren’t weird today.”

RELATED: In Sagging Economy, Grandmas-for-Hire Take Off

As in: nameologists (people who help you name your as yet-unborn baby) and gravesite adornment specialists. “Years ago nobody thought of the Sitting Shivah Sisters – a very real business – or services like ‘Rent-a-Grandma’ and ‘Rent-a-Friend,’” says Hochschild. “But there’s a need for these things today. And people are willing to pay.” 

While the well-to-do have always paid for painters, gardeners, chefs, chauffers, dogsitters and the like, Hochschild points out that Americans of all class levels are now paying for private services partly because there’s nowhere else to turn. “The market is the main game in town for meeting these needs,” she says. “Think about it: Poor people out eat too – they just go to different places than the wealthy do. They use babysitters. They use elder care.”

The Fiscal Times (TFT):  How does all of this square with an unemployment rate that’s still over 8 percent? It’s not easy for many people to come up with the cash for services like these – and are they really necessary, by the way?

Arlie Russell Hochschild (ARH):  The point is that we’re reaching with great ease for market services to fill the gaps in many parts of our society. Sure, some of this makes me uneasy. We’re putting distance between ourselves and our private lives, in some ways. But there’s a big-picture scenario here that’s worth a look. Millions of people use the dating service match.com, for example. Just google the words “dating coach,” and you’ll get over a million hits. Look at all the life coaches. It used to be that just the upper class had maids and cooks and wet nurses – but we have the perfect storm in society today for new services.

TFT:  Perfect storm, as in how? 

Managing Editor Maureen Mackey oversees scheduling and work flow and also writes and edits features and reports on a wide array of subjects. She spent more than 20 years as a senior book and features editor at Reader’s Digest.