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Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 2

Rewarding Jobs Are So Highly Prized They Are Unrewarding

Many people desire a career as a doctor, or teacher, or overseas aid worker, and with good reason: these jobs do offer a genuine sense of reward. But the competition for such jobs is fierce, and the entry requirements high.

The entry requirements are not always academic – sometimes they are tests of endurance. To be a doctor you must study for four to six years, and then before you are fully qualified work for another two years as a junior doctor, when you are moved from hospital to hospital, uprooting your home life every few months. In the office of any charity, there will be many unpaid interns, and much more unpaid overtime than in, say, an insurance company. Many rewarding jobs have similar gruelling hurdles over which you must jump to obtain a position: they are testing to see if you will be able to endure the same pace when you start work.

If your work has worth to you, but is controlled by an employer, that employer will, consciously or unconsciously, take advantage of your desire to keep the job, thus reducing its worth. Talk to many doctors and teachers and they say that the heavy commitment they make to their profession is not compensated by the sense of reward. Many teachers I know rarely have any kind of social life in the week because they are too tired. (I don’t subscribe to the idea that the long holidays in teaching make it worth the heavy work commitment. If you’re only in the job for the holidays, what happened to doing the job for the sense of reward?) There is a correlation: the greater the (publicly-perceived) sense of reward in a job, the more it demands of you. Is this a sacrifice you are willing to make?

School careers advice tells you to ‘find a job that you love’. If you follow this advice, rather than ending up in a job you love, you end up in a profession that you used to admire at a distance. This is not the same as a job you love, and can often be the opposite. Teachers spend much of their time keeping children in line or adhering to teaching guidelines, rather than experiencing the joy of teaching. Jobbing journalists only occasionally have the chance to pursue stories that they truly think important. Vets don’t spend all day petting animals.

When the rewards are not as expected, the worker in the rewarding job tells themself: this is what I must endure, because I am helping others, and besides, someone has to be a doctor, or nurse, so I’m willing to let that be me. A culture of martyrdom is created. Whilst there are so many willing martyrs competing for rewarding jobs, the jobs continue to exploit. Why would they change?

You may think: if these jobs are so bad, so exploitative, why do people continue in them? Two reasons: debt, and embarrassment. You invested thousands of pounds and years of your life in training to be a doctor/nurse/teacher, and whilst you were training you kept telling yourself the job would be easier once you were qualified and had more experience. By the time you discover the rewards are too few for the sacrifices, there is no turning back. Now your best opportunity to earn money to pay back these debts is to work in the profession in which you have trained. Are you going to throw that all away to start at the bottom in another profession, on much lower wages? And if you say to yourself that you are going to stay in this now-disliked profession only so long as it takes to pay back the debt, are you then, after five or perhaps ten years, going to chuck it all in, and start at the bottom again? It is unlikely.

But a greater force is stopping you quitting. For some time before you started and all the time whilst you were training as a nurse, or a teacher, you were proud to tell others of your chosen career. A teacher is much more impressive and interesting-sounding than an insurance salesman. How will you feel about telling those same people that you gave it all up, when before you were so proud of what you were doing? Will you suffer many more years of misery in order not to have to tell them? Many people do.

Rewarding work is still an option for you, but not as a full-time career.

So what about jobs in the creative industries? Surely they can provide the pleasure of creative ideas?

next: Part 3 – The Pleasure of Creative Work is Not Found in a ‘Creative’ Career