Posts Tagged ‘careers advice’

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 2

January 18th, 2011 No comments

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

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 3

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Pleasure of Creative Work is Not Found in a ‘Creative’ Career

You ask: if satisfaction in work comes from pleasure in creative ideas, why not work in a creative career job? I can come up with creative ideas for an advertising company, or another creative media job and at the same time be paid generously. Aren’t people in these jobs using their creative capabilities?

Not in the same way. Advertising is called a creative industry, and does require original ideas to sell its products. A public relations executive has to write creative copy to publicise their clients’ good or service. But their pleasure in this work is in the sense of, ‘I have satisfied my bosses/client and will be handsomely paid in return’. Not in the creative idea itself, because the idea does not have genuine value to them.

Everyone has their own genuine personal values for what they like and dislike in books, in music, in food, in toothpaste. But your genuine values are of no use in a creative industry, and working in these professions in fact results in the suppression of your own personal views. The marketing executive in book publishing learns to declare all books they help publish as ‘fantastic’, regardless of their personal opinion. When they start the job this may feel odd to them, as they declare something good when in fact they think it rubbish. But they must do so, because this is the opinion they need to repeat in their advertising copy and press releases.

Your opinions about books, about music, even about toothpaste are an expression of your values and personality. Being creative for a company means learning how to suppress your own values and personality. After a time the marketing executive who advertises processed food forgets that they themselves like to eat healthily and that their work contributes to others not doing so. To work for a company in this way, your values must become the company’s values. You must forget your own opinions of the company’s products, and later, you must forget that you have forgotten, or else go mad.

Many schoolchildren and graduates aspire to work in the media, in creative jobs. Why is this? Because they themselves enjoy the product of these industries, books, television, or film, and think that to help produce them will provide them with creative pleasure. The majority of jobs in the media do not require creative ideas at all. In my twenties I had a friend who worked as a runner on a feature film, but she derived no pleasure from the creation of the film, for not only did she have little connection to the actual filmmaking in her day-to-day tasks, but also the film had not been her idea. It was not even a film she would have chosen to watch. (At the time she took pleasure from the glamour of telling people she was a runner on a feature film. She later admitted she hated the job, partly because emotional bullying is rife in the film industry, the victims of it uncomplaining because they so want to keep their glamorous job.)

I have worked for book publishers. Here you help sell books written by other people – it is not your books you are selling. The pleasure in creative ideas in book publishing comes at the point of writing the book, not in selling it. In helping to sell it you are merely making this book’s ideas available to the public. Even if it is a book whose ideas you think of vital public interest, something that happens very rarely, the author’s pleasure in their creative ideas will not somehow rub off on you. For this you need your own creative ideas. A full-time career in a creative industry does not provide you with pleasure from creative ideas.

But maybe sometimes, you point out, there are creative jobs, where you truly come up with your own ideas, ones that you genuinely think have value. What about the designers of the book covers?

It is true. Book cover designers do originate their own designs, ones they themselves value and in which they take pleasure. It is a short-term pleasure that is repeatedly quashed by the stress of deadlines, the criticism of editors and authors, and the constant interruptions of emails and phone calls. Many designers’ ideas come to them only outside of work, when they are left alone and have time to think, at a time when they are not being paid for their ideas. After a while they forget about trying to find artistic pleasure (the reason they went to art college and applied for their design job), and settle into drawing a salary just like any other careerist.

Don’t squander the pleasure of ideas in a full-time career, however appealing it looks from the outside. The pleasure from creative ideas is found outside of paid work.

But maybe you think this doesn’t matter, that you never thought of work as a place to use your genuine capabilities anyway. That if you have a job with a good salary you do not mind performing tasks dictated by someone else, because this salary will provide you with the means to pursue the things in which you are really interested.

related post:  The Purpose of Your Creativity is Not Making Money for Your Employer

next: Part 4 – Full-time Careers Leave no Time for Your Own Creative Work

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 4

January 18th, 2011 No comments

Full-time Careers Leave no Time for Your Own Creative Work

If you have a full-time career you do not have the time, or the energy, to devote to finding pleasure from creative ideas. Question people you know who have full-time career jobs, about how they spend their hard-earned money and their spare time. We are not talking about hobbies: this pleasure is not found in occasional games of golf, or going to gigs at the weekend, or mini breaks in Barcelona. These are interludes between long periods of work. The answer is that careerists do not have the time, or the energy. Each week they spend thirty-seven hours plus working, many more getting ready for and travelling to and from work, and after these deductions there is not enough time or energy left for discovering this pleasure.

But you say: perhaps this is only true when you start a career, when you have a more junior position. I won’t be on the lower rungs of my career forever. I’ll work hard for a while, achieve promotion, leave the more stressful parts of the job to those now working for me and with my new, generous salary have the money to indulge in the things in which I’m genuinely interested.

You may then have the money, but you will not have the time. A well-paid career demands your whole life. Do you think it is easy earning fifty, sixty, one hundred thousand pounds a year? You will be expected to work long hours, many more than is stated in the contract you sign. If you are rewarded with that much money you will not be expected to have ambitions or interests outside of your work: if your superiors suspect that your out-of-work activities are in any way affect your in-work efficiency you will be passed over for promotion and better pay, and promotion and better pay are your objectives in this career job. A friend, who worked in the personnel department of an investment bank, read on an employee’s file this advisement against promotion: ‘Puts his family before his career.’ Do you want to work for organisations with this ordering of priorities?

Nor it seems, even with a larger salary, is it easy to save a portion of each monthly paycheque, in order that you can someday leave to spend this lump sum on your genuine capabilities. Two friends I remember from university: one went to work in the City on a huge salary, said he was going to do the job for a few years, save some money and then train to be a PE teacher; the other went to work as an energy trader, said he was going to work for a few years, then use the money to set up an adventure camp for teenagers in France. Both still work in the same professions. And these are people who started on good wages.

Working is an expensive business. Most people spend all the money that they earn: if your colleagues at your advertising sales job tend to socialise in expensive restaurants and bars, are you never going to join them because you are saving money? You need to show a willingness to be part of the company team if you are going to carry on earning all that money that you want to save. How much money you spend, and therefore how much you save, depends as much on your peers as on yourself. Are you really going to turn down joining in with all those costly activities in the years that you are saving? More than this, your career job slowly turns you into a different person. You think about your long-term plan less and less often, and when you do it appears less and less realistic as part of the life you now lead.

You do not need to save money from a career salary in order to pursue the ideas that use your true capabilities. You can start pursing them now.

But everyone has to eat. What kind of work should you do to earn money for rent and food?

next: Part 5 – The Work You Do For Money Should Be Part-time

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 5

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Work You Do For Money Should Be Part-time

A review by juniorcain of Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget (a critique of the internet revolution) asks, angrily, ‘Will we all be expected to work at jobs to which we’re indifferent so we can come home and do the things we love for free online?’ The answer to a more general form of this question is ‘yes’. We will work at jobs (though not full-time) to which we are indifferent, and we will come home and do the things we love for free (though not necessarily online).

The type of work you do to earn enough money for rent and food – what we shall call subsistence work – is not so important. The most important aspect of this work is that it is part-time. Your important work is not your subsistence work, but the work you do in your spare time. We shall call the latter type ‘work’, because when we spend our time taking pleasure from our genuine capabilities we will put in effort, and to not call this work is to give it inferior status to our subsistence work.

The modern work ethic, which says we must take satisfaction and meaning in our lives from our full-time career, is an invention of the last couple of centuries, created by the Industrial Revolution. In the Middle Ages people worked the hours necessary to earn enough money to live: subsistence work. The rest of the time was their own. Would you not prefer to live like this? The idea that we must take meaning from our work has become so entrenched it is not surprising if you are unaware there is an alternative.

Full-time career work has commandeered the definition of the word ‘work’. If you refuse to have a career, you will still work, but at ideas of your own choosing. You will not go along with the lie that full-time career work is the only route to finding meaning in your life, because not only is it not the only route, it is rarely a route at all. Only our own ideas are meaningful to us. Other people’s work is automatically less meaningful, because it originates from other people’s ideas. It only has value in that it provides us with food and rent, and is subsistence work.

So how do you live with a part-time wage, and what type of subsistence work will we look for that will support our real work?

next: Part 6 – The Nature of Your Part-Time Subsistence Work is Not Important

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 6

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Nature of Your Part-Time Subsistence Work is Not Important

Is it best to be a part-time salesperson, barman or doctor? The nature of your work is not important. Your ambition for work is less about the nature of the job, and more that this job is part-time. A summary of the careers advice contained here is: find the sort of part-time work that allows the most freedom for your important work. Your job needs to be part-time, and better still, freelance, in that you work as and when you need to.

Plumber, fitness instuctor, nurse, bar work: these are all jobs that are easy to do part-time or freelance. Well-paid executive for an telecoms company is not. Lawyer and advertising copywriter are not. Many part-time jobs are manual jobs, which may not appeal to you. If, however, the important work you do outside of your subsistence work involves sitting at a desk using a computer, active manual work might be a pleasant change. No one is suggesting that being an electrician is going to be your life’s fulfillment. This will come outside of your subsistence work.

Happily, the rewarding jobs discussed earlier can be much more rewarding if part-time. The part-time doctor or teacher, if they can resist the pressures to work longer than the hours for which they are paid, can feel the rewards of these jobs more keenly when their spare time is not so minimal. But not all rewarding jobs are possible to do part-time, and should be avoided.

Better still if you can combine a number of part-time jobs (so long as they only add up to the hours of one). You have greater job security if you lose one of three part-time jobs rather than one full-time job. You also have more chance to avoid being exploited when you have more than one job, for you can give it up more easily because you have other work. The best kind of subsistence job is the one where you could not care less if you lost it.

In full-time career jobs people work a huge amount of unpaid overtime. They do this because they fear being seen as not as good as their colleagues, who also work unpaid overtime. In your casual subsistence job, if your employer does not pay you for overtime, you will rightly complain, or threaten to leave. No one threatens to leave a career job, because they have worked so hard to get it in the first place. Their employer will exploit that to the maximum. The principle in feudal times was, ‘Pay the poor just enough that they can buy the food they need in order to work, and they will continue working.’ In the modern career the principle changes to, ‘Increase the employee’s workload to just before the point where they are off sick with stress, and they will continue working.’

The great thing about part-time work is, the less you work, and the less attached you are to the work you do, the more available you are to take on different, more interesting subsistence work. Don’t take on the fear of your parents, or your school, that you have somehow failed. Part-time subsistence work is not a stop-gap to a full-time career. If you have created the spare time for using your genuine capabilities, and you take pleasure in this, then you are a success.

You ask again: but how do I live on part-time wages? We will get to that in Part 8.

next: Part 7 – University is Not Essential For a Fulfilling Life