Posts Tagged ‘idling’

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: introduction

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Careers Advice I Never Received

I needed this careers advice when I was sixteen. I needed it when leaving university, and again aged thirty, since I did not understand it until then. Such advice is not available at school, which focuses on just one way of living, that of the full-time career job, and so is of limited use. Not only of limited use, but also demoralising: it gives you a distorted view of the working life of adults, and of the possibilities open to you.

A sixteen-year-old needs advice beyond how to obtain a nine-to-five, full-time job with benefits and pension. They need to know that there are other alternatives: that there is a working life that allows you enough spare time to use your genuine capabilities, and discover the pleasure in using these capabilities. In my experience it is people with this kind of life who are happier. So here is some careers advice addressed to the sixteen-year-old me.

The full-time career is not the only future available to you. When asked the age-old question, ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?’, the answer you presently think correct actually answers the question, ‘what work are you going to do to earn money to eat?’ The question you ought to answer is, ‘if left to your own devices, what do you most dream of doing?’ Not to earn money, just to do for its own sake because this is where your genuine capabilities and interests lie.

This is advice on how to live according to the second question. In twenty years time you won’t have what your school would call a career. You will have part-time work for which you’re paid enough money to live as you need to, leaving you enough time to investigate the activities in which you are really interested.

This advice is not available at school because the teachers giving the advice only know about career jobs, since they are working in one themselves. This limited vision, together with the academic bias of school, will combine to make you (that is, me) think your genuine capabilities and interests are not important. And then, years later, when you work in an office, you find you spend seven and more hours a day thinking, ‘I was not born to do this.’

This is not advice for everyone. Some people are content to do a full-time career job. But many are not and, tragically, end up in a full-time, well-paid career and do not understand why they are miserable. But if you are that miserable person, it’s not too late. You can act on this advice any time. Read on below…

next: Part 1 – The Vast Majority of Full-time Career Jobs are Dull and Unrewarding
Part 2 – Rewarding Jobs Are So Highly Prized They Are Unrewarding
Part 3 – The Pleasure of Creative Work is Not Found in a ‘Creative’ Career
Part 4 – Full-time Careers Leave no Time for Your Own Creative Work
Part 5 – Time Spent Earning Money Comes Second to Your Own Creative Work
Part 6 – The Nature of Your Part-Time Subsistence Work is Not Important
Part 7 – University is Not Essential For a Fulfilling Life
Part 8 – Learn to Live Cheaply If You Desire Spare Time for Real Work
Part 9 – The Pleasure of Creative Ideas

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 1

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Vast Majority of Full-time Career Jobs are Dull and Unrewarding

Look at the job description in an advert for a career job: many claim that the job is ‘exciting’, ‘rewarding’, ‘fulfilling’ or something similar. It won’t be. Such claims seemed doubtful when I first read those adverts, and I now have plenty of evidence that this is false.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives his necessary criteria for a satisfying job: autonomy, in that you decide the tasks you perform and when you perform them; complexity, in that the work is not dull and routine; and a sense of reward for a job done.

It is the last, the sense of reward, that modern careers pretend to provide but do not. This is a big loss. Many (though not all) well-paid career jobs provide autonomy: an account executive who develops new mobile phone contrtacts will decide who she does business with and when and where her meetings are held; and career jobs almost always provide complexity: gambling on the futures markets in the City is more complex and intellectually stimulating than the corking of wine bottles on a production line. But the sense of reward for a job done is seldom provided for.

Companies provide one kind of reward: the payment of a salary. But this is only a substitute reward – it is not the same as a genuine reward for the job done. To feel the kind of reward  that makes a job satisfying you must be able to view the end product of your work as something in which you are proud. Are you going to feel genuinely proud of working as a teller in a bank, of balancing the accounts for a multinational corporation, or being a producer’s assistant on a reality TV programme?

The reason that the answer to this is ‘not really’ is because the end products of these jobs did not arise from your own ideas. You did not set out with these goals for your job, they were handed to you by someone else, by your boss. You spend thirty-seven and more hours a week under pressure to complete tasks which you do not care about. (There are of course jobs, such as a doctor, where there is reward in the job done. More about these jobs in Part 2.)

But, you say, is there not still enough satisfaction to be had in completing goals in a career job, even if they are set by an employer? They are still goals. No. You become vaguely aware of this months after starting work, and it becomes clearer as the years go by. Goals set by other people cannot truly satisfy, because deciding these goals yourself is an important part of the sense of reward. Right now do you really count building a website to sell insurance products, or even writing policy advice for a government department amongst your goals in life? Are these activities which use your genuine capabilities and in which you are truly interested? You may have little idea of the nature of your genuine capabilities at the moment. But do you imagine that they coincide with those of any company?

Companies substitute for this lack of genuine reward by trying to make you feel part of a company ‘family’, and by trying to convince you that the company’s goals are your goals. They send you on away-days with these family members that are labelled ‘team-building’, which sound like their primary purpose is to forge stronger relationships at work. But a company does not care about genuine relationships. Team-building exercises try to create stronger bonds between work colleagues, but only in order that you feel celebrated by your colleagues if you achieve for the company, and that you are letting them down if you don’t: a slave driver’s whip of emotional guilt. Team-building days feel awkward and false because they come from false motives – they try to form ‘friendships’ between people who would not naturally be friends.

Your goals are not the company’s goals. A company’s only goal is to make money, for themselves.

Ask people you know who have full-time career jobs how much they like them, how much they find them fulfilling. Watch carefully as they answer: judge whether you think they are giving a truthful answer. Many who answer ‘yes’ or ‘it’s okay’ are lying to themselves. It is a necessary survival trait to convince yourself, above anyone else, that your job fulfills you. Why else would you be spending thirty-seven-plus hours of your waking week working at it?

What then, you already ask, are the goals that you should instead pursue for a satisfying life?

Work satisfaction comes less from pursuing particular goals than from experiencing the pleasure of creative ideas. Ideas connected to your genuine capabilities, not to an employer’s demands. And although anything described as ‘creative’ is usually understood to be found in activities labelled ‘art’, the word ‘creative’ covers a much wider range of activities. We’ll return to this in a later part.

But already, you object: all the career jobs described so far, they are not professions I would choose anyway. I want to be a doctor, or work for a charity, or be a zookeeper, a job where I might make a difference to the lives of others, and, as a consequence, receive a non-monetary sense of reward. Rewarding career jobs do exist, of course. But the demand for them is high, and this brings its own problems.

next: Part 2 – Rewarding Jobs Are So Highly Prized They Are Unrewarding

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