There have been so many interesting answers to my “Career planning!” post that I thought I’d address some of them here, rather than replying in comments as I usually do. Just as we sometimes get a little Iggy or Jewy or Shakespearean around here now and then, I think we’re headed for a small stretch of career self-management thinking. Hope you’re all up for it. Given that it’s both 1) what I’m trying to do for myself at the moment, and 2) a big part of what I study at my HBS job, it’s a wee bit inevitable.
First off, geekgirl99 gave this as her worst career advice ever received:
Bad advice: “If you could be happy doing anything else, you shouldn’t go into music.” – Nadia Boulanger
Hear hear! (To the classification of this as bad advice, not to the sentiment itself.) As a writer … and a former academic … and a theater major … and a friend to many, many artists, actors, musicians, academics, and the like … that statement is nonsense. I think there are only two kinds of people who make those “If you could be happy doing anything besides acting, do it!” or “People become writers because they have no choice but to write!” One kind are the people in the field who want to feel special, called in some way, or at least not to feel so bad that they are 30 years old and don’t have health insurance. There isn’t any shame in being 30 years old with no health insurance — but there’s no great romance or meaning to it, either. Really, you could have taken the real estate class and become a leasing agent. You chose not to, which is fine, but it really is a choice. The muse invites you to dance, she doesn’t mug you in an alley.
The other kind of people, and I think these are more numerous, are the non-artists who don’t realize that it is possible to make something akin to a middle-class living in the arts. Maybe not the two-story-house-kids-in-private-schools kind of middle class, but the ramen-is-not-the-only-option middle class. People who aren’t in the arts often have a vague notion that one out of a thousand artists is fabulously wealthy a la Stephen King or Andy Warhol, and the other 999 are starving in an attic. It’s not true. Plenty of folks manage to make a living doing their art, and also doing copyediting, or voiceover work, or teaching, or busking, or working in a box office, or doing any of the other dozens if not hundreds of jobs in and around the artworld, or applying its skills.
So this advice is based on a wrong analysis of the labor market, and I think also on a wrong, 19th-century Romantic notion of the artist. Some people feel their art is a calling; for others, it’s simply something they are competent at. For some artists the work itself is the point; for others, the work is but a way to communicate with other people. As I write, I’m realizing that the reason this bugs me so much is that this advice is so very frequently given to young people with artistic ambitions. And I’m not a fan of incorrect and condescending advice given to the yout’. Buck up, yout’. If you want to be an actor or a musician or a writer you probably can. You might just have to do some other things, too. And if you’re not sure if you want to be an actor or a musician or a writer — well, try it! Don’t let people intimidate you into feeling you’re not a “real” artist if you’re unwilling to suffer.
Stupendousness also had a good “aha” moment:
So while I might make a good detective, I wouldn’t be happy as one. I’ve had that realization about many careers. There are tons of things I think I would be good at, but I don’t think I would necessarily like going to that work everyday.
There’s another good question: what’s something you would be good at, but you think would make you unhappy? And who identifies with JoGeek?:
I’m almost resigned to the idea that I could never stay interested in a single career for long enough to pay off the student loans that got me there. So I work a baseline job that I can tolerate and pursue hobbies instead. Much less of an investment for an eternal dilettante.
I know I do. (In fact, you can chart the rising and falling fortunes of my self-esteem on any given day by whether I would describe myself as a “dilettante” or a “Renaissance woman.”) In fact, tossing all notion of statistical proof to the winds and going with the anecdotal data that most gracefully leaps to mind, I’d say the happiest people I know, careerwise, are either those who have a “baseline job” and lots of hobbies, like JoGeek; multiple jobs/gigs that keep things from getting boring; or a job that requires continuous learning — of things you want to learn, I mean, not the new e-mail security system or how to fill out the new TPS reports.
Anne with an E‘s comment intrigued me — she wrote, “I’ve always tended to want to be ‘just like’ people instead of pursuing a particular field.” Yes, I get that too … the idea of a way of life being the thing that is attractive, a worldview. And the props. When I was a kid growing up in Kansas, my idea of what I kind of job I wanted to have changed quite frequently — psychologist, professor, director, novelist, reporter, lawyer* — but I knew what kind of life I wanted to have: one in a big city, in an apartment with hardwood floors, a subscription to the New Yorker (in some blissful, enlightened future in which I would finally understand all the cartoons), with friends who would debate politics and literature over wine late into the evening. That ideal never changed. I think that is kind of what Anne with an E is talking about.
Please, these ideas are all so interesting — keep sharing!
*That one didn’t last too long.