Craftsman or Hired Gun?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In his latest column, Dr. Hurd notes of a common dilemma many people face regarding jobs vs. careers, "Sometimes the job is the career, and sometimes the job is a means for subsidizing the career." Among other things, Hurd discusses a very common mistake many people make, of assuming that they must maximize the amount of money they are making at work, losing sight of what that money is for and so missing out on some of what they care about, since money can't buy everything.

But there are other pitfalls, such as one I recently ran across through the Ask a Manager blog. The title of the post is, "What Kind of Day Job Should a Writer Have?", but it draws on the example of a "long-haired, soccer-playing cabinet maker" who had found work as a carpenter in home renovations.

But that didn't last long:

When the team reconvened in fall, Frank had cut his hair. He'd gotten a job. Nine-to-five. He was one of us. Why, we asked, money?

He assured us that wasn't it; he could make a decent living in home renovations, but found the work too similar to his passion -- building cabinets. Both required working with tools and wood. It had seemed a natural fit, a decent way to fund an artistic pursuit. But it didn't work for Frank: after a full day on a job site his energy for cabinet making had been sapped. It occurred to me that the issue could have been partly physical -- carpentry isn't a sedentary occupation, after all -- but that wasn't the way Frank explained it. He'd been mentally exhausted, which impaired his ability to take up tools in his free time and work on things that mattered. [bold added]
That's an interesting kind of problem, but, in light of the rest of Hurd's column, I find the cabinet-maker's willingness to experiment -- and change when he realized he was off-course -- to be the take-home lesson in this cautionary tale.

But was the cabinet-maker wrong to at least try carpentry? I think not, based on the experience of a friend of mine who writes science fiction. His job involves lots of writing, and thinking about science. Years ago, I asked him if his job, being similar in so many respects to his passion, made it hard for him to start working on his fiction. "No," he replied. "The rewards are different." He went on, smiling at a simile left floating in the air by the recent release of Saving Grace, "It's a bit like landscaping for a living, and coming home to cultivate marijuana. The rewards are different enough."

The advice to leave one's comfort zone is very good when passion and career are unlikely to align themselves perfectly. A path like this could be the way forward, but one will not really know without trying. In any event, it is important to know that it may or may not work out.

-- CAV

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