Mark Kleiman is concerned about what he calls the "TGIF problem": that people don't enjoy their jobs enough. "What does make me unhappy," he writes, "is that, in what is by some measures the richest nation in the history of the planet, most people don't really enjoy the activity that occupies about a third of their waking hours."
It's widely considered an ideal, of course, to be able to do for a living what one loves to do anyway. But let's face it--we can't all be prostitutes.
That may sound like a flip comment--okay, it is a flip comment--but I would argue that there's also an important truth behind it. The usual explanation for why most people don't hold jobs that involve doing what they love is that there's nothing that they love to do that they could actually get paid to do. But that's usually not true. In fact, almost every hobby has a corresponding job, and many of those jobs in fact employ millions of people. Lots of hobbyists, for example, enjoy gardening, or woodwork, or auto mechanics, or cooking--or, for that matter, sex.
But doing these things as a hobby is very, very different from doing them for a living. A hobbyist pleases him- or herself, makes his or her own hours, and works on the projects--and even the aspects of a given project--that he or she enjoys working on, skimping on the parts that are less enjoyable. A professional, on the other hand, must please employers or customers, by working on giving them what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. It's hardly surprising, then, that professionals often view their work as little better than an exhausting succession of unpleasant tasks.
Indeed, doing what one loves, but for a living instead of for fun, often drains all the joy out of doing it--my flip comment above being an obvious example. And to me, that's much worse than having to do a tolerable job one would not normally perform voluntarily. After all, in the latter case one is still free to enjoy one's unspoiled passions fully in one's spare time.
Kleiman points to professors--many of whom prefer to keep working through retirement age, as "emeriti"--as exemplars of the ideal of doing one's favorite activity for a living. But academia is something of a special case. There really aren't that many full research professors, as a fraction of the population. They are carefully selected by a rigorous process that requires them to demonstrate their willingness to obsess about their work for years on end. And then they are then given tenure, which allows them considerable freedom to tailor their work in just about any way that pleases them.
Society can afford one or two sparsely-populated vocations like that. But a world of tenured doctors or tenured middle managers or tenured electricians would look a lot like--well, the world of tenured public school teachers. And thank goodness most of North America functions better than its public schools.
Of course, there are people who are blessed with a love of a particular activity so intense that they even enjoy pursuing it professionally, despite all the drawbacks of doing so. Such people are very lucky--as are people with a particular talent so immense that they can exploit it on their own terms, as if it were a hobby, and still make a good living. But for the rest of us, the sensible course of action is to find a real job, and save our cherished pastimes for after hours.
So I say to the myriad editors who are no doubt ready to offer me untold riches, if only I'll agree to turn my blogging hobby into a career in professional opinion journalism: save your breath--this blogger's not for sale.