I received a lovely email today from an editor for whom I write from time to time. He has an idea for an article that he’d like written, and he thinks I’m just the person to write it. And knowing that I’m quite busy, he’s even suggested that I provide him with a deadline that would work for me. This sort of email is what writers love. But this particular one reminded me of a theory I’ve been working on.
You see, I like writing. I mean, I really like writing. I like coming up with ideas. I like selling them to editors. I like finding sources. I like asking people nosy questions about their jobs or their lives. I like leafing through my notes to find the nuggets that will create the story. I like exploring different angles. I like slaving over the drafting of the article itself. I even like redrafting it until it says what I want it to say.
The snag, of course, is that writing is not the best-paying of professions. Now, as luck would have it, some of the publications I write for actually pay pretty well. But some don’t. And others don’t pay at all, but I write for them because I like what they do and I want them to succeed. But the fact remains that they pay less well, by day or by hour or by any other measure you may care to use, than my regular consulting work.
This isn’t to say, of course, that I don’t like my consulting work. Because I do. After all, if I didn’t like doing it, I’d probably have stopped by now. It’s just that I like writing more. Just as, if I could find a job that involved playing with the dogs all day, I’d probably like that even more than I like writing.
This leads me to my theory. I haven’t got a name for it yet, but basically my theory states that each job, if you factor in all the good things and the bad things about it (such as salary, working conditions, colleagues, doing something worthwhile, etc.), comes down to essentially the same net result.
So if you have a job that pays really, really well, it probably doesn’t fare so well in other areas. You might work for an arms manufacturer, for example, or a tobacco company. Or you might have to work twenty hours a day, sit in an office in a war zone or put up with the colleagues from hell. It it wasn’t for the insane pay packet, you’d hand in your notice tomorrow.
You might, on the other hand, work for a charity that does the most amazing work, with simply the best colleagues and a work environment to die for. In which case, you probably earn an absolute pittance. But you don’t care, because your job’s the best one on the planet and you love it.
The same applies to my consulting work. I could earn way more than I do now if I did essentially the same job in a big consulting firm. But I’d have to work in an office. I might even have to wear a tie. I’d almost certainly have less flexibility to choose what to do and when to do it. And I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of being the master of all I survey. (OK, I may have got a little carried away here, but running one’s own business is certainly very satisfying.)
This is also why I don’t mind that writing doesn’t pay so well. Or, at least, not as well as my consultancy work. Because any loss in money earned is balanced out by the fact that writing has so many other things going for it. I get to find out about new things. I get to talk to interesting people. I get to research something that excites me and then tell other people about it. I’d probably do it even if I didn’t get paid at all (though please don’t tell my editor).
So that’s my theory. If you have a highly-paid job, there’s probably a reason that it’s so highly paid. But if you have a job that is so perfect for you that you leap out of bed every morning with joy, you probably earn peanuts. If the latter applies to you, though, count your blessings. Because you may never earn a fortune, but in so many ways you’re already rich.
(I appreciate that this theory doesn’t work for jobs that are badly paid and rubbish, unless there’s some amazing benefit to them that nobody has yet appreciated. That such jobs exist at all is a sign, I feel, that we need to fundamentally re-design our economy. But more about that in due course…)