At my daughter’s graduation, the president of Claremont said, “Some of you will go on to rewarding and productive careers in government and academia. And some of you will go into business.” Since the school still hits me up for a donation every year, I can only assume that she believed the business-types in the audience were simply too upid-stay o-tay et-gay at-thay ey-thay ad-hay ust-jay een-bay issed-day.
But I’ve subsequently had any number of conversations with college kids and found many feel the same way. They view graduating and working in the business world as a death sentence, sort of Gulag with a dental plan. When I press them to find out which jobs they consider cool, they say things like working for a not-for-profit. Are you kidding me? A not-for-profit? Spend the rest of your life broke, pestering your friends for money for your charity, and being bossed around by some rich dilettante who “gives back” by dropping in for board meetings? Really?
Admittedly, some jobs in the business world suck. Really suck. Working at the very bottom, say in retail, is the modern equivalent of stoop labor. One famous retail chain has programmed its cash register to calculate how fast cookies are selling and then tell the retail associate when to put in a new batch. Now that sucks. You make minimum wage, wear a stupid uniform, stand in front of a hot oven all day and have to take orders from a cash register. That would seem to me to be bad.
But most jobs college graduates get in the corporate world aren’t like that. Those jobs tend to pay pretty well, you don’t work very hard, and they are often downright interesting. Some have tremendous perks like international travel and generous education reimbursement. Sure, some days they suck. All jobs suck some of the time. Even Hollywood sucks some of the time. Ask Lindsay Lohan. But all in all, the suck factor in business is relatively low. And even the coolest jobs have some parts that suck. For example:
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Because it sounds so darn noble. And rich kids do it, so it must be desirable.
The Part that Sucks: The basic job description is panhandling, hitting people up for money. And the not-for-profit people I know spend endless time in meetings, much of it with people who are well intended but perhaps not the most efficient in the world, including the rich donors who got a marketing degree way back when and now want to “help” you re-design the annual fundraiser invitation.
2. Medical Doctor
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Three reasons. Prestige, the chance to help people, and money.
The Part that Sucks: The typical med school graduate leaves school $150K in debt. Some leave with $300K.
An average GP in private practice makes $150K.
It’s pretty hard to pay back $300K on a salary of $150K and move in the social circles doctors move in, so most doctors these days take a different route—they work for medical corporations. Medical corporations are large, complex operations, managed as factories. Receptionist puts patient in a room; medical technician takes vitals and puts into computer; nurse takes blood sample; doctors comes in, reads chart, nods, writes scrip, leaves; a different nurse practitioner explains the prescribed therapy. Just like a car moving along the assembly line at the auto plant. Every worker does their job, hits the button, and the line moves on. Next.
To hear my MD friends describe it, it’s a Faustian bargain. You can own your own practice, spend 30 minutes per patient, really get to know them, drive a Camry, and never pay your loans back. Or you can make some real money by working in a very high end factory where you spend 5 minutes per patient and don’t know their names. Deal or no deal?
Of course, you can make even more money if you become a specialist, and look at the same exact wart 45 times each day, every day, 250 days a year.
3. Pro Athlete
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Umpteen thousand years ago, the biggest, toughest hunter got the choicest hunk of mastodon meat and got to sleep closest to the fire with fattest girl. And they still do.
The median pro football salary is $770,000 a year. A pro athlete can always get a table in a restaurant, and Wilt Chamberlain claimed to have slept with 25,000 women. That’s three different women a day. Not likely. But it is true that professional athletes of both sexes tend to get lots of opportunities for sex. I recently read an article about groupies at bass fishing tournaments.
Seems fair to me. Being 7 feet tall and 300 lbs is pretty inconvenient. Might as well get something out of it.
The Part that Sucks: Short career, no job security, and a fifty year second act.
The average career of a top level pro football player is 3.5 years. (And remember, Brett Farve really messes up the average. The median is probably far below that.) Baseball 2.7. Hockey 5. A successful athlete is washed up and sent home at 28.
Every year, your employer holds tryouts with the stated objective of finding someone who can do your job better and cheaper. This is true of every professional athletic endeavor, from baseball to ballet to bowling.
Yes, it’s great to be a top ten golfer and fly around the world in your private jet. But most pros travel by car, don’t get paid at half the tournaments they compete in, and worry about making the top 125 in money winnings each year so they aren’t relegated to the minor leagues (Nationwide Tour or Q School.) It’s like working in a company that lays off 30% of the workforce every single year.
For those who do wash out, the future’s not that great. Every sport has injuries, even golf, and ex-athletes are often injured for life. Many are maimed. Sadly, very few keep all those big bucks. According to Sports Illustrated, 78% of ex-football players end up broke and 60% of NBA players are broke after five years.
Even worse, though, at least based on the retired pros I’ve met, is the “didn’t-you-used-to-be” factor. Most of us can gracefully edge away from the reality that we were smarter, stronger, faster and more interesting twenty years ago. We don’t have people in restaurants tapping us on the shoulder and reminding us how much better our younger selves were.
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Fabulous pay and everyone has to do what you tell them. CEOs are to our modern society what dukes were to thirteenth century England.
The Part that Sucks: I know a lot of CEOs. Some of them have suggested that I might want to be a CEO at some point. I tell them: Never. Never. Never. Not for a minute.
The problem with being a CEO is it’s 24/7. You’re always on. Always being watched. From the moment your driver picks you up at 6 a.m. until he drops you off at midnight, you are ON. Every morning you get a list of what you will be doing every minute of the day.
Forget going into your office, kicking off your shoes, and calling in a colleague for a relaxed five minute chat. There are no five minute holes in the schedule or colleagues or relaxed chats. The CEO of a large corporation can make or break a career with a few words. Everyone he meets has an agenda and shapes their answer to get his or her support. “Is it raining outside?” “Do you want it to be raining outside, sir?” The bigger the corporation, the worse the problem.
Forget letting your hair down. Forget being goofy or stupid at a party. It’s a lonely gig. Sort of like being the winner of Survivor Nicaragua, but worse. You have the immunity necklace, but you never get to go home.
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Because they have never worked on a farm.
The Part that Sucks: It’s relentless. You never get caught up, much less ahead, and all your hard work can be wiped out with a single hailstorm.
Nor is the job quite as noble as the Farm Aid guys suggest. I own a farm and most of my neighbors are pretty outspoken that government handouts need to end. They better be glad no one takes them at their word, because agriculture receives huge levels of government support. In countries where agriculture is not subsidized, farmers live at subsistence levels.
6. Concert Violinist
Why People Think The Job is Cool: The prestige associated with being “an artist.”
The Part that Sucks: (Let’s not get hung up on whether or not executing a series of carefully prescribed physical tasks is really “art.”)
The truth is working as a concert musician actually is a great gig. The pay is very good, the hours light, and it’s heavily unionized. It’s sufficiently undemanding that many concert musicians actually have fulltime side jobs and you can work until you’re eighty years old if you want to, just sit up on stage and take a nap until the guy behind you pokes you with his bow.
The problem is it’s such a good gig that no one every leaves it. Every year dozens of wonderfully talented young people fly all over the world auditioning for the two or three jobs that open up. Most will end up doing something else.
Nice work if you can get it. But you can’t.
Why People Think The Job is Cool: Because Hemingway sold the world on the idea that novelists lead great and glamorous lives full of travel, drunken fun and unapologetic promiscuity.
The Part that Sucks: I confess, I have written five novels and had two published. I love the process of writing, but I hated being a novelist.
First of all, novelist is a job. You write what people want to read, not necessarily what you want to write. If you’re lucky, it’s both. But most aren’t.
And the pay is horrible because novelist is a job with what we MBAs call low barriers to entry, meaning anyone can give it a try. Low barrier jobs tend to not pay well. True, Jim Patterson makes millions, but the average novelist makes almost nothing. A few years ago at an Author’s Guild panel a publisher made an impassioned plea for publishers to pay enough so every novelist could earn a “fair living wage.” In answer to a follow-up question, he said that would be “about $25,000.” I don’t think the Hemingway lifestyle works on $25K a year.
And finally, until you consistently hit the bestseller list, it is the author’s responsibility to market his or her work. Most of us writers are introverts, and self-promotion doesn’t come naturally. I can tell you, the loneliest place in the world is at a table in Border’s, watching while someone walks over, picks up your book, reads the back cover, puts it down and walks away. It’s like having an endless line of people walk up and tell you your child is ugly. It hurts.
Those are my seven, but I probably could have made the list much longer. Bed and breakfast owner. Porn star. (Supposedly, porn stars don’t get paid terribly well, and there’s a sliding scale depending on what the actor is willing to do and with whom. Getting paid to have sex that doesn’t hurt with beautiful people of the opposite sex is bottom of the pay scale. But I admit, I don’t really know much about it. Darn it.) Chef. Flight attendant.
My guess is every job sucks some. Otherwise, no one would pay you to come to work.