Money no rea­son to stick with a ca­reer you loathe

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - AN­GELA MOL­LARD ANGELAMOLL­[email protected] TWIT­TER.COM/ANGELAMOLL­ARD

There are plenty of things I’ve got wrong in life but there’s one thing I got un­ex­pect­edly, for­tu­itously right. I chose the best job for me. I love every el­e­ment of be­ing a jour­nal­ist: the sto­ry­telling; the di­ver­sity of opin­ions; the front row seat on hu­man­ity as it makes and breaks his­tory (or, in the case of the Kar­dashi­ans, re­de­fines our view on what con­sti­tutes a nice bum).

Mostly, I love the words. Choos­ing them, typ­ing them, thread­ing them to­gether like charms on a bracelet.

But I very nearly chose some­thing else.

At uni­ver­sity, I spent a year study­ing law. It was a mind­numb­ingly dull trudge un­til one af­ter­noon the head of the prison ser­vice gave a lec­ture. He was the first per­son to talk about peo­ple, real peo­ple, not prece­dents and pro­ceed­ings and prima fa­cie. When he dis­closed that pris­on­ers took their lives by stick­ing their tongues in the light bulb sock­ets, I re­alised I wanted to tell sto­ries — the hor­ri­ble and the life-af­firm­ing — rather than ad­ju­di­cate on oth­ers’ lives.

It’s be­cause of this close shave with a ca­reer I know I would’ve hated that I de­spair at our cur­rent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with push­ing kids into jobs and uni­ver­sity de­grees based on what they’re good at, what will make them em­ploy­able and what they’ll get paid.

I know, be­cause I’ve been guilty of that kind of think­ing as my el­dest has de­lib­er­ated on what path she’s go­ing to fol­low. In the end, I gave her only one piece of ad­vice: “Don’t worry about the pay or the pres­tige, just do what­ever you like that makes your heart skip just a lit­tle bit more than any­thing else.”

The govern­ment is right in point­ing out this week that uni­ver­sity is not for ev­ery­one. We have a huge short­age of work­ers in trades, vo­ca­tions and tra­di­tional blue-col­lar oc­cu­pa­tions largely be­cause we’ve be­come hugely as­pi­ra­tional.

There’s noth­ing wrong with want­ing bet­ter for our­selves and our off­spring but it’s time we rethought ex­actly what is “bet­ter”.

“Bet­ter” is not leav­ing uni­ver­sity with a de­gree you loathed, a huge debt you now owe and no prac­ti­cal skills when all along you had a

yearn­ing to build things. Or cook. Or make beau­ti­ful gar­dens.

That said, I don’t buy into the adage: “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Even choco­late taste testers have to do their tax re­turns.

While my job has had its Devil Wears Prada mo­ments, I love it still. Plenty don’t. Half the men I know loathe their jobs. The hap­pi­est among my mates are a plumber, a nurse, a yoga teacher and a guy who is gifted at de­sign­ing kitchens.

In­deed, two blokes I know in top ex­ec­u­tive jobs are most thrilled by the pro­vin­cial butcher shop they’ve set up as a side busi­ness.

In essence, the dis­il­lu­sion­ment stems from a con­flict of in­ter­est. When econ­o­mist Adam Smith ex­plained that the “di­vi­sion of labour” was the se­cret to in­creased pro­duc­tiv­ity, the work­force started fo­cus­ing on do­ing one job. For life.

That job then shaped who we were, and de­ter­mined how we were viewed in pub­lic.

Ergo sci­en­tists were seen as nerdy, teach­ers as warm and town plan­ners as bor­ing and mu­nic­i­pal.

Yet as Alain de Bot­ton points out, be­ing “monog­a­mous” in our work means ex­tin­guish­ing our mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties and set­tling for the one. As he says: “No won­der that we’re qui­etly and painfully con­scious of our un­filled des­tinies, and at times recog­nise with a le­git­i­mate sense of agony that we re­ally could well have been some­thing and some­one else.”

But there’s hope. Our chil­dren’s gen­er­a­tion will be work­ing for longer than any be­fore it yet they’ll see more workplace change. They’ll have to be ag­ile and how they think will be so much more im­por­tant than what they know. If work tra­di­tion­ally nar­rowed our lives, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions may find that work ex­pands their lives even if it feels less se­cure.

It seems to me that far from go­ing to uni­ver­sity or vo­ca­tional train­ing to learn some­thing, the quest will be to learn about them­selves. What makes their heart quicken? Where does their imag­i­na­tion take them? What makes them feel that par­tic­u­lar har­mony when who you are syn­chro­nises with what you do. It’s one of the rea­sons I like the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne’s model of in­sist­ing stu­dents do a broad de­gree be­fore spe­cial­is­ing. You have to taste life be­fore you de­cide what to do with your own. A friend of mine, a for­mer CEO of one the na­tion’s big­gest health­care providers, told me his de­gree in his­tory, rather than busi­ness or medicine, was at the heart of his suc­cess.

As for me, I did a Bach­e­lor of Arts — a de­gree plenty now write off as a waste of time. Re­cently I re­turned to my child­hood home where I sorted through my uni­ver­sity texts. As I flicked through the mildewed books, I felt so lucky to have been able to im­merse my­self in lit­er­a­ture. I never wor­ried about my marks or what job I’d do; lov­ing words was enough.

Mirac­u­lously, all these years later it is still enough.

“Even choco­late taste testers have to do their tax re­turns

Andy (Anne Hath­away) finds her­self in a job she hates in The Devil Wears Prada.

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