Monday, 30 May 2016

Should you love your job?

Thanks to Eric Doyle on Facebook, I came across an article written by Janelle Quibuyen, who was complaining that 'quitting your job to pursue your passion is bullshit.' I'm afraid it was a piece that totally missed the point of working for yourself. And as someone who made the shift 20 years ago, and hasn't had a proper job since, I wanted to stick up for those who take the plunge.

Firstly, it is important to say something about the 'your passion' part of 'pursuing your passion', which seems not to have occurred to the author of the article. Just because you are passionate about something doesn't mean you are good at it. Few passionate football fans are potential professionals. Shows like The X-Factor demonstrate the gap that can exist between enthusiasm and ability all too clearly. So to make this kind of thing work, you need to be objectively sure that you are at least competent. Don't rely on your own opinion or that of your friends and relations - they will lie. Have a go in your spare time and see if anyone will pay you for it.  Of course you can get better, and you will if you go for it full time - but you have to have some initial aptitude.

Try, if possible, to arrange some kind of transition, so that you don't go straight from employed to nothing coming in. It will almost certainly be bumpy - you might need to change accommodation arrangements, rely more on a partner/move back with your parents for a while. And it could end in failure. No doubt about that at all. But if you have a passion and you're genuinely good at it, you are going to kick yourself if you never try.

Taking the plunge is inevitable a compromise. You will have to weigh positives against negatives. I still don't earn as much as I did when I left my job 20 years ago - so you may well have to plan for a cut in income. One of the things we did about this was to move from somewhere it was expensive to live to somewhere cheap. Unlike our friends who stayed around the London area, we aren't sitting on a million pound house now. But in exchange for having less capital, I was at home most of the time while my children grew up - far more than I would have been if I had left the house at 7am and got back at 6.30pm. And we got to live in the country, rather than the suburbs, where I think the children had a better life.

Similarly, you do have to weigh potential loss of earnings against really enjoying your working day. I don't dread Monday morning, I look forward to it. How much is it worth to spend one of the biggest chunks of your life doing something you love, rather than something you hate? And if I had stayed in my job, when I retired, I would have had far less to look back on and think 'I did that' than is the case since I became a writer.

Of course, as the article suggests, there is a degree of uncertainty. Sometimes it is hard to get enough money coming in, and you've got to be prepared to be flexible, to have a portfolio job, rather than always doing the same thing (though I've found that part of the positives). But bear in mind that the impression of certainty from a salaried job only lasts as long as they don't decide to lay you off. At least when self-employed you can do something about it - you aren't a victim.

Also, as the article suggests, not everyone leaves a job because they have a passion, and not everyone has the kind of drive required to do it all yourself. It seems likely that Quibuyen doesn't. And that's fine. Self-employment and attempting to live the dream is not for everyone. But to suggest, as she does, that somehow this is something only privileged middle class people can do is the real bullshit here. Quibuyen says 'The statement [quitting your job to pursue your passion] reeks of privilege. It confirms you had a full-time job to begin with. It confirms you had time to develop a passion (that you can capitalize off of, enough to meet your cost of living). It confirms you had the option to pursue something different because you feel like it. There are more challenges to being self-employed than just mental perseverance and grit. We are predatorily luring working class people into an entrepreneur lifestyle as the answer to living a meaningful life and loads of money.' I find that patronising and simply untrue as a blanket statement. There are plenty of working class people who successfully set up their own business, doing something they really wanted to do. She seems to suggest that if you are working class you can't have aspirations or a passion. I'm sorry, that's so condescending.

To make this kind of thing work needs personal drive and a certain amount of luck. I was lucky, for instance, that the company I was working for was offering voluntary redundancy, so I didn't have to go from earning to nothing in one go. But the fact remains that for some people, whatever their background, taking such a move can really work. It's not a universal panacea. It definitely isn't for everyone. But I'd suggest if you aren't happy with what you do in life, it's at least worth thinking through.

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