In God We Trust

Liz Muir continues her reign of terror as a guest at BCC! Earlier post here.

A few weeks ago, I was watching the movie Paycheck with some friends. In case you haven’t seen the movie, the main character reverse-engineers technology for a living. After every job, his memory for the entire time he worked on the project is erased so that he can’t build it for another company. The premise of the movie is his biggest job yet: $96 million dollars to essentially lose three years of his life. To me, this seemed like an obvious perversion of values–“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:26)–and I voiced my sadness with a world that would think such a deal was reasonable. My friends (fellow BYU students) disagreed. They seemed to think it was a pretty good deal. There are few other ways to make so much money so fast and with so little trouble, they said. You’d be set for the rest of your life.

Now, I don’t believe that my friends are more greedy than anyone else I know. Like most Church members, they have a clear understanding that money isn’t the key to happiness–a step in the right direction. But there seems to still pervade in the Church the perversion that Hugh Nibley ridiculed in his “Leaders to Managers” talk: “Seek ye first financial independence and all other things shall be added.” As long as we are also seeking the kingdom of God, it seems that we feel okay with trying to serve Mammon as well. Perhaps some of this justification comes from the idea in Jacob 2:18-19 that “after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them.”

But I don’t think this attitude of trying to obtain riches stems from a desire to be more charitable. The primary desire seems to be for security. I see this attitude when I talk to my dad about my career plans (which are still in the brainstorming stage). Whenever I bring up the idea of writing for a living, he tells me to go to law school first and become a successful patent attorney. Then I will be “set” financially, so I can write all I want. I recognize that providing for a family is of primary importance in the Church; perhaps I just don’t quite understand that philosophy, being female and not having had the provider instinct reinforced in priesthood meetings. It just seems backwards to me to find a job to make you money to support what you really want to do with your life. Shouldn’t a job be first something you want to do and second something you’re paid for? Obviously not everyone out there can be doctors and lawyers–some poor, underpaid souls have to write the magazines in the waiting room and the scripts for Law and Order.

I think this problem extends beyond my esoteric circumstances. Church members don’t seem to worship money, but they trust money. We want money not necessarily for what it can give us, but for what it can protect us from: worry. Perhaps the Saints fear debt more than God? Are we trying to avoid even the appearance of financial insecurity? Perhaps we should try reading some of that money we’ve been working so hard to earn, and trust in God for our financial security.

Or maybe these are just the ramblings of a slightly bitter English major.

Comments

  1. Good post, Liz, and I’ve been enjoying reading you on your own blog, too.

    The problem with taking the “safe” job so you can have the money to do what you want, is that it sucks you in and you may never escape. (Especially for primary wage-earners.) I think it’s a tragedy that my friend may never finish the science fiction novel he has halfway written. He has worked hard to become financially independent with a company that builds cell phone towers. But now it seems it takes as much time and energy to maintain the lifestyle his family is accustomed to–lessons for the kids, family vacations, a nice home, a Lexus van?? that he has all but given up on his dream. It makes me sad.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    The real tragedy is that you watched a Ben Affleck movie! You’ve wasted 2 hours that you’ll never get back!

    Liz, I think you’re right to point out that we should not set our hearts on riches — that’s one of the Savior’s core teachings. But latter-day prophets have also made clear the necessity of providing for one’s family; we’d be poor parents indeed if we deliberately chose the path of least remuneration.

    One phrase of your post: “Shouldn’t a job be first something you want to do and second something you’re paid for?”

    This struck me as, well, naive, and a statement that comes out of wealth and luxury. Most people never get to ask that question. Jobs exist to provide income. Everything else is gravy. But this is fun stuff to talk about!!

  3. Take it from one English major to another Liz, ASK THAT QUESTION! Steve obviously sold his soul to the devil a long time ago. You have the chance to avoid that path. Run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction from the LSAT. Don’t let those Kaplan brochures lure you back. Don’t even look at the smiling faces of the Law students in the financial aid packets. They’ve been lobotomized!

    Seriously, Liz, the world is full of uninspired, unhappy lawyers who wish they were doing something else. Unless you really want to be a lawyer, please do yourself a favor and go do something you really love. It may be a luxury to be able to ask that question, but if you have the luxury to ask it, you might as well get the answer right.

  4. Then I will be “set” financially, so I can write all I want.

    That has to be one of the biggest crocks…

  5. It may be that my idealism has yet to be crushed, but 10 years into my career I firmly believe that jobs don’t exist merely for income–that as Liz said a job should first be what you care about and second provide a paycheck.

    Making enough money to make ends meet is important, but it’s amazing how long we stretch our ropes before we decide what “making ends meet” really means. Do we need a 3-car garage? $80 jeans? Will we be embarrassed if our children wear clothes we buy from Target instead of Tommy Hilfiger? What about Walmart instead of Target?

    My point is, so many of us fail to recognize that simplicity so often yields happiness. You would be better off walking to a job you really love than you would be driving your BMW to a job whose merits you’ve invented to rationalize the amount of time you invested in it. The key isn’t making enough money to become happy, but choosing work that adds to the happiness inherent in a life well lived. We don’t need much money for that.

    Sorry for the length…

  6. Liz,

    Given that you are a bright, American woman in the year 2007 with no chance that you’ll starve or live on the street, I say follow your dreams! I’ve just spent the last 7 years “doing what I want to do” and there’s been no hope of a BMW, but we’ve had food, an abode, a car, we’ve been to the movies, seen cool places, and been happy. Make this your one rebellion against Mansioned Mormons: tell MorMammon to kiss your a*se.

  7. Liz: Shouldn’t a job be first something you want to do and second something you’re paid for?

    I beg to differ.

    Paul tells Timothy, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” It doesn’t have anything to do with enjoyment.

    Back before we had the social safety-net, many people had to grow, raise, or hunt their own food, or they and their children and their family starved to death. The question of whether it was “rewarding” or “fulfilling” or “enjoyable” never arose. Look at the Utah pioneers. Death by starvation was an option for them the same way that sinking was an option for the Titanic.

    I’ve done work so boring that its eludes expression. I’ve done work that made my hands bloody and sore. The work that I’ve done has caked me from head to toe in dirt, cement dust, grease, sweat, sand, paint, plaster (not all at once, of course). On many occasions, I’ve worked for several days on end without sleeping. I’ve had bosses who made it a point to humiliate me. I’ve had business partners who later proved to be liars and cheats. I’ve done work that I’ve liked, and I’ve done work that I’ve hated. In the end, what made it worthwhile was this: I maintained my integrity and I got paid. That’s what I do. I have a wife and four children that I support. It’s not something I’ve decided to do. It’s just something that I do — like sleeping or eating.

    It’s who I am; I work for a living.

  8. DKL: Don’t forget, you also waited tables and got stiffed by Bill Maher!

  9. MCQ,
    Classic!

  10. Paul tells Timothy, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

    Unless I’m missing something, that verse is not applicable here. We’re not talking about proiding versus not providing. We’re talking about HOW to provide. Do we counsel our youth to choose the path of maximum income, no matter what their hearts say? I don’t think so. That’s how you end up with frustration and depression. I don’t think anyone should feel like they can’t follow their dreams because Paul told Timothy it’s a sin not to provide. Following your dreams can sometimes end in the highest rewards, both emotionally AND financially. Ask Bill Gates.

  11. Ronan, your comment to go for it and tell the Mormon world to kiss your arse made me happy. You may have restored my hope in the mormon community.

    I agree with you liz, one thousand percent. It seems to me if there is one thing our generation learned from our parents it is to choose a career that will make us HAPPY, not just give us some massive income. Follow your talent and passion, God gave them to you for a reason. If you need to pay the bills, the last thing you need is a job that sucks you in like being a lawyer. Wait tables or be a temp but make what you were born to do your priority!

  12. Perhaps the Saints fear debt more than God?

    If only that were true. The fact of the matter is that God has counseled us to stay out of debt. How many of us are listening?

    I know many doctors and lawyers in debt up to the rafters of their east-side bungalows, starting with the student loans that got them through graduate school and will not be paid off until after their kids graduate from college. People who are all about big paychecks are often chasing prestige, rather than financial security. Debt is seen as a means to an end.

  13. Bravo Veritas!

    You know, I think Ronan is the king of restoring hope in the Mormon Community.

  14. MCQ,
    Careful, my Messiah complex is already overloaded.

    Veritas,
    I was suggesting Liz kiss MorMammon’s apse.

    And remember I live in Red Vienna. My outlook on life is an American conservative’s worst nightmare, my bleatings forever destined to fall on deaf ears.

    Still, I stand by the assertion that given the luxury that modern, western life has provided many of us (to choose our vocation), we should grab that luxury and not fall for the lie that unless you earn six figures you cannot enjoy financial security.

    And for the record, I’d think I’d enjoy lawyering. But for me, teaching is a better fit. If writing is your dream, Liz, you should at least give it a go.

  15. Actually, MCQ, I didn’t.

  16. This is the beauty of capitalism, as imperfect of a system as it is, that you CAN actually get paid doing what you like; you just gotta be good at it.

    I love my job. I don’t get paid in the six figures, but my wife and I live comfortably. I work 9-5 and have a good position at the community college I work. It’s great. I don’t have to overwork myself and skip out on my daughter’s growth (I’m missing out so much already!).

    Liz, keep writing. You’ll be just fine. There are SOOO many things you can do if you write well, and get paid quite well for your work.

  17. Perhaps the Saints fear debt more than God? Are we trying to avoid even the appearance of financial insecurity?

    Let’s face it: Mormonism is a middle-class ideology. Financial security is key, but so is the Work Ethic with material evidence of your ethical standing. (Good people work hard, working hard means you can buy a big house, therefore good people buy big houses.) When we buy into accept this, we accept a place in the economic world which limits our choices and demands more of our attention than we should give to it.

    If patent law keeps you up at night with giddy excitement, do it; if not, don’t do it just for the sake of being set financially, because you never will be. Follow your heart, spirit, or whatever.

    But in my experience, it’s not so much doing work you want to do — there are aspects of all jobs which are enjoyable, tedious, rewarding, stressful, etc. If you have a choice, choose to do work that you can believe in and that you can do well enough to be proud of. (Sorry to dangle the prepositions…I’m too tired to rephrase.)

  18. The notion that writers love their work is a bit exaggerated. The pros seem to go on and on about how they put off writing until deadlines force them to lock themselves in a room with a typewriter.

  19. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Amen again to Ronan’s comment in #6.

    I went through this dilemma almost exactly a year ago while deciding which law school to commit to. Ultimately, I decided life is too damn short. It’s possible to do something you love. Sure, I’m not and never will be rolling in cash, but I really think the trade-off is worth it.

    In response to Steve’s comment on “Shouldn’t a job be first something you want to do and second something you’re paid for?” Sure it’s naive, if a person thinks that applies to all people, across classes, which of course it doesn’t. But I think, and maybe I’m assuming here, that Liz realizes that and is speaking to her specific circumstances as a middle class woman lacking the provider mentality that she mentions as being reinforced in priesthood meetings. Certainly for her circumstances, it wouldn’t be naive to think this.

  20. As a lawyer who has finally fled the soul-sucking trenches of private law firm life, I spent well more than three years that I’m trying hard to forget, and I don’t have $96 million to show for it.

    I admire the spirit of this post, though.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Melissa: “Sure it’s naive, if a person thinks that applies to all people, across classes, which of course it doesn’t.”

    Melissa, that’s a distinction that you make which I think is probably fine (even though it sets the U.S. up for failure in the long-term, and accounts for the brain drain and exportation of jobs generally). However, Liz doesn’t make that distinction, and I know Nibley doesn’t.

  22. Wow, thanks for all the comments. For the record, patent law is still on the options book. I just think the argument of “you’ll make more money doing this” shouldn’t be in my top five considerations of what to do with my life.

    I’d respond to you all individually, but I have to go to work.

  23. I’m going to have to go with Steven and DKL, contra Nibley here. I don’t think that being a professor, a writer, or a lawyer is inherently better or worse than the other, but I also don’t think that, by becoming a writer rather than a lawyer, a person is putting God first. Rather, that person has chosen to sacrifice one thing (perhaps money) for another (perhaps personal satisfaction). Both the lawyer and the writer can be charitable or uncharitable, and both the lawyer and the writer can put first the kingdom of God or Mammon.

    Which isn’t to say don’t be a writer (or a professor or a doctor or a lawyer); the world needs writers (etc.). But being a writer will not, of itself, make you a good person, just like being a lawyer will not make you a bad person. Either choice will give you the chance to be either.

  24. I agree it’s a bit luxurious and self-absorbed to believe that your participation in the economy will be rewarding. However, I think there is an important message to be sent to yourself and to others by refusing to take the bourgeois path. There are several right paths here, but I think it’s important to be sure that there are still a reasonable number of loud voices arguing against a bourgeois religious ethic (even if some righteously adopt it). I also think it’s important to have voices refusing to define worldly economic security as a core measure of righteousness.

  25. It’s awesome that we have the luxury of considering this type of question. Two hundred years ago, many of our ancestors had the whole family working from dawn to dusk every day, trying to raise enough food to survive the next winter.

    I also agree with Sam B (#23), and with anyone who comments on our burgeoning definition of “enough for our needs” (a la #1 and #5).

  26. The problem is people living in the future and not today.

    “At that point, I will be financially set and can then do X, Y, and Z!”

    Hogwash.

    Let me let you in on a little secret.

    There is no tomorrow. You will never “be there.” You will wake up every day in the morning and, if you are paying attention, notice that you are not “there,” but once again “just here.”

    Plain ol boring “here” each day for the rest of your life.

    If you aren’t the person you want to be now, you never will be. “Potential” is just an excuse for being a stinky person.

    Waay harsh dude!

  27. By the way, the people who recommend law school to you, you’ll note, are rarely people who actually experienced it.

  28. MikeInWeHo says:

    Yeah, it’s amazing how broadly most Americans define the term “necessity” these days. I sometimes wonder: How would we fare if economic declines took as back to the situation our grandparents faced?

  29. Liz, definitely avoid the patent attorney slot. What you should do is go to law school and then sue publishers who cheat their writers. Or plagiarizing writers, or devious producers who steal scripts. Or just move directly from law school into the John Grisham novel-writing stage of your career. Don’t buy into the discredited notion that artists have to be poor and forlorn. This is America — things work differently here.

  30. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    “it sets the U.S. up for failure in the long-term, and accounts for the brain drain and exportation of jobs generally”

    Steve, how so?

  31. CS Eric says:

    Seth (#27)

    …And all the people who want to go to law school are also the ones who have never actually experienced it.

  32. Balance is the key. Most people can’t make a living doing what they love. I know I can’t. I also could make alot more money if I went to work for a big tech company, but I decided I liked 35-40 hour weeks instead of 50+ hour weeks.

    I don’t do what I love, but I do what I like. I don’t make what I can, but I make enough to where my wife and I can make choices as to whether we buy at Wal-Mart or Nordstroms. I wouldn’t have that and many other choices if I did what I love.

    The term “starving artist” exists for a reason. So does the term “rich asshole.”

  33. Steve Evans says:

    Melissa (#30), see the cover of yesterday’s WSJ as another example — basically, the American attitude of entitlement and unwillingness to work (and to have others do our work for us) is resulting in some dramatic shifts in both academic and professional potentialities for America. In brief, we’ve gotten rich and lazy. And we mormons in particular guise it under the pretense of not setting our hearts on riches. Look, buddy — just because you want to serve God is no excuse to get a BA in Ancient Croatian Lit and pursue a career of easy pyramid schemes in Utah Valley.

  34. I am all for choosing to do what you love, but really this is a choice for a small fraction of a percentage of the earth’s population. The early Saints were utilitarian for a reason, otherwise they would have died. I can’t see why being in a rich society all of the sudden makes one’s choice of enjoyable vocation over secure vocation morally superior. Every case is unique, but this is really only a choice that rich people can make.

    Whether you will be happier with one choice or another is something completely different.

  35. I’m not sure why this has to be a dilemma. Plenty of writers had bourgeois day jobs – Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Wallace Stevens. A job only takes 8-10 hours a day, which leaves 14-16 hours to pursue other interests.

    I also think we need to be on guard against elitism. There is a reason we call it work and not play. The plain fact is that much of the work that needs to be done is highly unpleasant. Does anybody hang drywall, nail shingles on a steep roof, or snake out sewers because he is living the dream? And yet those skills are needful, even honorable. Let’s not devalue that work, and let’s remember that we are highly privileged to even be able to talk about this, since that option is not open to most people. Bertrand Russell said:

    Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relative to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.

  36. Well, I seem to remember that many of those utilitarian saints left homes, farms, successful occupations in pursuit of something better than this life’s materialism. Their desire for a better way of life (spiritually) forced many of them to have to be subsistence farmers, or lose all they had, to gain something they loved.

    In our day, there are many options to provide for ourselves and our families. Working at something you like, or better, you love, is not as hard as it used to be.

    I am reminded of the verse in Haggai, chapter 1: “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.”

    I think materialism is a huge trap. At least until the recent change in bankruptcy laws, Utah led the nation in filings per capita for many years. It’s a battle I fight constantly, surrounded by all the Microserfs here in Redmond and their luxury SUVs. I like nice cars, but I don’t want to have to work 60 hours a week to maintain a life style. I treasure family time, time to serve in the church, and time to enjoy my personal hobbies, which just may include writing a Science Fiction novel someday. I often look around my house, and just feel buried with stuff (especially books).

    I agree with you Liz, do what you love.

  37. Kevinf,
    Be careful with the bankruptcy charge–the data I’ve seen suggests that, on balance, overconsumption has little to do with bankruptcy. Entrepreneurship has a reasonable amount to do with it, but catastrophic illness and other things that are expensive, damaging, and hard to predict account for a large portion of bankruptcies.

  38. Sam,

    Noted. The data comes from an attorney friend of mine in Utah, who is concerned about some of these same issues. You are right about the possibility of many other things affecting bankruptcy rates, perhaps even the skyrocketing real estate prices and the subprime lending crisis, aggravated by loss of work or health issues. Last time I checked, wages in Utah were not keeping up with the rising real estate market.

  39. This is an aside from the riches v. righteousness discussion, but the movie premise you explained above has a lot of similarity with the Plan of Happiness. Didn’t our memories get erased by God so that we could come to earth and ‘reverse engineer’ our eternal mansions above? Have we lost our premortal soul for eternal gain?

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    I wouldn’t become a patent lawyer unless you really want to. Sure you’ll make good money, but you won’t have much time to write. Also, you’ll need to devote your undergrad to a technical field, something other than English. English is great for going to law school in general, but if you want to be a patent lawyer you should get a substntive background in something like engineering or chemistry.

    I went through the whole Nibleyesque debate with myself when I was an undergrad at BYU. Although I was pretty idealistic, I eventually did go to law school so I could support my family; but as you say, you don’t really have that limitation.

    My dad, who was a professor of education, used to say that if it were just him, he could just pump gas for a living if he had to; he only worried about keeping his position at the university because he had a family to support.

  41. Is it possible that, theroretically, conceivably, perhaps there are some people out there who actually want to go into law (and aren’t just lured into it by the promise of a hefty salary)?

    Well, maybe I’m the one who’s being naive.

    In any case, going to law school for three years and becoming a patent lawyer just so you can be financially independent enough to write seems like a rather round-about (and impractical) way of becoming a writer.

    And if you did become a patent lawyer, I’m not sure how much free time you’d have to devote to writing. Law firms don’t throw huge wads of cash at you for working 40-hour weeks.

  42. Also, from what I understand, if you want to do patent prosecution, you basically need a Ph.D. in something scientific in addition to your JD. But tax law has been a good fit for a former aspiring fiction writer :)

  43. I like this post, but only if it really inspires us to push a corresponding mentality back to our communities and wards. Do we “value” the rich in our wards more than those with “interesting” professions? What’s our standard for valuing people? Is it the money? Or is how “content” they are?

    A guy in my ward is a parole officer. At EQ socials and ward parties, he tells much more interesting stories than the sales guys or the real estate tycoons who only talk about golf. Same goes for the guy who builds half-million dollar houses but lives in a $150K house (he tells great stories about people who buy half-million dollar houses). One of the *best* gospel teachers I know is just starting a massage therapy business. Our ward’s most interesting attorney is a labor lawyer (on the wrong side, apparently).

    These are all tremendously great people, but they’ll never be rich. They have modest homes, yet are sufficient for their needs. They buy nice used cars, not Hummers.

    But in most wards I attend (I spent time in a stake calling and got to see a lot), the “celebrated” members are those with money, even if they made it in things like multi-level marketing or SPAM (yes, I knew a LDS guy who was into that).

    When will we start celebrating the careers of the interesting people at Church, not just those whose income subsidizes their expensive golf addiction?

  44. Hehe. A ward building could have been built by SPAM tithing.

  45. @KyleM (44) – Filthy lucre, if you ask me.

  46. For the sake of clarification, I know you need a technical degree for patent law. I’m majoring in English and chemistry. :D

  47. Shouldn’t a job be first something you want to do and second something you’re paid for?

    I think this is a relatively new phenomenon. Back in the days of farming and other hard labor, work was to keep a family alive primarily. I think there is a balance to be had, but if what one likes to do can’t feed a family, it might be worth rethinking, IMO.

  48. Jordan F. says:

    46:

    Yes, that is true if you actually prosecute patents before the PTO. However, for patent litigation (aka “the fun stuff”), you don’t “need” a technical background, though it is, of course, highly desirable.

    (Note: My practice is nearly 100% patent litigation at one of the biggest “patent” firms in the country, despite my undergraduate and graduate degrees in German Literature… That has come in handy a time or two as well, though, when I have to read through some German patents or publications to determine if they are suitable prior art).

  49. Melinda says:

    I was teaching the MiaMaids a lesson about education one Sunday, and asked what they wanted to do when they grew up. One answered “interior design” and the other said “horticulture and flower arranging.” I couldn’t help myself, and the comment just flew out of my mouth: “I hope you enjoy living with your parents, because you’ll never earn enough with those degrees to ever have your own place.”

    At the shocked looks on their faces, I backpedaled a bit and tried not to be such a wet blanket.

    But it’s irresponsible to not consider how you will support yourself. As many commenters have pointed out, you can do what you like and live a simpler life and support yourself fine. But if you love something totally impractical, get a job to support the hobby you love. Nothing wrong with that. Your hobby will just make you the most interesting person at your dead-end soul-sucking cubicle job and everyone will want to be your friend because you have something to talk about besides American Idol.

  50. Jordan F. says:

    Liz:

    I just read your other comments as well. :) In my opinion, patent law (on the litigation side, at least) is quite interesting. In my limited time as a patent litigator, I have already been able to learn all sorts of interesting things about food (meat) processing, our payment/check-clearing systems, and the pharmaceutical industry to name just a few.

    Patent disputes are also interesting because the players involved are often some of the major tech innovators of our times. Also, the people involved in these disputes are classic! You come across everything from the mad scientist type to the polished executive.

    Generally, I love it! And not just for the money- though, admittedly, that is also good.

  51. I’m just spitballing but…

    The 40hr/week job yeilds 2080hr/per year working.
    If one could take three years of working (probably 80 hours per week in a reverse engineering scam) that equates to 12480 hrs of work. If you worked in a 8-5 job, it would take you 6 years to work the same amount of hours. 3 if you worked the 40hr/per week.
    Then you consider all that “downtime” you would lose in a three year obliteration (that is to say, the stuff you learn while not working. That’s a subjective estimation since some learn the most at such times while others go into veritable mental “sleep mode” to recooperate. Then you consider that the average person works the 8-5 for, let’s say 40 years (20 to 60). That’s 83,200 hours lost to working. Well to have 6 years of normal work time earn enough $ to avoid spending 3/8th of your life working in a 40hr job. I think a three year deal followed by with complete autonomy (not even mentioning the travails associated with wealth) would be about the equivalent of perhaps medical residency, Bar exam , CPA, etc. Then, you could spend the remainder of your life in perpetual family mode, autodidactic ecstacy, personal perfection, altruism, etc. I think the trade off would be worth it. Now the real question is, is it worth it to sell three years of your life for what could simply be construed as theft?

    But that is another existential dilemma that Phillip Dick is known for? Even though his writing is oftem riddled with the syntactic method (which I find aggravating). I find his story plots fascinating.

    Oh yeah, I’m an accountant ( I hate it but it was safe and practical) so the numbers are fun to work with. Chose this profession strategically to qualify myself for something much better. That is coming to fruition this month. The “paid dues” have qualified me for a job that I really am looking forward to. Yeah, the ten year trade-off is much longer than I would have liked, but who ever said that a persons life is on any set schedule?

    And for those that actually run the numbers, you will find some missing data. For the sake of abridgement I left out some prepositional data. (If you really want it all I can give you the full spread, but you’ll have to wait until after the 15th).

  52. I think God has given us gifts and talents. I don’t he does that so that we can have nice hobbies. I think he does that so we can bless the world, our communities, etc. If you were BORN to be a patent lawyer, do it. If you were BORN to be a songwriter, artist, writer or glass blower and can’t make ends meet with that (at least for now) – just don’t spend all your time and education preparing for a career you don’t actually want to do, but think you have to.

    I am a photographer. But, as of yet, I cannot pay the bills with the random once-a-month sell of a stock photo (but am saving up my pennies to be able to start a business full time) so I have a job (um, NOT career…photography is my career) that I can balance with trying to get my photo business (ever so slowly) ramped up. But I got my degree in photography and that is what I spend my time and effort on. My job is just a job.

    And Melinda, yes we should be practical. Thats why I drive to Redmond (hi Kevinf!) every day and blog, er I mean read resumes all day long. So I can pay rent and have money to invest in my photo business. But, if your girls want to be an interior designer or florist, those are actually great fields. You just often have to be an entrepeneur. Horticulture and Interior Design were both big programs at my university and had very successful alumni. Don’t knock what you don’t know about.

  53. Melinda says:

    Veritas, true enough. I should have told them to get a minor in business along with their degrees rather than raining on their parade. The only people I know with those degrees work at less-than-fulfilling jobs or don’t work at all. My reaction was based on my limited experience.

  54. Brian G says:

    Dear Liz,

    I majored in English. I ignored my parents suggestions to go to law school, and instead aggressively pursued a writing career.

    I have to agree that you’re being a bit naive about a few things. For one thing, the writers of Law & Order are far from underpaid–they’re just a tiny fraction of working writers.

    I underestimated the financial hardship that comes with trying to be a writer, but more importantly I underestimated the toll that financial uncertainty and intermittent employment took on my family.

    It’s easy to think that people who pursue careers with big paychecks are selfish and materialistic, but pursuing writing or another artistic profession can also be selfish, only in a different way. Just ask the spouse of a person who is following their dream, they’ll give you the true story.

    I also overestimated how fulfilling writing for money can be. The people who pay you naturally want to call the shots and more often compromise and commerce play a much larger role in the storytelling process than creativity.

    Having said all that, I probably wouldn’t do a thing differently, but make no mistake it’s no picnic. Sometimes the comfort of knowing you’re doing something you love barely gets you through.

  55. Sterling says:

    In General Conference the men are often told that it does not matter what profession they enter, as long as it is honorable. If it does not matter, then why the fuss? Are we sure we know what dishonorable professions are?

  56. Brian:

    That is an excellent comment. It is always good to hear from someone who is “living the dream” so that we know the reality is different from the fantasy.

    Sterling:

    I always thought that the counsel you refer to was given in order that we would feel free to do just what we have been counseling Liz to do, i.e., pursue the job you love rather than feeling like you have to pursue maximum compensation in order to be the best provider for your family. The “fuss,” as you describe it, is over the fact that some people seem inclined to direct young people into either law or medicine regardless of their desire or talent or apptitude for that work. That is bad advice, IMO, and worth making a little fuss over.

    Dishonorable profession: any profession you have to hide from your mother.

  57. It’s not that chosing an unprofitable career is more moral: the point is that becoming financially ‘set’ does not morally trump desires and ‘dreams.’

    Melinda:

    One answered “interior design” and the other said “horticulture and flower arranging.” I couldn’t help myself, and the comment just flew out of my mouth: “I hope you enjoy living with your parents, because you’ll never earn enough with those degrees to ever have your own place.”

    I can’t speak for horticulture, but people with degrees in design can make a living, and a damned good one. This type of poo-pooing of creative careers seems to suggest a bias central to Liz’s point.

    And the fact that this is a fairly recent concept and only the middle class can make these choices…why does that invalidate the choice? Should we eat whatever comes down the chute because the pioneers ate sego lilies one winter? (I know, that makes no sense. Too bad.)

  58. You know, the whole discussion about whether you can be a lawyer and still have the freedom to write or whether you write and still pay the bills is nice and all, but it’s really secondary.

    You want to know the number one factor that will define all your future career choices?

    Your debt load.

    Law school ain’t cheap. That’s doubly true if you don’t discipline yourself during school. I saw fellow students showing up for school every morning with cappuccinos, visiting the on-campus vending machines regularly and going out to eat every chance they could get. Do you have any idea how much money you can blow on stupid things like that?

    And what if you decide to play around during the summer instead of taking a job? Costs really start to skyrocket. Sure that legal study abroad program in Amsterdam sounded like a great idea when your debt payments were still only a vague future event. Once you start forgoing groceries after law school to pay for it, it doesn’t seem so amusing anymore.

    Then there are the misguided fools who focus on the US News and World Report rankings as the path to financial nirvana when, in reality, all they really need is a cheap state school in the area they want to live in. Those rankings come with a price tag. You can go to Columbia and live the dream. But you’ll pay for it every day of the rest of your life.

    I’m not kidding here. The debt payments from all the education you’re getting will play a far greater role in your life than anything you learn at law school, or in your English degree.

    Fulfillment, dreams, idealism, religious conviction, that’s all nice… But it’s hard to get around having to pay $1,000 a month after rent, food, and utilities.

    A lot of law students enter law school with high-minded ideas of going into public service, starting their own practice, or, like you, only dancing with the law on weekdays, but never taking it home with you. Then they run up all that student debt.

    Once the reality of monthly payments smacks them upside the head, they quickly drop the idealism and start looking for the job with the biggest soul-sucking paycheck they can find. Then they end up working 60 hour work weeks and taking their work home with them. Marriages suffer, your health goes to pot.

    Here are a few bleak statistics about my field:

    1. “Attorney” has the highest substances abuse rate of any profession in American, bar none, with medical doctors coming in a close second.

    2. It also has the highest rate of depression.

    3. Lawyers are exiting the legal field in alarming numbers, disillusioned, miserable, and desperate to get out.

    Some of my buddies in law school are already miserable and we’re only two years out of school. The entire law school system is broken is several areas. It’s highly overpriced and provides little support or real training for its students.

    Seriously, think this through thoroughly. I’m at peace with my choice to become an attorney. But you put up with an awful lot of crap to get here. You really need to plan out how much this will cost you, because the debt isn’t a joke. It will easily expand to crowd out every other aspect of your life.

  59. woodboy says:

    Seth,
    Do you have citations for your 3 assertions? I’d be interested in looking at the studies. Actually, I won’t dispute #3…

  60. 56:

    I always thought that the counsel you refer to was given in order that we would feel free to do just what we have been counseling Liz to do, i.e., pursue the job you love rather than feeling like you have to pursue maximum compensation in order to be the best provider for your family. The “fuss,” as you describe it, is over the fact that some people seem inclined to direct young people into either law or medicine regardless of their desire or talent or apptitude for that work. That is bad advice, IMO, and worth making a little fuss over.

    If I had to write this post over, I would shamelessly steal this paragraph from you, because you’ve hit it exactly. Yes, we should be concerned about being financially responsible, but that doesn’t mean that we all have to go for the typical “money-making” jobs. (Not that all doctors and lawyers are inherently mercenary in their work.)

  61. Broken Stylus says:

    Certainly there is value in doing what you love. I fall into that camp. Two of my best friends and I started a small business doing web development and IT outsourcing. I have loved computers ever since my commodore 64 and so it was certainly a do what you love situation. I was single and hoping to build a business that would allow for the best of both worlds scenario; Financial security for my family to be and career satisfaction. While I do have a family now and still have career satisfaction the financial security aspect is still not quite realized. I think it’s kind of an illusion really and my goal now is just to live within my means instead of trying to make a mean I want to live within.

    There is another related point I want to address. I didn’t jump into a small business doing what I love. I went through other jobs first for small and large companies alike doing a variety of things from cashier to cook to technical support (a.k.a. punching bag). Certainly there are times were I didn’t like it, and in my current career there are a lot of times I don’t like it either. However I have fought hard to try to keep this perspective:

    Love what you do.

    It’s it a little bit different that doing what you love. Granted that can certainly be a part of it, but if you aren’t doing what you love, why not find the good in what you do and love it just the same. Your state of mind may then bring you some peace of mind and your ability to shine wherever or whatever you are is much more likely. Seems to me that there are scores of examples of this ideal in the scriptures. I imagine Jesus didn’t always enjoy the situation he was in but still loved what he was doing for many scripturally obvious reasons.

  62. woodboy,

    This link should give you several leads (they’re almost all PDF links though).

    The original study was conducted in 1991 by John Hopkins University.

  63. Here’s an article on the American Bar Association website.

    Sobering stuff.

  64. Thanks Seth. All of those sources are secondary, and they all seem to refer to a “1991 study at Johns Hopkins,” but none that I see (I looked at several) actually give a citation for the article. Without even an author name it is hard to track down. It’s just that I’ve heard so many different people say “Profession X has the highest suicide rate” or other such statements, and no one can ever point me to original data. I’ve been on the receiving end of incorrect or sensationalistic reporting of my own research in the media enough to warrant skepticism of secondary reports. I wonder how different it is from other high stress, demanding careers? In grad school, a huge percentage of my class was on anti-depressants, and there were three graduate student suicides in the chemistry department while I was there, so who knows.

    But yes, a sobering trend indeed.

  65. S.P. Bailey says:

    Let us all give thanks for the marvelous wealth that makes it possible to think about jobs like so many designer shoes in a boutique window! That makes the “dream,” “born to do it,” “job satisfaction,” “do what you love” rhetoric seem completely unremarkable!

    I share the concern that buying into this rhetoric (as so many here thoroughly have) may indicate decadence and decline. Also, as has been said in a variety of ways, there is no ethical superiority in choosing more pleasant, and thus less-handsomely-compensated work. One should consider a variety of factors when choosing a job/profession. Does personal pleasure (as some seem to indicate) really trump all other considerations? I would be interested to hear how that approach has worked out in real life for its proponents.

    I also think the “dream”/”do what you love” approach is misleading and dangerous. No job will “make you happy.” There may be some overlap between your job and true sources of joy. But all jobs have elements of tedium, futility, insecurity, and so forth. Don’t expect too much from a job. You will be disappointed.

    Liz, as far as writing goes, you should understand that only a small handful of people make a living writing. Maybe only a few hundred people in America. And many of these probably spent years building a reputation/body of work before there was any money in it. Many very, very good writers cannot support themselves by writing. So they are professors/teachers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, scientists, businesspeople, etc. It would be wise to obtain the necessary skills/credentials to pursue such a profession. Even if your writing is brilliant, odds are that you will need to fall back on something. If nothing else, your your day job will be a source of good material.

    As for law:
    No doubt law is not for everybody. It is stressful to be entrusted with other people’s lives and livelihoods. Practicing law requires a high tolerance for boredom. People assume (see many of the preceding comments) that lawyers and law students are loathesome sellout vermin. Jumping through law credential hoops is costly. (Yet the picture Seth paints is unduly grim. Just remember: elite school = big debt = big firm. And big firm life is probably not conducive to writing much. BYU and some state schools are a great value. Avoid like the plague low prestige schools that charge elite school tuition.)

    Yet there are major upsides to law. Good lawyers can choose where they live: big city, small town, anywhere in the country. This is a bonus for the adventurous–and for those whose spouse’s job is less geographically flexible. There is a wide range of jobs open to lawyers from firms large and small, government jobs, in-house jobs, etc. Law can also be flexible for mothers. I have practiced both for the federal government and in private practice. In both, I have had female friends who successfully worked out part-time or flexible situations that permitted them to bear and care for children. I would be surprised if such things were very common in other professions.

    Also, patent prosecution can be flexible: I know of a few attorneys who put in a year or two in major ip firms. They have since been able to open up solo shops. Their overhead is small (basically a laptop in a home office). Their billable rates are high. They have repeat clients. If they want to, they can make salaries that approach big-firm partner-level by billing only 1600-1700 hours a year. And they come and go as they please. Work in their pajamas some days. My point: I can imagine a scenario in which you could prosecute patents part-time and write part-time. It might take some luck and creativity. But it is something to consider.

    I have gone on way too long. Just don’t let other people tell you that by pursuing a day job you are selling out or abandoning your dreams. My personal suspicion is that writers are people who, despite attempts to do anything else, cannot restrain themselves from writing. If you are going to be a writer, you will find a way to write no matter what other job you pursue.

  66. Jordan F. says:

    One of the great Yiddish poets, I forget now which, once commented that he was not a cobbler who writes poems, but a poet who repairs shoes. How true that often is!

  67. Woodboy,

    Yeah, I noticed the same thing myself. Everything references the 1991 study. Yet the thing seems to be regarded as gospel among American Bar Association publications (which I read frequently and heard the assertion repeated so often that I honestly took it for granted). I wonder if there is a more recent study or other studies corroborating the findings.

    Yet I doubt you’d get much argument with the assertions among attorney state ethics boards or help hotline services.

    S.P. Bailey,

    Duly noted. I haven’t portrayed both sides of the story. Obviously I’m still content with the legal profession to some extent (to a great extent actually). But the fact that I went into solo practice right out of law school makes me something of a freak in our profession, so I don’t know how representative my experience is.

    It’s just that too many people view law school as a good default option if nothing else catches their fancy along the way. They sort of drift in there aimlessly, and then end up completely blindsided by the ugly reality of both law school and the law. So forgive me if I felt the need to overcompensate a bit.

  68. Jordan F. says:

    It was Mani Leib.

  69. 65:

    Just again to reassure you all: I have no illusions about the problems with writing as a “profession.” I realize that it’s unlikely to make a good day job. I realize I’ll need another source of income–maybe law, maybe not. The point was not supposed to be related specifically to writing, rather the attitude my dad has that you can solve all your problems with financial security.

    And I’m definitely not in the mindset that the right job will make me happy. I realize that all jobs are, well, work, and that they all have downsides.

    Come on, guys. I may be idealistic, but I hope I’m not that naive. Does being 21 make me clueless by default? Give me some credit.

  70. “Does being 21 make me clueless by default?”

    You don’t want to know.

  71. I realize I’ll need another source of income–maybe law, maybe not

    Law? eeewww!

  72. S.P. Bailey says:

    No offense intended in my verbose and heavy-handed No. 65! On the contrary, some of that is what I wish someone had told me as an English major dreaming of writing and dreading law school. Neither my English professors nor my English major friends had much more to offer than the heaping plates of “do what you love” tripe served up here.

    Also, I see nothing controversial in the statement that financial security will not solve all problems. I’ve got nothing to add on that front.

  73. Liz,

    Don’t worry about it. We tend to assume the worst about each other here on the bloggernacle.

  74. 70:

    Ha, ha. Point taken. But there’s nothing I can do about that. Just give me credit for the little realism I do have. :D

  75. 73:

    Perhaps a sad commentary on the bloggernacle, eh? Or a reinforcement of my own naivete, since I tend to do the opposite.

  76. Steve Evans says:

    not so, seth!! we tend to assume the most funny, not the worst.

  77. Tripe? Tripe? We ain’t got no stinkin’ tripe!

  78. Unless I missed it, you haven’t mentioned what kind of writer you want to be.

    I work with several writers, and they’re all well-paid. Or at least, some of them drive BMWs. Really nice BMWs. Where do I work? An advertising agency. They write commercials, they write marketing emails, they write direct mail pieces, they write website copy.

    Tech writers make a decent salary, also.

    Some people aren’t cut out for doing work they don’t enjoy. My husband is like that. His personality is such that he has to enjoy what he’s doing. I’m more able to suffer through something I don’t enjoy, although I’m fortunate that I love my current job. It’s not my dream profession, but it’s one I really love.

  79. Susan:

    Whether you know it or not, you are one of the very lucky people on this planet.

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