Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Pursuit of Happiness

I mentioned in my "back in Michigan" post a few weeks ago that a shrink was administering the Briggs-Myers test to lead her to some suggestions as to what to do with my life. I scored out as ENTP, the only surprise (to me) being that I scored as far to the "extroverted" side as I did. She provided a chapter from one of her books which had suggestions as to what I might do. I find myself generally dissatisfied with the suggestions, which leads me to this post. It's yet another attempt to figure this out for myself.

The suggestions fall into four broad categories: Politics, Planning and Development (which seems to translate out to "upper management"), Marketing/Creative, and Entrepreneurship/Business.

Politics, I've done; I spent most of the 1990s in third-party politics. I ended up concluding that trying to fix the world is useless: Not only do people like the world broken, but they'll resist mightily any attempt to fix it because change is too scary. If people really like the world as it is that much, then you deserve it.

The "Planning and Development" area I don't dismiss outright except for this problem: With a couple of exceptions, all of the examples are jobs that one gets only after several years experience. In other words, "Do X for a couple of years and then job Y opens up to you." The problem is, I would not last doing X for a couple of years. The average seems to be about six months, and for the latter part of that neither me nor my employer is really happy with the other. Job Y would thus never actually open up to me. The exceptions are in real estate. Real estate development is open to anyone with capital, which I don't have. Real estate agent is actually a reasonable suggestion, one I hadn't seriously considered. I don't think I'd be very good at it, though; I've never bought a home. But more than that: The most lucrative real estate to sell around here is lakefront property, which is reasonably expensive. This would mean that the people that would be buying and selling it are people who've been pretty successful in the "straight" world. I'm coming to hate these people, and I would thus fail at making the personal connections necessary for a successful sale.

The "Marketing/Creative" area simply doesn't interest me, for the most part. The only example of any interest is doing a radio or TV talk show. I might be good at this, particularly in radio, but for one thing: When your radio show starts, you'd damned well better be there. And I've been late to work at least 75% of my work days in my life. That goes in hand with my sleep-schedule problems (I talk about this more below), and a job where I had to be there at the same time every day wouldn't work for me. Radio or TV would be no exception.

The final area here is "Entrepreneurship/Business," which includes a number of examples that don't seem to fit into that category at all. Nonetheless, this is only broad area in which a reasonable number of the examples appeal to me. Maybe it makes sense to list the examples: (from Tieger, Paul D. and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, second edition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995, p.199.)


I could see myself doing most of these. I'm not particularly interested in photography, and "diversity manager" is a bullshit job. I'm not really sure what an outplacement consultant is, and I have no particular expertise which would make me marketable as a management consultant, particularly not in the three areas they mention specifically.

Entrepreneur, venture capitalism, and bar ownership, I could see me doing, but all three require capital, and I don't have it. As a venture capitalist I could see me making the investments themselves, meeting the entrepreneurs, and deciding whether they really have a nifty idea or not, but I couldn't do the necessary research before and after; that sort of research would bore me to tears. I also sort of feel that if I really was the type to build a fortune from nothing, I would have done it by now. I wasn't one to take my childhood lemonade stand and set up fourteen franchises. Bar ownership would have its own difficulties (not least profitability), but maybe I could have my employees do the work that would turn me away from it. Nonetheless, the chief problem with all of these examples is lack of capital.

It might be kind of interesting to be a literary agent, but my understanding of that industry is that most agents are corporate cogs, with all that entails. The only good thing about being in a large corporation, from the point of view of a less than stellar employee, is that you're extremely unlikely to be fired because you're "just not working out." The chief bad thing about it is that you'd have to be at work at the same time every day.

I considered journalism at one point, or at least I wanted a syndicated column. More recently I've come to appreciate how difficult it is to write a new column every day, whether you have a clever idea for one or not. A weekly or biweekly column really doesn't change that. When I was Mr. Libertarian, I probably could have come up with eight or ten good columns at the drop of a hat (I actually did have a few published by an "alternative newspaper"), and another eight or ten by struggling, and repeating myself a bit. After that I would have sent in blank pages. (Notice, though, that this blog does in fact make me a "journalist" in the strictest sense of the word.)

Acting would be interesting, would probably be fun, and I'd probably be good at it. But I don't imagine I can knock on NBC's door and ask them to put me in a sitcom; the stereotype of a struggling actor is so entrenched that as a career move this seems extremely unwise. Besides, the world already has one John Goodman; do we really need another one?

The same thing applies to standup comedy and fiction writing, two other suggestions I hear sometimes that aren't on this list. Published authors get a lot of letters asking, "How do I become a writer?" Somebody I read a lot, probably Larry Niven, put the best answer to this in one of his books: To become a writer, write things, and then try to sell them to publishers. Eventually, you'll make a sale, or you'll stop writing. I don't write things, at least not fiction, so apparently I'm not a writer. (I actually am kicking around a short story idea, but the story currently doesn't have a middle.) In any case, any of these three would be a poor career move.

I think I've covered all of the examples but one, inventor, in nothing like any semblance of order. Being an inventor is the American dream: I think George Foreman makes approximately eleventy jillion dollars a year from those electric grills. But actually coming up with the invention itself, ah, there's the rub. I'm reminded of the The Simpsons episode in which Homer decides to become an inventor, and sits at a desk with a blank piece of paper, and begins tapping a pencil on his chin, saying, "Hmmm, something to invent . . . something to invent . . ." He ends up coming up with ridiculous inventions, like the electric hammer. I'd love to have invented something, past tense, and be living off the proceeds. But actually coming up with something to invent is hard. Unless someone out there needs a combination toaster and cheese grater . . .

Designing the Perfect Job

All of the above, while it's probably something I'll show to that shrink, isn't even why I started this post. I long ago concluded that there is no job, qua job, that would work for me, and it's why I'd like to become successful at poker. I might be wrong. Lately I've been thinking of the oft-told dictum, "Find something you like to do, then find someone who'll pay you to do it." So I'll now attempt to catalog things I like to do; maybe somewhere in them I can find someone who wants to pay me to do one of them.

  1. Sleep. This is mainly in there because I do seem to do a lot of this, but as a career choice it seems patently ridiculous.
  2. Poker. I don't need to spend much time here. If I'm not a +EV player, then nobody will pay me to play poker. It's the reverse, rather. However, it still seems possible to me to become +EV.
  3. Computer games. Since I've been back in Michigan I've spent much time playing the computer games in my library. Indeed, it probably consumes most of my day when I'm unable to play poker. There are jobs in this field, in the games' creation, testing, reviewing, and other things. It's possible to make money at a web site devoted to a single game. But any of these, it seems to me, would destroy the fun of playing the games in the first place.

    The games I enjoy most are those with a story involved, which is usually found in the role-playing category. Unfortunately, these are among the most expensive games to create, so not many are released every year, and the same percentage of these are crap as every other type of game. Telling a story in a computer game format allows me to "explore the story," which is one of the most rewarding ways to "receive" a story. Such games also come closest to being "art" in the classic sense.

  4. Shooting the shit. I'm not a wallflower; I like to talk to people, to get a chance to tell my stories, to listen to theirs. I'm typically one of the most animated people at the poker table. When I used to hang out at a bar, I was the bar's "Norm," except when I was Cliff. When I was on the road selling, my presentations took a lot longer than they should have because of the time we spent not talking about the product. The length of my blog posts should serve to demonstrate that I rarely have a problem finding something to say. But I can't imagine how to make this profitable.
  5. Television. This is fading from my list, because 99% of what is produced today is crap. I'm not interested in reality television; reality is depressing enough without wanting to invent any more of it. And today's TV writers spend too much time making their shows into soap operas and not enough time on interesting plots. When I want to watch a lawyer show, I want to see an interesting case or a novel argument; I don't want to see half the episode spent discussing which lawyer is sleeping with which other lawyer, and whether it will affect their future at the firm. TV execs lament that old episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show have become competition to the shows they create today, but there's a reason: most of what you produce today is crap!
  6. The English language. I like delving in the linguistic arcana of the language. When Gil uses a word like "formulamatic" or "argumentation," I enjoy discussing that even if those words are occasionally seen in print (and thus are in dictionaries), they are improper words: "argumentation" is the noun form of the verb form of the noun form of the verb "argue," which is simply silly. English is a rich language; "royal," "regal," and "kingly" each have slightly different usage, even if the words broadly mean the same thing. Other languages don't have that. One can make a living in linguistics, but one had better have "Ph.D." after his name. I don't. (I also don't know that I could really do this all day.)
  7. Puzzle-solving. I use this in the broadest sense. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles, but these aren't specifically what I mean. I'm not even sure I can come up with a simple explanation of what I mean. I like taking disparate things and using my knowledge to make them fit. At an early job, I had paperwork corresponding to a shipment in a customs warehouse that didn't seem to belong to anybody. I am confident that I was the only person in the department who could have figured out who it belonged to and get it released from Customs in time for the trade show it was for, which is why I'm still proud of that nearly twenty years later. There are plenty of jobs with opportunities to figure out puzzles like this, but I can't imagine a job strictly about solving puzzles.
  8. Roads. I'm a roadgeek; I'm fascinated by roads, their designations, their histories, their signage, and sundry other topics. If someone asks, "How do I get to X," I'm always ready to draw a map. I can correctly draw the shield design of the US highway markers (the white ones, e.g. US-95 in Las Vegas). I can tell you how the Interstates are numbered. Despite all this, I don't think I could work for AAA or Rand McNally; the job would be too 9-to-5, too corporate for me to last long even if I enjoy the subject matter.
  9. Reading. I enjoy reading fiction, particularly science fiction and horror fiction, although the things that draw me to those genres (which is another post) also crop up in a good number of the "thrillers" which dominate the Wal-Mart paperback shelf, even if those thrillers are less memorable as literature. I would like to enjoy non-fiction more, but I'm easily bored by it—even on topics I'm interested in. This is why I did find the "literary agent" suggestion above intriguing.

No, You Don't Want to Hire Me

The above list might get longer as I continue writing this post. But I also have certain needs and hangups which need to be met, in varying degrees, by whatever job I hold; these have all caused job failure, or at least job strife, in the past. This list might even be more important than the above list because of that.

  1. On my own time. The natural length of my day is longer than twenty-four hours. I'm getting old enough now that it's a big deal to interfere with that day after day. I can imagine a job where it doesn't matter when you come in, as long as you put in your eight hours, but I wouldn't know where to look. This even limits the number of ways I could work for myself.
  2. Plenty of down time. My mind needs time to wander, and my body needs time to rest. I need to be able to shut down for five or ten minutes, pretty frequently, in addition to formal "break time" and "lunch time." Put this baldly it seems like a ridiculous job demand, but I've found I need to do this to stay sane. I've often used too-frequent bathroom breaks to accomplish this, but even that's not enough. It can't really be scheduled, either; it's pretty strange to think of a bell ringing and now it's mind-wandering time.
  3. Get me on board. This is more of a problem with management, or a particular manager, than with the job per se. But if I have to do something that seems arbitrary, pointless, or downright stupid, I'm going to want to know why, and "because I told you" and "because that's the way it's done" are not sufficient answers. If I don't get a good answer I'm going to bitch that the task is arbitrary or pointless or stupid every time I do it. It's an accomplishment if I can keep from doing it out loud.
  4. And I did it my way. This is usually a management problem, but sometimes it's a problem with the job itself, where I am constrained to do something a particular way. For example, when I sold appliances at Sears, we had to fill out a form while we were talking to each customer. I felt that this made the sales process very unnatural, and indeed my sales numbers without the form were perfectly fine. But great strife with my managers was caused because I wasn't selling the Sears way. I need to be able to do things my own way, and I need to be able to something a different way today than I did yesterday. This hasn't cropped up at every job, but when it does, it's been a killer.
  5. I've gotta be me. I'm an iconoclast. I hate to be the same as everyone else. It causes me great anguish to blend in. This often goes to the extent of breaking a minor rule just to be the only one who does it. I even understand this is all me, this isn't their fault. But I don't exactly embrace corporate sameness.
  6. Be fair. Again, this is generally a management problem. But I probably don't need to explain this one much.
  7. Variety is the spice of life. I don't want to do the same thing every day. If I must, I need a whole lot more of that "down time" I mentioned above.
  8. When I sit around the house, I really sit around the house. I like food, and I'm lazy. I have no outdoor hobbies. Therefore, I'm fat and out of shape. This probably now limits me to a desk job; even simply being on my feet all day is too much for me at this point. I'm not actually immobile—"go get a file from downstairs" is not too much for me—but I don't think I could now do any of the retail sales jobs I've had, where I was on my feet for an entire shift. (For those who've recommended that I deal blackjack for a while in Vegas, being on my feet that long was one reason I wanted—then—to break in as a poker dealer.)
  9. It's hip to be square. Putting "fast-paced, fun atmosphere" into your classified ad pretty much guarantees I won't fit into the job. My tastes are those of someone in his sixties. Rap is just noise to me, people using "chatspeak" seem to me to be illiterate nine-year-olds, and I have never in my life been "down with" anything. The only sport I enjoy watching is baseball. And I'm too cynical to enjoy "silly hat day." Your attempts at making the job fun for me are going to fail.

I've concluded that the above list (which also might get longer as I continue) makes me essentially unemployable. If there's a job—any job—out there that fits me, I'd like to hear about it.

Office Space

The main character in the movie Office Space, vaguely dissatisfied with his job, poses the question with his friends, if you won the lottery, what would you do? The answer is supposed to guide you to what you should be doing, the career that would make you happiest. I come to the same conclusion that he did: Nothing.

If money would never again be a concern, I'd do nothing. I'd retire. I'd buy a high-rise condo, almost certainly in Vegas, and toys that all together would come to well under $100,000, including a car. Then I'd spend most of my time doing the things on the first list above. The only particular travelling I'd do would be a tour of the ancient world, and at some point I'd live in England for six months or a year, just to do it. And that'd pretty much be it.

I think the answer that the question is trying to draw out, is from the people who say, "I've always wanted to open a little flower shop," or something like that. I don't have anything like that. Even my thoughts about a used bookstore some years ago weren't really about having a store per se, but about simply having a lot of books. My condo would have a whole room that's a library (I imagine a lot of dark wood shelves, and a fireplace), and there, I don't need a used bookstore anymore.

Before I went to Vegas, a lot of my last blog entries were responses to people who thought I could never make it as a poker player. My response was generally, "but I can't do anything else, either." If you were one of those who said that, then maybe this post gives my response in more detail. And maybe there really is some magic job I'm overlooking.