Saturday, January 15, 2011

Big Work

So the business section is not my section.

I come to it late, after the news and the arts section and the book review and the travel section and the style section and the magazine, but before the sports section and the monumentally soporific mutual fund report.  Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is the root of all articles in the business section, and that tends to make me feel like the dirty, grubbing, income addict that I am.

But hey, we've all got to figure out how to acquire our cheese, and, short of dumpster diving or marrying Wisconsin dairy heirs, that means moolah. And now do you amass said moolah?  Ideally, according to middle-class dictates, you find a career.

I want to point out here that a career is not a job. A job is a money-making widget.  You insert object A, your effort, into a machine, and extract object B, your cash.  A career is more complicated.  It's a building.  You enter it, wander around in there, find the elevator, and, theoretically glide to the top in an glorious swoosh of fulfillment.

The other thing about a career, I've discovered, is that, in the manner of The Highlander or the more zealous of our monotheists, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE.  Sure, you can change careers, but try to have more than one at the same time and watch people start to look at you funny.  Lots of people have two "jobs."  But careers?  Might as well move to rural Utah and start acquiring extra wives.

I know this because I have two careers.  I work half-time as a licensed speech-language-pathologist.  I work the other, much less organized, half of my time as a freelance musician.  The musicians think the speech therapy is a "day job."  The speech therapists think the music is a "hobby." It's tough, sometimes, to be the only one who takes myself seriously in both fields.

Which is why I tore out this article, the first time I've so defaced my morning paper in nearly a decade. And I tore it FROM THE BUSINESS SECTION.  It's a red letter day, folks.

The article's headline is "I'm Making a Living from My Hobbies," but the dude in question clarifies that his seven income streams (sculpture, woodworking, stonemasonry, gardening, photography, writing, politics) are more properly termed avocations, or callings.  Frank Hyman pursues all the activities that he loves, adjusting the extent to which he relies on each for income in a complex, decades-long algorithm.  He does what he loves and gets paid for it, that classic holy grail, but he takes into account that folks might not be willing to pay him enough for any one thing to constitute a living wage.

Here's Frank:

"Also be aware of the “90 percent rule.” That means that for “glamorous” professions like sports, art, entertainment and, yes, writing, about 90 percent of the people who try to make a living that way never make a red cent. About 9 percent might make some money in their field, and 1 percent or less are able to make some kind of living, and probably not a glamorous one."

Frank aspires, not to be in that 1%, but to be in that 9%.  And that's a goal I think is relatively sane, at least compared to the aspirations of the write-or-die crowd currently working at Starbucks.

Moreover, the multiplicity is freeing.   I've tried to figure out "what I want to do" for years.  But what if what I want to do is whole lot of things, and what if I don't want to do each of them at a primo top-notch self-supporting level?  What if it's OK to do do a whole bunch of stuff at a slower pace that's engaging and pleasurable and nets me, piece by piece, an adequate pile of cheese?

I don't like to use the word "inspiration," but two careers is now seeming pretty paltry.

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