A few years ago, as I was considering what direction I’d like my career to go, I tried making some “vision statements” about what success would mean. One of those was that I would like to be able to write about whatever I wanted and know it would be published. It was a reasonable enough statement for a writer, but as I move slowly closer to that goal, I’ve realized that there’s a problem with it. Because what, exactly, does “whatever I wanted” mean? What do I want to write about?
I’m lucky enough to know that writing is the right job for me, but the question of what job, or which projects within our jobs, would make us happiest is a pretty widespread one. As I try to figure out what my next big project will be, I’m examining some of the pieces I’m writing right now. I’m trying to figure out what I like about them. For example:
* A feature piece on the decline of Korean green grocers in NYC. This has been a tough piece for reporting (cold-calling grocery stores and getting someone to share their stories isn’t necessarily easy) but it is a fascinating economics story of immigrants choosing to open businesses that they never, ever want their children to go into, because they want their children to be doctors and lawyers instead. Lesson: I love economics with a human angle.
* A piece on the Ramona series of children’s books, looking at how the Qumbys show the middle-class squeeze and a transition to the modern economy. Lesson: I love economics with a human angle.
* A piece on small business owners who’ve added full-time staff in the past year, and what would convince them to create more jobs. Lesson: I love economics with a human angle.
Anyway, you can see where this is going. As I’ve had to pitch pieces, and figure out which ones I want to take on, the economics angle is usually there somewhere. And looking back on 168 Hours, even though it’s pitched as time management, it’s really about how people spend that non-renewable, scarce resource of time. The study of the allocation of a scarce resource is pretty much the textbook definition of economics.
It’s good to know these things, and the good thing about writing is that you try so many different things that you can figure out what you like. Or at least are most likely to like. I’m not saying that economics is the only thing I want to write about (and it isn’t).
But anyone can approach different projects this way, with an eye toward figuring out what you’d like to do more of in the future. Which projects make you excited to come to work in the morning, and which ones have you watching the clock? Which articles do you read first in the newspaper? What books make your “must-read” list? Which Facebook threads catch your attention and compel you to respond?
The answers may not be obvious, but the longer you observe these things, the more likely you are to figure out what you’d like to turn into a life’s work.