Is it better than driving a taxi?

photo-272Every list has its charm and idiocy, and the US News annual list of the 100 best jobs is no exception. The list attempts to rank jobs according to some mix of demand, salary, and satisfaction. Hence nursing or being a physician’s assistant score very high, whereas writing does not. Indeed, while being a receptionist or a taxi driver make the list, becoming a writer doesn’t merit a mention.

All of which makes me glad that I didn’t look at such lists when figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve structured these next few weeks to have some down time on the work front, which is an invitation to career introspection. I’ve been thinking about a few questions to ask when choosing or not choosing a career, and came up with these three (please add yours in the comments!)

Do I find this stuff fascinating? Ideally, the “stuff” of your career is so fascinating you’d do it for free. Some careers have a reasonable probability of this (ocean exploration! being an astronaut!) but I also know that’s probably pushing it for many very necessary jobs. So, let’s posit that pay is a major upside of work. Even so, do you find yourself reading articles about the “stuff” of your job in your spare time? Do you think about it in the shower? Those are all good signs you’re headed toward the right line of work.

Will I be happy with my day-to-day life? This is related, but not quite the same as the above. “Dentist” tops the US News list of best jobs. You could find the study of dentistry fascinating, but really hate making small talk with new people and sticking your hands in their mouths all day. If so, you’ll probably want to explore different ways of pursuing your passion, such as research or teaching, rather than joining a busy dental practice. I think this question trips up a lot of young people. Someone may understand that a certain career is prestigious or well-paying, but not quite comprehend that she’ll be spending 10 hours a day squinting at spreadsheets. This then leads to angst and career switching. We talk about life in abstractions, but it’s lived in hours. There’s a lot to be said for shadowing people and asking about daily life.

Do I understand the economics? It’s well-known (indeed, it’s a matter of BLS record) that some careers pay more, or at least pay more reliably, than others. That’s why writing would have a hard time making a list of the 100 best careers. Most writers don’t earn that much, and very few organizations put tons of writers on the payroll and pay them benefits. That said, I know plenty of entrepreneurial creatives who pull in 6-figures. Many can do so while enjoying a reasonable lifestyle (being able to work at home, meet the school bus in the afternoon, that sort of thing). There is also the reality that the economics of a profession can change over time, or even suddenly. I have been fascinated to see that the price of NYC taxi medallions is plunging with the introduction of Uber et al. Many drivers aren’t medallion owners, but some are, and certainly people who got into medallion trading and management are seeing a huge change in what was for long a sure thing. A medical specialty can see its reimbursement rates cut. Pharmaceutical sales used to be a high-end, in-demand specialty, and now pharma companies are moving to different marketing models.   There is no bitterness quite like the bitterness of choosing a profession for its pay and plethora of jobs, and then seeing both plunge.

Since none of us has a crystal ball, understanding the economics of a career means asking if you could still make a living and still be happy if fundamental circumstances shifted. Would you be able to shift into a different niche easily? What niche might that be? Are the skills you’ll develop transferable? If you wound up using these skills in a free agent role, what would that look like?

Maybe you’ll never need to know the answers to these questions, but choosing the best career means asking as many of these questions as possible.

What questions would you add to this list?

Photo: Pseudo-taxi-ish looking vehicle in Rio

8 thoughts on “Is it better than driving a taxi?

  1. I really should have given more thought to all of these questions. In addition, the list might benefit from a question about the “flexibility” factor. I never considered how much my priorities would change after having children. Before becoming a mother, we planned on having my husband stay at home while I was the breadwinner. Now, I’m constantly looking for alternative career paths so I can spend more time with my family.

    1. @Harmony- That certainly winds up mattering more at different times of life. Perhaps the flexibility factor could be a sub-question to the day-to-day life one. With some careers, there’s really only one way to do it, or at least one dominant way to do it. Being a principal is going to be an incredibly rewarding job — but you’re also going to be at the school all the time.

  2. Does this career already have a limited lifespan? Careers in radio broadcasting and some areas of publishing have been evolving (devolving?) over the last decade and while it’s not clear where they will end up, it has been clear that they have to change and sometimes dramatically to survive the new marketplace as influenced by the internet.

    Like taxicabs facing Uber, certainly you can’t see which industries will undergo a sea change, but being aware that it can and that you have to be flexible enough to change with it or transition before becoming obsolete is critical to surviving the shifts.

    1. @Revanche – the crystal ball thing is difficult to pull off. I think some red flags, though, would be if an industry’s high pay or plethora of jobs depended on regulations that could be changed over night. The whole medallion business exists because of laws and so disruption is quite possible. I’m quite curious what will happen with something like medicine, which also depends on limited supply of practitioners and our model of paying them. NHS doctors in the UK are paid reasonably, but you don’t see the specialist salaries you’d see in the US. If American medicine trended more that way you’d see a big change (though I’m not sure if that would ever happen). Admittedly, the print industry is perhaps in its death throes, but for me, the upside of what I do is that no one has to hire a freelance writer. I earn what I earn in a fairly free exchange.

  3. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately thought of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday after learning a neighbor hired a professional nit-picker to clear up her kids’ heads.

    Having gone through a lice infestation with all four of my kids this summer, my first thought was that there is just NOT enough money in the world to make that job worth it to me. I can’t imagine picking nits 40 hours a week.

    So, how about, “Is it better than being a professional nit-picker?” (of the lice-y sort, of course. Ha.)

    1. @The Frugal Girl – oh my goodness, definitely a job I wouldn’t want! But I bet it does pay well and offer flexible hours (I’m guessing families are willing to work around the pro nit-picker’s hours!)

  4. As I help my own kids determine what career paths to choose, I find one of the most important questions is: Am I good at it? Discovering our gifts and matching them to our passions is key. Then we just have to find a way to get paid for it, of course. It’s also interesting to note that our gifts and talents continue to develop and change with age, as do our passions and priorities. I think being open throughout your life to where God is calling you can bring you on a wonderful and exciting life journey!

    1. @Linda – A very good question to ask! Of course, what might trip some people up is being good at multiple things. Sometimes hard to know which should wind up taking the lead.

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