Friday, August 08, 2014

The Best Job To Dream Of Having When You Get A Little Tired Of Having Your Own Job (Me, Annotated)

Here's a post I wrote on The Best Of Everything back on August 8, 2008.  The stuff that's in red is what I think now about what I thought then.

The Best Job To Dream Of Having When You Get A Little Tired Of Having Your Own Job

Sometimes, I have to take a break from blogging and writing and watching "The Airborne Toxic Event" acoustic videos on Youtube and wondering if they took their name from M. Night Shymalan's crummy movie The Happening, or if he took his "ideas" for that terrible movie from the band's name, or if there was some actual "airborne toxic event" that inspired both the awful movie and the pretty good band...

Sometimes, I have to stop doing all that and "work." Yesterday was one of those days, when, wearing a tie and looking sharp, I had to attend a court hearing on behalf of a client, driving 1 and 1/2 hours one way to get there, only to meet with the judge and learn that due to a busy calendar, the judge was not prepared to issue a ruling that day and needed a few more months.

The judge, a very nice guy, sighed and mentioned that his workload was so overwhelming that if it didn't get better, he might give it up and just drive a truck.

That's a pretty drastic shift-- go from sentencing criminals and ruling on divorces to sitting in a semi, hauling cheese or nuclear weapons across the US -- but one that I understand, because who doesn't get tired, occasionally (or more than occasionally) of their job and dream of switching to a new job, one that doesn't have all the crummy features of the job we are (at least temporarily) sick of, and has all sorts of imagined great features. In the Judge's case, he mentioned that truck driving had its appeal because he "likes to read." I gathered that he felt that driving a big rig would give him plenty of time to get caught up on books and magazines.

It only just occurred to me that you could read that sentence as meaning "get caught up... while driving," but that's obviously not what the judge meant, or so I hope.  I think what he was really getting after was that truck driving, like many jobs, has a definite beginning and end point of each day, whereas jobs like lawyer and judge do not.  As I say often to my younger employees, there is no point of the day at which I am done.  Instead, there is just a time at which I stop working and go do something else.  And that is every day of your life if you are a lawyer: even when you finish one thing, there are other things to finish.  I suppose it's like that for every job.  Truck drivers finish a route and then start the next.  But it seems different, and so what I suppose the judge really meant was that at the end of a  day of truck driving he could pull the truck over and read a good book without feeling like he was hurting someone by not ruling on their case or doing a bit more research into something. 

I could sympathize; who couldn't? There's almost always something we don't like about our jobs, and some days, a job is made up entirely of things that we don't like about our jobs. It's on those days that we dream about switching, and we dream about switching to whatever job that day seems to have only good stuff associated with it, or at least to completely lack all the bad stuff associated with the day we're having.

The jobs we imagine we'd like when we don't like our current jobs offer a sort of peripheral glimpse into our minds, showing not just what we don't like about our own job, but how little we know about any other job and what it is we'd rather be doing. Here are a sampling of the actual jobs that I've, at times, thought that I would rather have than my current "actual" job of lawyer:

Sitcom writer.
Ice cream shop owner.
Sports talk radio guy.
Shark scientist.

That latter one first came up only recently, when I was watching a bit of a shark documentary on cable and noticed that the shark scientists dressed like beach bums and spent a lot of their days on the beach talking about sharks. That seemed to me to be a pretty good life, although it would have its downside, that being that they also went swimming at night in water that had been prebaited with rotten fish and was swarming with tiger sharks.

Still beats talking to other lawyers.*
*Note: Not a joke. I'm serious.

I think it's telling that, under pressure when I don't like something about my current job, I almost never fall back to those jobs I thought, growing up, that I might want. I never think Boy, I wish I was an astronaut, or Man, if only I could be President, or Cowboying, here I come.

Actually I don't think I ever wanted to be a cowboy. But I did want to be an astronaut and President. Maybe at the same time.  I bet if I had been an astronaut and President, after all that they'd let me be an honorary shark scientist if I wanted.

It's telling, but I'm not sure what it's telling, exactly. I'm pretty sure that it says something that my go-to-getaway job is almost never what I thought I wanted to be when I was a kid. (The exception: When I was a kid, I thought for a while that I would grow up to be an oceanographer-- yes, I was that fun of a kid -- and "shark scientist" is more or less in that field.)

Instead, I pick jobs that seem to me, like I said, to feature only good things or lack bad things. Bartender, for example-- that seems like a "no pressure" job to me, one that never features me having to go back to the office after a day of trial, to spend my night returning phone calls and researching some esoteric point of law that came up during the day. "Bartender" and "Janitor" are jobs that end when the bar closes or the building is clean; no bartender, I imagine, ever has to stay late to look up new drinks. There are definite beginnings and endings to those jobs, unlike most of my daily tasks that involve rewrites and responses and appeals and reconsiderations.

The appeal of "Ice Cream Shop owner" is similar -- the job begins and ends at a set time and doesn't feature unexpected curve balls thrown at me during the day. Plus, "Ice Cream Shop Owners" would deal with people who are happy to pay. Lawyers' clients are never happy to pay; win and they think you've overcharged them anyway or they could have done it themselves. Lose, and they blame you for it and don't feel they should have to pay for you screwing up.

Nobody ever wants to pay for the privilege of leaving their ex-wife; it's an expensive kind of sadness. But nobody ever complains about paying for an ice cream cone; they're buying a couple of scoops of happy from you.

From that, you can see what it is I don't like about my current "job." I spend a lot of time mucking around in people's miseries, miseries that begin but never seem to end - -and then have to try to get them to pay me for making them (hopefully) a little less miserable.

That was then, this is now.  My practice has evolved a lot in the last six years, and I now spend my day doing things that I find incredibly meaningful.  I've helped people save their houses, get their kids back, recover money, and otherwise work through their problems.  Most of my clients end up far from miserable.  I must have been terribly down that day to write what I did, because I don't think I felt that way all the time back in 2008. 

The other end of the spectrum -- sitcom writers, sports talk radio guys -- hold different kinds of appeal. I imagine they're more freeform; as a sitcom writer, I could sit in a room with a computer and TV and iPod and toss a tennis ball in the air,

I don't know what that in particular appeals to me but I now have  in my office a small, spiky yellow ball that lights up when you throw it and I frequently toss it in the air and catch it as I talk on the phone or have conferences with my staff.  Chase your dreams!

listen to music, wear my cool t-shirts and shorts and sandals to work,

I wear a tie every day to work and I like it. Almost every day. Today I have a polo shirt and slacks and I feel underdressed. 

 type up some scripts full of funny jokes, and be done by noon. As a sports-talk-radio guy, all I'd have to do is have opinions on sports, plus I'd probably get to go to the Superbowl. I like to write. I like wearing t-shirts. I like talking about sports.

I have completely drifted away from sports.  I am right now only vaguely aware of what's going on in any sporting league.  Somewhere along the line it just stopped appealing to me very much.  I still kind of know the big stories, but if I watch even 1 NFL game this year, I would be surprised.  And while I'd go to the Super Bowl if you sent me and paid for it, it wouldn't be even in my top 20 choices of things to do. 

 Most of my daily life involves zero amounts of that, so when I'm driving into work wearing a tie and knowing that I'll have to spend the day dealing with an unpleasant lawyer (and all lawyers except me are unpleasant)

Still true.

and listening to a sports talk guy go on and on about how great Superbowl week is,

I never listen to talk radio anymore, espeically not inane sports talk radio.  This week, my commute to and from work saw me listening to Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son short story collection on audio book. 

I like to imagine chucking my briefcase (which actually looks like it's made out of a football and has an NFL logo on it)

I still have that briefcase but I don't use it anymore.  Instead, I use old backpacks that Mr F and Mr Bunches don't use for school.  So I have backpacks that have Sponge Bob, the Avengers, Star Wars, and Angry Birds.  People love them, and so do I.  

out the window and putting on my Buffalo Bills' Bruce Smith jersey

I do still have that, but my new go-to shirt is my Superman shirt with actual cape.

 and spending the day getting paid to talk about football.


So I suppose that given all of that, The Best Job To Dream Of Having When You Get A Little Tired Of Having Your Own Job would be a subjective thing; it would, it would be reasonable to assume, depend on your own tastes and whims and whatever it is that's getting you down about your life at that given moment.

But it's not. It's an objective thing, because there is one job that, above all others, everyone in the world would want to have whenever they get a little tired of their own job. There is one occupation that, while very few people hold it now, everyone of us, when our own job gets tedious or annoying or hectic or just not good, everyone of us would or should be dreaming of having.

That job is: World Record Confirmer.

There could not be anything bad about that job. I've thought about this a lot today -- this being one of those days when I'm tired of my "job" and want to do something else -- and being the person who confirms for Guiness that a world record was or was not set could not possibly have any negatives.

Time pressures? Wrong-- none. People say they want to set a world record and you go confirm it. Neverending days at the office? Again, wrong; while you might sit for 72 hours watching someone balance an egg on their nose, when they drop that egg or hit 72 hours, it's over. Annoying competitors or counterparts? There's only one Guiness Book of World Records, so it's not like you'll have to deal with opponents contesting things with you.

As the World Record Confirmer, I would spend most of my time traveling the world and watching people achieve something they felt was amazing and fun, and confirming for them that they've achieved a personal best; what could be better than that? And if they fail, well, it's not like I'm telling them they have cancer or they're losing their house-- I just have to tell them, You just keep building that statue of Christopher Walken made out of discarded gumball machine toy-containing bubbles, and I'll be back in a few months to see if you've qualified, so even that aspect contains not sadness, but hope and the promise of better, greater things to come.

So days like today, when I'm sitting at my desk looking at the mountain of paper I've got to read before 5 p.m. -- or more likely 6 p.m. -- and I've taken a bunch of phone calls already and have more piled up, and the emails are crowding my inbox and outside it's 77 degrees and sunny but I'm wearing dress shoes and a tie, and glancing more and more at the pictures on my wall that I took on vacations that seem a long time ago, and replaying over and over "Wishing Well," on days like that, I like to kick back and imagine life as a shorts-wearing, t-shirt donning, world-traveling World Record Confirmer, shaking a kid's hand and telling him Awesome, Johnny, that is far and away the World's Fuzziest Guinea Pig, you're in the Book.

Then we all go buy a couple of scoops of happiness at my ice cream shop.

This post was written back when the celebrities were adopting all the babies in the world. Remember that fad? If you bought this t-shirt, you do.  

Celebrity Adoption:

So I must have been having a really bad day back then.  Six years later, I'm sitting in my office, surrounded by pictures of past vacations and a suit of armor and a pirate ship and a giant stuffed snake, and it's 77 degrees out again, but my attitude is entirely different; I'm about to go sue some debt collectors and then later on this afternoon I'll argue about property with someone and I got to lecture a lawyer today on what it means to be a parent (on behalf of my client, not me) and I can't imagine doing any other job than this, right now.
I mean, unless there's an opening for 'shark scientist.'  

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