What would you do?

What would you do if you were guaranteed a fixed salary but you had to do some job?  Say you’d make a $100K a year but you had to work.  What would you do?  Would you stay at your current job?  Become a teacher?  A tour guide?  CEO of a company?  Or a night watchman so you could read books all night?  Here’s a list of some jobs in NYC: Who Makes How Much – New York’s Salary Guide 2005.

They say that winning the lottery doesn’t make people any happier after the initial rush wears off.  Having money doesn’t mean you’ll be happy.  (Having enough to eat can make you a lot happier than not having enough money for food.  However, once you have the basics, we are all about the same amount of happy whether we have $100 million in the bank or just make $30K a year.)  So if that’s the case, you should work on the things that make you happy like family and friends.  And since we spend 40+ hours a week at work, I figure you should find a job you really like regardless of what it pays.  But that’s not so easy.  If they didn’t pay you, would you go into work at your current job?  If you had to go into work and all things were equal, what would you do?

I have no problem listing jobs I know I wouldn’t like:

  • dentist
  • CEO of a company (although it would depend on the company’s mission)
  • home daycare provider
  • sailboat skipper/chef (imagine having people living in your home 24 hours a day and having to cater to their every wish or deal with any behavior you didn’t like – and no kids or pets!)

And I can list jobs that I know I like:

  • software programmer (but it would have to be on a team that wasn’t always running late and I don’t think those exist)
  • errand/photocopy person (I got to read lots, talk to lots of people and get lots of exercise while getting paid.)
  • public speaker on a topic I like

And then there’s jobs I think sound intriguing for some reason:

  • tour guide – I love going on those guided tours like the history of the French Quarter.  My friends put up with them but I find them fascinating.  Unfortunately we don’t have a French Quarter or unique cemeteries or similar attraction around here.
  • garbage collector – in the summer.  Think of all the exercise and outdoor time you’d get!  (At my last house the garbage collectors were always good looking college kids with great tans.)
  • author/public speaker.  Did you know that Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman get $30K per speaking engagement!  Malcolm’s only written two books. 
  • med school student.  But I don’t want to be a doctor.  Given the cost of med school, that’s a small problem!
  • Permanent student.  Dad used to joke about this and I used to think it was a terrible idea but I’ve changed my mind.  Plus there’s lots of types of things to study from traditional university classes to karate to med school to massage school to sailing to jewelry making to language school to …  (I am a permanent student by the way – I just wouldn’t mind doing more of that.)

I also know I love talking to people that love their profession or really know what they are talking about.  I recently bought a pair of shoes and the shoe salesman spent time explaining how that company made their shoes, why the style had changed, what was better, why they don’t make blue leather shoes, how to take care of leather, … I found I really enjoyed buying that pair of shoes – a change from my normal ambivalence to shoe shopping. 

So if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?   How much of our decision for a life career is limited by careers we’ve heard of, prestige, money making potential, our friends’ opinions, opportunity, the way the dice fall, who calls us first, …