I am one of those people who lives for my work. To make that work worth doing, and thus life worth living, I need to believe in my cause or company. It’s not that I will do a terrible job if I don’t like what I’m doing—though I’ve had moments here and there—but doing work that I love and enjoy makes it easier to get up in the morning, hit the ground running, and generally kick butt on my individual tasks.
This also affects the types of jobs I’ll take—or even pursue. My tech writing career has spanned Disney, military logistics, government services, non-profit space advocacy, Science Cheerleading, and NASA. In only one of those cases I changed lines of business due to the management I was going to work with, not the content of the work in question (more on that in another blog some other time). In the other cases, I ended up in particular industries because I’ve “believed in the cause.”
My focus on content over money came into sharp focus in mid-2006, when I was looking to get back into the defense business for more money and more responsibility. A job appeared, which looked really good, but I also had my antennae scanning the web, including places well outside of the Beltway. In the midst of the interview process for this cool Beltway job, I got a call from Huntsville, Alabama. It was a job writing for Marshall Space Flight Center, supporting the engineers on the Ares Projects. (Actual quotation from
the phone interview: “Pardon me while I drool.”)
The company in question—not my current employer—wanted to fly me down that week. I was faced with the unusual position of having two cool jobs in the works and a hard decision to make. I apologized to Potential Employer #1 and said, “Remember when I said the only thing that would possibly stop me from taking this job would be an offer from a company in the space business? Well, I just got a call from a space company, and I need to find out what they have to say.” They were very patient with me as I arranged a whirlwind tour of “Rocket City, U.S.A.”
You can guess the rest. When told that the work would involve doing technical writing for the managers of the Ares Projects, I was in. Yes, the northern Virginia job paid more, but this was space, and I’d been trying to break into that business for years. I had to do some negotiating on salary because I still had a condo to pay for until I could sell it—this was
at the very start of the housing bust—and I ended up finding a cheap apartment that I still live in after the condo sold. But really, there was no contest there. I wasn’t particularly happy in the DC area, I had friends in Huntsville, and I was going to be supporting human spaceflight. I also faced a much, much lower cost of living in Alabama. I figured the important-sounding salary would come. In the meantime, I could do what I went to grad school to do: market space exploration to the public. I’ve been in Huntsville, Rocket City, since then. It’d take something really, really cool to get me out of here. As Dr. McCoy once put it, “What else is there than the universe, Spock?”
Where does this leave you, Dear Reader? Are you doing work you’re passionate about doing? Does that factor into your career decisions? If not, why not? But hey, that’s a discussion between you and yourself. I’m a writer, not a career counselor.