December 10, 2004

The Dilemma

It's the typical soul-searching conundrum. Except recently I'm living it, day after day, week after week.

What do I "do"? Work-wise, that is. Do I do work that is high-paying, but holds little little value or meaning to me? Or do I pursue work that feels more in-line with my own values, work that I find more "fun", yet pays very little? This is my dilemma.

My work week has grown to include every day of the week, and it couldn't be more different beginning to end. Every Monday morning I begin by commuting to San Francisco. It's not a long distance, it's the sitting in traffic that wears on me. I've returned to my former profession of Art Producing, working in an ad agency. These days I'm working three days a week producing photo shoots for Adidas.
In the past, I've produced for everything from Sega to Levi's. No one company, or even one ad agency, makes this work unbearable. The agency I'm working at has some nice people working there. What bothers me about this is that while I'm good at this, I don't derive a sense of accomplishment, of meaning, of satisfaction from the work. I don't look at a slick ad, and feel a sense of pleasure knowing I worked on the campaign. I see the finished product and think, "Glad that one's over....". I've chosen to trade a high hourly rate for an hour of my time. I need money right now. The work itself isn't bad. It's just that I find myself gazing at the clock, hoping that Wednesday (the end of my week in advertising) is an hour closer. It's the last minute nature of everything, sometimes it the egos, or it's the sense of frustration of having spent two weeks working on something and having the project killed at the last moment. Advertising isn't evil, though I have been known to complain that it is, not any more so than any other profession. A Friend Who Is Wise pointed out that there's lack of communication, overabundance of egos, and all the drama in most offices. And at least in advertising, I can dress however the heck I want and it's all part of being "creative'. Levi's aren't evil, nor are shoes, video games or any other product. Perhaps it's the pushing of consumerism. Of a lifestyle one should strive for. Advertising, to me, seems less about providing information about a product and more about selling a lifestyle. I mean, it's crazy the research that goes into how to reach a target market, how to speak to teens, what a homemaker really wants, and yet, that's not inherently bad either. It must be me. It's not a good fit. I don't get excited about working on a project, I won't easily hand over extra hours of my life that is needed in this business. It's a very conscious decision to dip my toes back into a high paying field which I purposefully left behind.

The latter part of my week is working at REI. Yep, a job in retail. A job that pays slightly over minimum wage. A job where my weekly paycheck equals that of working two or three hours in advertising. REI is a cool company, one where they are commited to the environment, to social responsibility, to their employees. The company motto is "work hard, play hard" not "work hard, work long and hope for a promotion". The people at REI are interesting, and interested in the outdoors. I can talk backpacking and climbing with my co-workers, compare notes on gear, hear about trips, and learn about things I'm truly interested in. Heck, I learn stuff from my 18 year old co-workers all the time. Where else does that happen? The egos are in check, the social hierarchies are missing, and people hang out in the break room talking politics and snoaboarding. It just _feels_ better to me, like these are my people. Sure, there's bound to be work place politics here and there, that happens any time you have more than two employees anywhere. But the management is committed to making it a fun place to work, they want feedback. And check this out: my employee orientation involved going for a hike. The store manager even came along to meet the new folks. It's an inclusive environment. Sure, one could argue, I'm selling stuff just like in advertising, but I feel better about it. I'm involved in selling stuff that helps people get outdoors and have a fun and safe time doing so.

So do I keep doing lucrative work that I find personally meaningless with people I don't necessarily connect with? The upside is I could work less and have more money. I'll leave out the "prestige" factor, the notion my mom feels that this kind of "career" holds more value than being a retail jockey at REI. Or do I do what feels better to my soul, but earns far less and therefore requires more of my time to earn the same kind of money?

I don't have the answer, yet. I only know that I can't keep doing both and working 55+ hours a week, every single day of the week. A choice will need to be made in the near future. I know this is an age-old dilemma, but it's my day to day existence right now.

Anyone reading this, feel free to ring in with whatever thoughts come to mind.

1 comment:

Kasmel said...

I'd say that under the circumstances, the best thing would be to do the soulless job for now, keep the pup healthy, spend the time off you have doing what you enjoy. Maybe kick the REI thing down to once a week if possible in order to have the connections and friendships with the people you like being around. But a couple of days doing something you don't like for long enough to find something you DO like that pays better, when you should have enough time off to spend doing what you want with WHO you want seems worth it.