Find something you love, they say, and you’ll never work a day in your life. But I wonder how practical this advice is. For a start, there aren’t many jobs as full-time caramel yogurt eaters. And after a while, even my favorite yogurts would lose their appeal. Then there’s the fact most work mainly consists of things that aren’t the core job. The emails, the paperwork, the reports, the conferences about the latest caramel yogurts, phoning IT when you can’t get into the caramel yogurt scheduling system which only works in Internet Explorer, logging timesheets and expenses reports and enduring the “water-cooler moments” with Gary from chocolate yogurts who is annoyed he isn’t paid as much as Steve in strawberry. Work is work because it is work.
But still, we classify jobs in different ways. There are teachers and stockbrokers. Artists and management consultants. Musicians and bus drivers. Comedians and arms manufacturers. Some jobs we do for money, others we do, supposedly, for other reasons.
“What do you do?” we ask each other. We mean economically. We mean: where can I place you on the economic scale. How should I judge the decisions you have made? As Armando Iannucci quipped in The Armando Iannucci Shows, when we’re asked what we do, “We say ‘I’m a postman’ or ‘I’m a bus conductor,’ not, ‘I get home late and watch repeats of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while eating cold spring rolls over a carpet stained with tears’.” Although we spend a minority of the week working, it’s remarkably difficult to say what we do without talking about our jobs. Sometimes I wonder what I do do.
Part of the reason our work is such a significant part of our identity is that our economic status hinges on it. And so having a different type of job completely changes the sort of life we live. CEOs earn nearly 300 times more than their average employee. Jobs in one sector pay different amounts to the same job in other sectors. People earn wildly varying salaries depending on their role or company, even though the difficulty and tasks may be similar. Even the salary of the same job in the same company doing the same work can depend on the gender or race of the employee.
We have jobs for money, but it’s a rather flawed system.