Passion over paycheques
Two weeks ago I was working in my dream job.
One year removed from school, eager, earnest and brimming with enthusiasm, I sat at an editing desk at the heart of one of Canada’s major news organizations, Postmedia News. It was a dream job because it was the only job I genuinely wanted.
In years previous I had worked unceasingly toward a seat at the table reserved for those with their names atop the news of the day. Journalists. The very mention of the profession evoked a quiet sigh, an audible expression of wonder.
I was a part of the furniture at the student newspaper at my university, writing and editing at all hours of the day, practicing and learning, making mistakes and swearing to never repeat them. Repeating them. Along the way I seized every opportunity that was even the smallest of steps toward this career. In journalism classes I endlessly studied and dissected the wordplay of the best scribes in the business. I wrote, I re-wrote, I interviewed, and I edited. A lot.
All this in the name of wanting — some days maybe even needing — to enter the world occupied by the ink-stained wretches. All this to be one of them. And if this quest sounds narrow-sighted and obsessive, that’s only because it was. I never looked at journalism in the same way people look at doorknobs or refrigerators, as objects to be made and then sold. No: it was a world I aspired to belong to, and more – a mountain to be conquered. Then, a year ago, I was offered my seat at the table.
I had arrived, and although it might not have been the best job in the industry, I walked into the office every day loving what I did. I was a journalist, and little else mattered. I’d scaled this mountain, and left my ink-stained handprints on the peak.
Then, on 7 May, my colleagues and I gathered in the newsroom to be informed that some – most – of our services would no longer be required. Breaking news, the sort that fills newspapers and TV screens around the world, was not going to be a point of focus for our company. The stories we prided ourselves on telling accurately, quickly, and comprehensively — half-derided as “commodity news” in a memorable piece of PR magic — were instead to be told by the venerable voices of The Canadian Press.
It was a business decision, we were told. The sort of decision made every day in boardrooms around the world. The decisions that regularly lead to the mass layoffs of talented and passionate people. A business decision and not a personal decision, then, though I wonder what could be more personal than the loss of what we love. Not just our livelihoods — we lost our jobs, jobs some of us had dreamed about for years.
Just one week later, on 15 May, Jim Flaherty, Canada’s economic guardian angel and finance minister, announced that too many out-of-work Canadians were being picky, selfishly holding out for such extravagant luxuries as jobs in their sought-after field. Or jobs that they may have spent years of school preparing for, or — who knows — even dreamed about since they were kids.
“There is no bad job,” Flaherty declared, invoking memories from back in his day when he drove a taxi and refereed hockey games to make ends meet. The message sent by the finance minister, which couldn’t quite capture former British leader Winston Churchill’s wartime spirit, as its messenger lacked both Churchill’s eloquence and a war, was that unemployed Canadians must brace ourselves to our duty — grin, bear it, and toil in the trenches of menial employment.
Thousands of Canadians were told that they shouldn’t worry about being satisfied with their next job. Instead, they must do their part to aid in an economic recovery that will undoubtedly continue to be described as “fragile.” As Flaherty sees it, jobs are square holes awaiting unemployed square pegs, a game of numbers as unfeeling as swapping out a light bulb.
It matters not who you aspire to be or what you are trained to do. Just get out and get a job — any job — old man Flaherty grumbled.
But to take shelter from the cold winds of unemployment in the warmth of the first job we find, to succumb to Flaherty’s edict, is to betray our own calling – our own hope to contribute to society in the best way we can, not just the way that allows us to pay the bills. For a country that prides itself on intellectual capital, the promotion of post-secondary education, and, yes, even the pursuit of happiness, Flaherty’s message is disheartening .Because while there may be no “bad” jobs in Jim Flaherty’s Canada, there are many jobs that are bad for many people.
So we’re not being picky when we won’t sacrifice the best career for us for one of Flaherty’s not-bad jobs. And we’re not being selfish when we contribute to our economy by applying the skills, knowledge, and experience that we have worked hard to build. We’re choosing passion over paycheques.
Hunter S. Thompson — the father of Gonzo journalism — perhaps articulated the passion that afflicts journalists best, saying: “As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says, ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.”
Replace “writer” with any other profession, and Thompson’s words become a mantra for all of us who work because we love the job, not the employment.
So, I refuse to raise a white flag on my dream’s behalf and cower from Flaherty’s dark thumb by settling for some job — even if that stubbornness brings with it more months of scraping by, learning, and pushing to recapture the feeling that came from first stepping into the world of meaningful work.
After scaling that mountain, I’m not ready to descend just yet.
Frank Appleyard (@frankappleyard) is a former editor at Postmedia News and a passionate journalist trying to evade the dark thumb of fate.