I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t want Adam Savage’s job. He works for the TV show Mythbusters and spends his days blowing things up, driving fast cars and re-enacting Hollywood stunts (can 007 really jump out of that plane and live? Really?) His job is Awesome. When Mythbusters comes up – and if you ever experience an awkward lag in conversation among strangers, it’s a good topic to try – you can actually watch the flush of wistful longing cross people’s faces.
But I am skeptical of such dream jobs, because one summer, I actually had one. I was hired to write a manuscript, a sort of tribute to the people and events that formed the community’s history. On paper, it was a dream job. For one, it paid government wages, which seemed huge when I was a third-year student. For another, I could set my own hours, work at home and spend many hours in a dusty basement, combing through old black-and-white pictures, reading about long-ago misdeeds. It was Awesome.
Unfortunately, there was a hitch, in the form of a colleague – a fellow basement dweller. Let’s call him T. He had worked for the organization for decades. He was in his 70s and worked part-time. (I guess they didn’t have mandatory retirement.) Now, I liked T. But he was beginning to forget things. He would misplace a file and accuse me of moving it. He would forget his keys and we would be locked out. He would interrupt me once a day to inform me that the files were organized alphabetically, thank you.
It wasn’t something I felt comfortable talking to my boss about, since I was young, and an intern. Plus, T was a veritable institution; he also really liked his job. So I started trying to avoid him. I would peek in the door to see if T was in the front room, and if he wasn’t, sneak in and grab the file I wanted and run back to my desk with it. It was strictly verboten to take files out of the basement, but you know what they say about desperate times.
But even staying away from him didn’t always reduce the conflict. One morning I got a phone call in my office. It was T, and he was livid. I could almost smell the steam coming out of his ears. Our conversation went something like this:
T: “There is a piece of paper left on the tables! This is unacceptable. I am very concerned that our records have been compromised.”
ME: “That’s strange. I haven’t been down there in a week. I wonder where it came from?”
T: “This is terrible!”
ME: “What’s on the paper? Maybe we can figure out where it came from.”
T: “Well, that’s the trouble! There’s no way to tell where it came from. It’s blank!”
ME: Stunned, dumbfounded silence.
Not long after that, an assistant was hired for T, and he would only come in to work on his better days. But by that point, I had already soured on the job.
It was a valuable lesson. Sometimes a job can look perfect on paper, but there are a lot of factors that influence your happiness in a position: your supervisor, your coworkers, your commute, whether you have a window sill on which to display your Hello Kitty paraphernalia or whether you’re marooned in a cubicle next to the copy machine. So I’m glad that my idealized view of a dream job was shattered: it widened my horizons and encouraged me to look beyond the narrow confines of my chosen industry so that, should a dream job reside in an unexpected place, I won’t miss out.
Besides, I’ll bet even Adam Savage wants to leave his job some day. Can you imagine being scheduled to dive with sharks on the day you wake up with a splitting earache because you stood too close to an exploding firework the day before? No, thank you.