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me winning isn't;
you do.
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
2.9.07
humor


I saw a musical last week with a couple of friends of mine. Yes, I still like women.

It was a very cute musical, entitled "The Apple Tree." The book was split into three separate stories: the Garden of Eden (courtesy of Genesis), "The Lady, or the Tiger" (courtesy of Frank Stockton), and "Passionella" (courtesy of Jules Feiffer). If you're looking for a night of light entertainment, and happen to be in the Broadway area, I do recommend it. And Kristin Chenoweth is adorable.

But that's not what I'm here to write about.

Because while I was sitting in my seat, waiting for the second act to begin, I caught myself glancing around the orchestra pit (well, balcony, technically). I was watching the musicians tune up and, as an amateur piano and guitar player myself, I was wondering what it would be like to make a living from playing music. I was struck by the thought that playing the harp was probably a pretty good move towards job security. I mean, how many harpists can there possibly be in the world, compared to the number of orchestras which employ harpists? Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of one-to-one, I expect.

But then it really got me thinking: what about those people who play the harp, but aren't good enough to be professionals? Somehow, I imagine, their plucking just isn't up to snuff. Do these people exist? I mean, I know some days, I'll come home from work, sit down on my bed and play my guitar for fifteen minutes or so. Is there a lawyer out there who returns home from a busy day, gets out the old harp, and just goes to town on the thing?

Or maybe the only people who stuck with the harp were those who were good enough to play in orchestras. Maybe some kind music teacher, after enduring seven months of off-key arpeggios, finally told little Billy that maybe he should try his hand at the oboe.

The world may never know. Though if you are an amateur harpist who never found success with an orchestra, do get in touch with me. I'm fascinated by your dedication to such a large instrument at which you're apparently not all that good.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to the point of this column: turning a talent into a career.

Not everyone can do this, of course. In some cases, the talent is remarkably unmarketable. When I was discussing this topic with my roommate, for example, she pointed out that no one is likely to pay her to sing off key. And I can tell you, she most definitely has a talent for it. Last time she was singing along to Andrea True's "More, More, More," I think a few of the eggs in our fridge went bad.

Actually, what she said was, "I should totally be in a band," but I'm pretty sure she was joking.

Along the same lines, it's unlikely that I could make a living drinking Diet Coke, no matter how much I practice (and I practice a lot).

I do think that the happiest people out there are those who work in some field in which they feel they excel or at least have the potential to do so. The trick is identifying your specific skill set and then matching a job to it.

A young Lance Kraemer, for example, discovered that he had a knack for science, but also the ability to draw. These days, my father's an architect.

I have another friend who was able to recognize that his ability to focus on minutiae coupled with his talent for making people really angry made him perfect for a career as a lawyer. He likes what he does, makes good money, and has his own office. Who could ask for more than that?

On the flip side, of course, are those people who fell into careers for which they were decidedly unsuited, either due to lack of talent or lack of the right temperament. We all know people like this. Usually, but not always, they hate their jobs (and often their lives).

My grandfather was a good example. Forced by his father to go to dental school, he spent his life as a dentist. And one would say that by professional standards, he even excelled. He owned his own practice, was well respected, and was even once the president of the TMJ society. Except that he hated it. All of it. One of the most brilliant men I've ever known, he apparently had wanted to be a forest ranger. How can you take someone who lives for the outdoors and stick him in an office, drilling someone's molars? No wonder he was such a miserable man.

Likewise, I'm sure there are plenty of better-than-average waiters in New York City who came here with decidedly different aspirations. That's right. They all wanted to be dentists. Go figure.

Most of us here at Intrepid Media fashion ourselves writers. For the majority of us, this is not, in fact, our current career track. Some, like myself, have elected to seek employment within a related industry. Others, like our illustrious publisher, have elected to tap dance on the streets for quarters and the odd bit of lint.

In as much as our jobs define who we are, who we are also needs to define our jobs. The older I get, the more I see peers of mine who are still unfocused, still searching for that thing that they can grab on to and say "this is me. I do this." I feel as though part of the problem is that they haven't yet figured out what they, themselves, bring to the table.

The other trick, I feel, is to put aside what you might think you want to do. Stop giving yourself unreasonable expectations, if that's your problem. Stop feeling as though you need to have a job that will make your parents or your significant other happy. I'd love to make the kind of money a surgeon makes, but a) I don't have great manual dexterity, and b) I think I'd fail out of medical school. So I've chosen to be okay with that.

Because, in the end, as I said up front, what's important is that you're happy doing your job. I have friends who will likely always tend bar for a living, and they're fine with that. I have friends who work in insurance, something I'd likely find mind-numbingly boring, but they like it and they're fine with that. I have friends who work full-time at my part-time job, and they're fine with that. No one cares, per se, what the job title is, as long as they don't wake up every morning dreading the day.

Which is why it's so important to be good at what you do and to do the things you're good at. No one likes to feel like a failure. Why start out with the deck stacked against you?

One final thought: if you're stuck between the idea of doing a job that you love with lousy pay or a job that you hate with a good salary, I say find a job that you love with a good salary. That's a plan. Make everyone jealous of you. Except maybe the professional harpists. They're probably pretty content.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer

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COMMENTS

robert melos
2.9.07 @ 5:53a

Amen!

I've been searching for a career as a websurfer, but there are so few positions available.

I approached my job as a Realtor with the thought in mind that I was working at something I hated in order to earn the money I needed to do something (writing) I liked. In fact, I've approached every job I've had with that thought in mind.

Now you've put it all in perspective for me. I just need to do something I like that pays well. I wonder if Oprah needs a guest host?

mike julianelle
2.9.07 @ 9:22a

This column reminded me of two things: Death of a Salesman and the Seinfeld episode where George is brainstorming potential careers.

George: I could be a commentator. I like sports, and I'm good at saying interesting things during games.

Jerry: Yeah, but they tend to give those jobs to athletes, or, you know, people with broadcasting experience.

adam kraemer
2.9.07 @ 11:15a

Simonizing job, my friend.

jay gross
2.9.07 @ 11:26a

The harp is a lovely instrument, but difficult to carry in the subway. Many would like to find a vocation that matches their fondest hobby. I'd like to go fishing for a living but those TV shows require a Southern accent. (I get along better with fish than I do with people.) I knew the Dentist you mentioned. Misery isn't my thing. Neither is TMJ. Writing and salesmanship are a perfect fit for the Internet. What a great invention!

john chase
2.9.07 @ 12:03p

I have now spent almost 20 years in a career that just happened... because of talent. It's nothing spectacular, I've been making money getting computers to help the commercial and government worlds in one way, shape or form since mid '87.

But I'm here because of talent. Not because of a degree, not because this is where I want to be. But because it seemed like the easy way for me to make a living. It was the path of least resistance.

Many times throughout this career I've felt like I missed my calling. Now, today, I'm certain of it. Now that I have a mortgage, and a Suburban payment, and 10 mouths to feed (including my own), bodies to clothe, minds to send off to school, I have discovered I need to make a change, and realised that this change will not net my my current take-home-pay.

So I'm considering investing in property on the outerbanks of NC to supplement income until I can figure out what in the world it is I "want" to do.

The mission fields of Uganda look promising. Either that or pursuing the road of Master Chef.

tim lockwood
2.11.07 @ 12:46a

Great column. It has spawned a couple of thoughts which dawned on me as I read it ...

Thought the first: He likes what he does, makes good money, and has his own office. Who could ask for more than that?

All great things, but I would add one more qualification to my list: I want what I do to have some lasting meaning in the world. If I were paid good money to (oh, I don't know) be a marketing director for a new brand of cola, it might be enjoyable, but to what end? Who will remember anything I did?

Thought the second: The older I get, the more I see peers of mine who are still unfocused, still searching for that thing that they can grab on to and say "this is me. I do this." I feel as though part of the problem is that they haven't yet figured out what they, themselves, bring to the table.

Perhaps what I referred to - the importance of lasting meaning - is what the seemingly unfocused are searching for. Those occupations are much harder to come by, and the opportunities are harder to spot when they come knocking. There's a good chance I'm just speaking for myself, but I've been killing time in a job that's enjoyable, holding out for the job that's enjoyable AND important.

adam kraemer
2.12.07 @ 10:20a

All great things, but I would add one more qualification to my list: I want what I do to have some lasting meaning in the world. If I were paid good money to (oh, I don't know) be a marketing director for a new brand of cola, it might be enjoyable, but to what end? Who will remember anything I did?

Well, the people who depend on you for food, clothing, and shelter, to name just one.

[edited]

tim lockwood
2.12.07 @ 10:25p

Yes, but there is a need - maybe not for all, but for some people - to leave a positive mark on the world that others outside our own little circle will know about.

I suppose it's not cool to say that other people's opinions matter, but meh, whatever, I'm willing to admit it. I want to do something good that others will remember when I'm gone. I want a legacy, dammit! And I don't mean a Subaru, either.



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