February 27, 2008

It's Up To You, Watermelon*

I have a question, something I've been thinking a lot about lately. It's partially influenced by my job but since I'm paranoid about mentioning work here I need to caveat this by saying I'm utterly happy doing what I'm doing and wouldn't want to do anything else. Except be a rock star but I honestly don't see that happening.

Here's the hypothetical. Let's assume that what you're good at and what you like doing are two mutually exclusive things. Or, you're good at two very different things but only enjoy one of them. Which to you pursue?

When I was in junior high and high school, I was a runner. The fact that I started smoking at age 12 (I no longer smoke and haven't for some time - no need to bust my balls) didn't stop me. According to my dad - a marathon runner - I was built for distance. But I enjoyed shorter runs. Sprinting. I mean, cross country kinda sucked and involved running for, well, really long periods of time. What's the fun in that? So I sprinted. I was okay. Not great. Although I kicked everyone's ass in the 440. But I had fun. And that was more important to me.

My job has two demands - comprehensive knowledge of my field and marketing. I have to maintain a deep subject matter expertise in my field and put various parts and pieces of information together to make critical projects work. I'm not being an egocentric ass by saying that I'm really good at what I do. I am and I'm proud of it. The other part - the marketing - is full of meeting people, shaking hands, developing and maintaining relationships and figuring out how I can apply what I know to solving other people's problems (and getting them to pay me for it). I'm really good at that too. But it really doesn't feel like my thing. Because - present company excluded - people are pretty much annoying.

So, what do you do? Do you play to your strengths even if they're not what you really enjoy doing? Or do you stick with what you're good at in spite of that?

* uttered by Mia last night, apropos of absolutely nothing and we have no idea where it came from, but it struck me as a good title for this.

Posted by Chris at February 27, 2008 6:52 AM

You don't have to like everything you're good at. I certainly don't. Since you have the luxury of choice (or pondering), and all is even between 2 things and you like one more, go for the one you like.

In this vein, I once heard a story on there audio from a woman who had the natural ability to be an opera singer. She went through school for it and the whole thing because she thought she should- and she thought she should because she could...but she never enjoyed it at all, it just wasn't her thing even though she had the ability. (She stopped being an opera singer)

Posted by: jessica at February 27, 2008 7:13 AM

You do what you love. I mean, always, there's a part of us that has to suck it up and do things that aren't necessarily our strong suit because it's part of the job. Is it possible to separate the two - the marketing from the comprehensive problem solving that you really dig? If so, that's awesome... if not, is there any way to dial down your responsibilities in the marketing side so that you can focus on the part that you really feel floats your boat?

Ah, hell. What do I know to give career advice.

Go be a rockstar! :) (Were it that easy, lol).

Posted by: sarah at February 27, 2008 7:14 AM

I feel your pain. I really do. I am very good at what I do but it is definitely not my first choice of gigs. You get lulled into the financial security doing what we do brings and then it is really hard to get out. I think I try to make up for not wanting to be married to my job by enjoying the hell out of life outside of work. Enjoying the hours I am not there reminds me of why I go to work everyday.

Posted by: goodsnake at February 27, 2008 7:22 AM

I'm in your second group (good at two things).

When I played regularly, I had the chops and the ear to "make it" according to my music teacher. (He even said this to my wife ten years later when I ran into him, shaking his head for effect.)

But, I was (am) also quite adept with logic, numbers, typical non-verbal intelligence stuff - making me a good engineer.

For me, engineering won out because of money. The financial security it offers, plus the comfort of being able to have my wife be a SAHM (as SHE chooses... don't go thinking I'm a chauvinist).

Posted by: SciFi Dad at February 27, 2008 7:30 AM

I'm not a particularly good student and I suck at standardaized tests, so my GRE was just above mediocre. However, I've excelled at research and I love learning stuff that's so far over my head that in the classroom, I can actually watch the stuff they're teaching hit the wall behind me. Among the things I have going for me, though, is I'm too stubborn to throw in the towel, so I'm well suited for research and have proven it.

Be good at what you enjoy and always try to get better. Life is too short to spend time doing stuff that makes us miserable. As for the marketing side of things, it's a necessary evil in order to make a living. Even as a burgeoning entrepeneur that never wants to work for anyone directly again, I know that I'll still have to sell myself and shake hands with random people in order to make things work out of necessity.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at February 27, 2008 8:10 AM

Well, I'm good at my job. I'm very good at my job. But I don't enjoy it in the least. At most I tolerate it day-to-day. What I do is something I never planned to do, never studied to do, but just fell into many years ago right out of college. The timing never seemed right to leave (I carry the insurance/benefits package for our family) between marriage, 2 children, 2 layoffs for my husband, ginormous medical bills resulting from a car accident... And so, here I am, halfway to retirement at the age of 33. Why would I leave now? And so, I continue on with the job I don't enjoy but pays the bills, and I do what I love in my spare time--because it would NEVER pay the bills in a million years.

Posted by: Alissa at February 27, 2008 8:12 AM

I am fortunate to be able to work 3 jobs doing what I love. I am a sous-chef, a graphics artist/photographer and a dog walker all part time. I would not last very long doing something I don't love. I would rather buy less things and reduce my financial needs to balance out my need to love what I do. I can do what I am good at but don't love for a while, but in the long run I get perty resentful.

This is a tough one, Chris. I say throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.


Posted by: Julia at February 27, 2008 8:14 AM

I may be the wrong person to ask for advice on this...after all I quit a very secure, high-paying job over two years ago to go back to school, and I'll probably never make that kind of money again. But I absolutely love teaching and my research and couldn't survive another day at the bank. My father still shakes his head at why I did it, but money wasn't as important as my happiness. (Of course, D is supporting my butt and I didn't have a family to feed.) The question is, can you afford to live and provide for your growing, beautiful family on doing what you love?

Posted by: Krush at February 27, 2008 8:15 AM

I'm probably not a good person to ask...I left a low paying but secure job because I was bored and unhappy, and chose instead to pursue a degree in Fine Arts - my equivalent of being a rock star!

My husband's a teacher so a secure financial future is not one of my priorities. LOL!

Posted by: wendy at February 27, 2008 8:15 AM

I would go with the strength that would enable me to earn a living. I'm paranoid about being old and penniless. The ideal situation would be me being good at something that I enjoy at which I could earn a nice salary. I believe if I "hated" doing something that I'm good at I would try to find something that I really enjoy or at the very least don't hate. I hope this makes sense.

Posted by: Maria at February 27, 2008 8:23 AM

Always go with what you love if it's a feasible option! Life is too short to be doing anything that you don't enjoy.....

Posted by: Lisa at February 27, 2008 8:36 AM

That's a good question. Of course, I don't have a career, per se, (I refuse to think of being a secretary my career, agh) but I also need to make a living, so I rock the skills I have (I have an uncanny knack for operating copy machines) because it makes the day easier than sitting here feeling like I'm wasting the talents I think actually matter most (my writing and creativity). However, at the same time I'm working to improve those things so I *can* have a career.

Ugh. I am of absolutely no help. Though I do agree with you, people in general are annoying. :D

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at February 27, 2008 8:36 AM

Stick to your strengths and work on what you consider your weakness. Shaking hands and developing relationships is too dependent on other people to really figure out. It comes down to opinions and not facts. an you know what they say about opinions.

Posted by: william at February 27, 2008 8:38 AM

I'm also really good at what I do, but I don't love it. But I'm exploring those things that I love to do outside of work, so it all evens out.

Posted by: suze at February 27, 2008 8:45 AM

It looks like I'm at least the third person to comment who left a higher-paying career for something I love. I was good at writing legal briefs and appeals, and was always my firm's go-to-guy on an important one, but I was miserable as a lawyer. Now I'm using an MFA I got before law school and working in theater again. I think the answer to your question depends on how much you hate what you're doing and love what you may not be doing. Or, can you put up with the parts of a job that you don't like just for the money, other perks, or parts that you do.

Posted by: Darren at February 27, 2008 8:57 AM

Neither. I just do whatever falls into my lap.

Posted by: Sarah, Goon Squad Sarah at February 27, 2008 8:59 AM

I think it depends on what you're looking to get out of your job. If you're looking to feel fulfilled by your job, you should do what you love. If you're looking to bring home a paycheck and/or become successful in your field, you should focus on what you're good at.

After becoming a mom, my focus has definitely changed. Now, I just want to do what I can to make a good life for my family (i.e., make the big bucks but still have a good schedule) because I get most of my fulfillment at home.

Posted by: Robyn at February 27, 2008 9:06 AM

I hate the people aspect of my job and lately it has made me very resentful. But it is also forcing me to re-evaluate the direction of my career. It would be hard to walk away from the money/lifestyle.

Posted by: Steff at February 27, 2008 9:07 AM

I've been luck enough to have what I enjoy doing and what I'm good at end up being pretty much the same. Probably because I do so enjoy being good at something. ;)

Posted by: Hope at February 27, 2008 9:09 AM

I definitely think you should engineer things so you can do what you like to do the majority of the time. I tend to give my jobs a litmus test by asking, "Will I look back at this job 5-10 years down the line and feel like I was happy (most of the time) while I was doing it?" If the answer is no, it's probably not a job that I want to keep working at, regardless of the benefits. There are exceptions, of course, like jobs that you have to take in order to get to the job that WILL make you happy, but these should be pretty obvious if/when they occur.

However, it sounds like your job has aspects that you enjoy and those you don't. In this case, I guess you just have to maximize your efficiency at the tasks you don't like so they take up less of your time and leave you to do the stuff you do like. Oh, and I agree, people ARE annoying.

Posted by: Ross at February 27, 2008 9:23 AM

Love the title:)

Wish I had some sage advice on this topic, but I really don't. Good luck:)

Posted by: Amy at February 27, 2008 9:38 AM

i recently had a similar situation. i was getting sick of my job that i was good at and either needed to move up or move on. my management wanted me to move up in my department (support), i wanted to go over to engineering. i know i'm good at support and leading or middle-managing the support team would have been something i probably would have been good at. three years of talking to developers on the phone fixing their problems hones your critical thinking skills like nothing else...

but i wanted to be a software engineer since i was 10, so the choice was easy. i was qualified and the decision wouldn't negatively impact my life in any way. so now i'm a black box tester. no more phones, no more talking to annoying people.

support was slowly killing me with it's talking to people all the time and constantly being interrupted. i'd say go with what you love. if you can't go home at the end of the day and at least feel just OK about what you did all day, then maybe you're not doing what you should be doing.

Posted by: Jared at February 27, 2008 10:04 AM

In the past 2 months, I have passed on interviewing for a job (the company called me to ask me in, I hadn't even applied) that would've paid probably $10K more than I make now. And I opted not to apply for a job opening for another job that would've paid $17K more than what I make now. Both jobs are in the writing/PR world that I function in now, but different positions (higher up) than what I hold now. Both are jobs that I would have excelled at - possibly more than I do with my current job.

But, when push came to shove, I love what I do now and knew I wouldn't love those jobs they way I love the one I have now.

So, that's the long way of saying that my choice is to do what I love.

Posted by: Traci at February 27, 2008 10:08 AM

I love to run but I suck at it. Really. I am slow and I look silly doing it. But I love it so.

Not sure what I'm good at (having one of those days.) I take a not bad photo when I put my mind to it, and I can string a sentence together using spell check.

Posted by: Nat at February 27, 2008 10:11 AM

I have always encouraged my husband and in turn my children to pursue what they love - that way it doesn't feel nearly as much like work, right? I was pushed to do what I was seen to be good at but I don't love my work, I stick with it out of a sense of obligation to my family. And it holds very little satisfaction for me.

Posted by: Jules at February 27, 2008 11:04 AM

Dude. I totally wrote an awesome comment but the Internet Demon ate it. So instead you get this: the symbol on the "pound" key (#) is called an octothorpe. Peace out, watermelon.

Posted by: GreenCanary at February 27, 2008 11:09 AM

That was a question I struggled with, when I was younger and thought I still had time to change things. Now that I'm old, I just do what pays the bills, and blog out my frustrations. It's the new American way.

Posted by: Candy at February 27, 2008 11:12 AM

Dude, if you find out the answer, TELL ME. Same deal here. I've come to a point in my career where I can become a manager... but I'm not sure if I'd really enjoy it. I've got a masters in management, and I'm good with people, but now that I'm at that point I'm not sure if it's what I want. I might be happier just receiving the work orders and implementing really slick technical solutions.

I think there is some "admitting defeat" in saying you don't want to promote up to management and I'm grappling with that too.

In the end, I think I've got a few more years of pounding on the savings before thinking about a career change.

Posted by: Brad at February 27, 2008 11:26 AM

Okay, I'm in marketing.

The thing is, I come from public relations. I like public relations. I'm not a money-cruncher/spreadsheet type of person, which is what the marketing requires.

However, like you, to hold down my current position, these areas need to mix. Not always fun, but it holds my job security so I can do the side I enjoy.

For that reason, I don't know if I want to move up - I prefer the hands-on and the "up" would include more number crunching/spreadsheets.


No easy answer here. Maybe do the old "make a list of the pros and cons" thing?

Posted by: RC at February 27, 2008 11:40 AM

Okay, I was not a good student, but I had a big heart. I loved kids and wanted to have them and raise them in a way I thought was good. So, I had my kids, took in several other kids (still do) and I guess I found a way to play to my strength. I'm a good Mom! I'm nearly 50 and I'm still doing it with every other kid in the neighborhood.

Posted by: Maribeth at February 27, 2008 11:46 AM

I have two questions. First, does there exist a position (whether at your company or another company) that requires just the knowledge part, or do the two parts always go hand in hand in job descriptions for whatever it is that you do? Second, did you used to do just the knowledge part, but then a promotion added the marketing part? For instance, back in my in-house publishing days, I was in heaven as a senior editor, and I was so good at it that they promoted me so that I did less of the editorial work in order for me to have more time for training and supervising other editors. I didn't mind it and I was good at it, but I would have preferred to just do the editorial stuff. But, come to think of it, then I wouldn't have gotten the cool window office. ;-) (Now I'm a freelancer and get to do nothing but editorial work, at home in my jammies. Sweet.) It's like the classic case of an awesome teacher who gets promoted to dept. head and thus does less teaching, then gets promoted to principal and does no teaching at all, then gets promoted to superintendent and isn't even in a school anymore!

Posted by: Karen at February 27, 2008 11:48 AM

Life is too short to do things you don't like. We're all given gifts and talents to do different things than other people. It's just finding that "thing" that makes you tick AND uses those gifts. Not always easy to discern, you know?

Your job may not be the "thing" that you're supposed to use your given gifts in, you know? Might be in the everyday living, in volunteering, in being a husband or dad.

Posted by: Kate at February 27, 2008 11:51 AM

I think you've got to take the good with the bad. If there is anyone who enjoys everything they do all the time - do they really know/understand how lucky they are? Or what they've got? I think the down-side of jobs/life really make you enjoy the good-side.

OH! I'll be happy to add you to my list of people to stalk in Northern Virginia. It will be much easier now that I'm moving to the area!!!

Posted by: Lori at February 27, 2008 11:59 AM

I used to have to do the technical and the marketing too... seller-do'er and all that. I didn't like the marketing part, and so I was never very good at it (by my standards, that is). Now, I market by bringing in repeat business from existing customers. That works for me, and I'm good at it. I learned a while ago, that I am good at a lot of things I don't like; and eventhough I'm good at them, I therefore choose not to do them. I figure work takes up the best 9 hours of every day, I'd better damn well be doing something I like.

Posted by: Lisa at February 27, 2008 12:15 PM

Stick closely with your strongest skill and minimize your exposure to your weakness. Do your best at what you are good at. All jobs have a down side, but if your down side is more time than your up side, it's time to find a new job.

All said very easily because I don't have to deal with it.


Posted by: Edge at February 27, 2008 12:23 PM

I struggle with this all the time. I studied creative writing, I prefer creative writing, but I am a medical editor, and I have come to understand that I am a better editor than a writer.

For me, right now, it's about having a family to support. My income is every bit as important to the family as my husband's-- especially because the three kids we are raising are mine, and he is co-raising them, but he didn't father them.

So, I think one of the responsibilities of being an adult with a family (as you are already demonstrating in spades) is that you have to do what you are good at-- and maybe postpone what you love for awhile, or try to find some way to do both.

Posted by: jen at February 27, 2008 12:42 PM

I forgot to say what I came here to say: William F. Buckley is dead, may he burn in hell, that miserable bastard.

Posted by: jen at February 27, 2008 12:48 PM

When you're young, you chase the money and do things you may not like doing.

Wisdom helps you realize that if you do what you love, the money (may) chase you. Or, better yet, it's not about the money at all.

For me, that second approach is WAY better than the first.

Posted by: Pammer at February 27, 2008 1:20 PM

I say, if you have a choice, go with what you're good at *and* like... even if you're good at something, there is simply no reason to keep on keepin' on...

Trivial example, but I'm pretty damn good at math. The more complicated it gets, the better I get at it.
However? I hate math. With a passion.

So I pretend I can't do it. No one asks me for help. I carry a calculator to do the most trivial of tasks, I hate it that much...

Don't tell my secret, kay? If word got out... could be a catastrophe. :)

Posted by: Caleal at February 27, 2008 1:36 PM

That's the age-old question isn't it? Let me know if you figure out the answer, because we're going through that here too. Good luck. Watermelon.

Posted by: samantha Jo Campen at February 27, 2008 1:46 PM

Interesting conundrum. I've often had this predicament myself. I'm a musician, and I'm actually very good. (Like you, not tooting my horn, just stating a fact.) Trouble is, the pay is dick (well, not literally) unless you are a superstar. So, I resort to my other skill which I'm very good at, accounting, but I'd rather stab my eye with an ice pick.

But with a family to support, the ice pick it is until I can figure out a way to make more money in music without becoming a total man-whore.

Posted by: John at February 27, 2008 1:50 PM

It's tough to say; I've been at a job for a while now that I am damn good at but I am starting to seriously dislike doing it. But why leave if I'm so good. It's a hard decision.

Posted by: claire at February 27, 2008 2:13 PM

I strengthen my weaknesses. No longer becomes a problem and easier to sleep at night.

Posted by: Ed Bacchus at February 27, 2008 2:14 PM

As a counselor in the NC school system, I have a mixture of both worlds. I *love* working with kids individually, in groups, and in classrooms. I'm good at it as well, which is a bonus.
I also am the testing coordinator, which I hate... it's a requirement of my job that I've learned to be good at out of necessity. The only downside is that this part of my job sometimes (read: often) overshadows and infringes upon the part I really love doing.

Posted by: Kate at February 27, 2008 3:06 PM

I would love to study philosophy. I'm doing Msci in Chemistry in UK at one of the best universities in the world and I have a scholarship. And I still think it's kind of boring.

...thinking of family and someone who will depend on me in the future, it would seem selfish to me to do philosophy as I couldn't make enough money to make them safe. So I chose. I guess you'll never know until you try...

Posted by: Alex at February 27, 2008 3:40 PM

Go with what you love. In the end nothing else will matter.

Posted by: University Politico at February 27, 2008 7:35 PM

awww..sugar..you already know the answer to this question....
its up to you watermelon.....

Posted by: suicide_blond at February 27, 2008 8:04 PM

That's the question of our age, isn't it? Do what we love or make money/have prestige/etc? If you figure out the answer, let me know. :)

Posted by: Zandria at February 27, 2008 8:15 PM

You are still young. You have a bit longer before you burn out on the technical stuff and crave human interaction. I felt the same way. And now I try to mix the two. I still like the technical stuff, but dealing with people, and their BS, has its own rewards. Something that took a while to discover. For me at least.

Posted by: intergalactic at February 27, 2008 8:56 PM

my opinion, go with what you love. always. life is too short to deny yourself the opportunity to fill yourself with that kind of satisfaction.

Posted by: jodi at February 28, 2008 3:42 AM

good question. I spent a period temping and some of those jobs were AWFUL but I got through them partly because I knew it was only for a short time and partly because I could always find SOMETHING about it, some aspect I enjoyed.

Sometimes just doing something well and being good at it is satisfying in itself.

Sometimes you learn to appreciate/enjoy things over time.

Sometimes you finally get your dream job (i'm finally a SAHM - yay!) and then discover there are still things that suck about it!

some nice random inconclusive comments for ya :)

as far as making a desicion, writing out a pros/cons list for both situations helps - having it on paper it's easier to see which set you think you'd be happier living with.

Posted by: mamacrow at February 28, 2008 5:57 AM

I think I'm at a very lucky time in my career.

If you asked me two years ago I would have given you an Eeyore answer: I HATE what I do, but it pays well for my area. I was meant for something else.

And then the uppers let me run with the whole information security thing and now I'm happy as pie.

I do play to my strengths, and I've stopped fighting the demons of "this is what I'm good at but I hate it" and now I'm more on the side of "this is what I'm good at and I embrace and love it."

Works out better. :)

PS - The title of this post makes my heart melt knowing it's something Mia said.

Posted by: Poppy at February 28, 2008 8:41 AM

Ha! I was a sprinter at heart too, but was much better at distance so that's what I got stuck with. In the job world, I tend to play to my strengths too because that's where the money is, unfortunately. If I didn't have to worry about money, I would totally pick the thing I enjoy.

Posted by: Katie at February 28, 2008 1:32 PM