What Don’t People Get About Your Job?

This is a special edition of the Work in Progress newsletter. And this one is all about you.

Black-and-white picture of office building, with windows showing silhouettes of people working
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This is Work in Progress, a newsletter by Derek Thompson about work, technology, and how to solve some of America’s biggest problems. Sign up here to get it every week.

Several years ago, I asked readers to tell me what other people didn’t understand or appreciate about their job. I got hundreds of fascinating, funny, outraged, counterintuitive, and illuminating replies. Now I want to do it again. What’s the one thing that most people don’t understand or appreciate about your job? Email me a sentence, a paragraph, or an essay—anything you want, really—to AboutMyJobWIP@gmail.com. In two weeks or so, I’ll publish my favorite replies.

I’ll default to publishing anonymously. But I’d love to include a little bit of detail (which can make for a better reading experience). So if you feel comfortable, let me know your first name, or even your first initial, and your city.

I want to do this for three reasons.

The first is that I think other people’s jobs are just plain interesting.

Second, I live in an economy of labor specialization, which means that my life depends on a tapestry of labor that is ultimately inscrutable to me. I buy coffee that I don’t know how to harvest or package. I drive a car that I don’t know how to build or repair. I live in a home that I don’t know how to construct—or even, as my wife would attest, how to fix when something in it breaks. I’d like to be a bit less alienated from the production of my own existence.

Third, in an age of political polarization and internet-mediated interactions, certain stereotypes have accreted around certain jobs that are considered high status versus low status, and conservative versus liberal. Emerging from our bubbles to hear about the lives of people we might not usually come across is always useful, and especially now.

That’s all from me. I want to hear from you! Please write from the heart. If you need any inspiration, here are four of my favorite replies—short, medium, and long—from the last time we ran this experiment.

The Opera Singer

“We sing without microphones about 99% of the time.”

The Journalist

“The purpose of opinion journalism is: to generate ideas … to get on television … to make money.”

The purpose of opinion journalism is …

1)  … to make money.

2)  … to attract an audience.

3)  … to influence people.

4)  … to generate ideas.

5)  … to advance conversations.

6)  … to help air different sides of a debate.

7)  … to help the political prospects of your ideological coalition.

8)  … to disparage ideological adversaries.

9)  … to raise the political price of trying you or your former colleagues for war crimes.

10)  … to earn a living as a writer.

11)  … to get on television.

12)  … to produce an intellectually honest argument.

13)  … to accrue social prestige.

Insofar as you see animosity among opinion journalists, the root of it is often different value judgments about which of these things, or combination of these things, is or should be our object.

The Professional Soldier

“Some of the most free-thinking people in the United States are in the US Army.”

Hollywood portrays Soldiers in many different ways. Sometimes we are burnt out social misfits that are incapable of fitting in and plagued by PTSD and associated terrors.  Sometimes we are the devil-may-care thrill seekers that are an equal danger to the enemy and ourselves.

The reality is very different. The thing that surprises people is that some of the most free-thinking people in the United States are in the US Army. The problems that we have to contend with require innovative solutions and given the breadth of educational backgrounds of Army Officers, you find some incredibly adaptive people.

The Fashion Model

“Here it is, plain and simple: Some girls eat, some don’t.”

Number 1: Do you have aspirations to be on America’s Next Top Model?

I already have an agency. They found me, they instilled some belief that I will make them money. They gave me a contract, now they send me out on castings that will (fingers crossed) get me work. I go to my castings, I give clients my book and comp(osite) card, I leave. There is a 99 percent chance I will not get it. I move on to the next. Reality show be damned, this is a business.

Number 2: Wait, so you must make a ton of money, right?

Well, you can. And people do. I know models and commercial actors who can go for 10,000 dollar days—and then get residuals. It’s madness. It changes by the person, the ‘look,’ the size, how you looked at someone wrong or right, or if the casting director was hung-over or not that day. It also depends on how your agency is promoting your specific look to a client. If you are more of a commercial model, you won't be submitted for a fashion editorial and vice versa—once again, all depending on the client and the requirements.

The large markets (New York, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles) are very model-saturated and it’s harder and harder to get clients to book new people when they have used a lot of the same models for years. This is especially so in the commercial industry, (Target, Old Navy, Payless, Amazon, etc). So, just as anyone in the freelance world knows—it’s trial by fire. You live on an everlasting roller coaster ride that takes you wherever it pleases.

Number 3: But it’s okay when you book a job, right? Because they pay you right away and you just move on to the next job?

I wish it were that easy. By agency/client relations, they have 60-90 days to pay their till. That in itself is not binding, let alone enforced. Some of the biggest money jobs I’ve had have taken almost six months to pay, while the smaller jobs (think in the 300-500 dollar range, editorial rate—if there is one), pay within the bracket. You would think those massive clients would be more than happy to shed off a grand for your time within those three months? [Insert sad jalopy horn sound here] They are more likely to take their time, knowing that they are a huge company who books continuously through your agency—and they will.

Number 4: Well, when you do get your money finally, it must be pretty rewarding?

It is, it really is. It’s even more so rewarding when you see those images/commercials that you are in and were actually paid for. It keeps you in it and keeps you working hard.

But, don’t forget that as an agency-signed model, you are contract bound. They do find you the work, send your book to clients, print your comp-cards, host your digital book on their website—so they will take a percentage and charge where necessary, as they should. Though, it is in your own self (business) interest to check and recheck where the money is going and how often it’s going out with every paycheck you’re doled out.

Number 5: So, you’re a model. You don’t eat then, right? None of you eat, that’s just what you do.

I cannot tell you how much this is asked of me, it’s even more of a stigma propagated within my own work environment. It is also something that gives me the most anxiety about the way that my industry is viewed. Here it is, plain and simple—some girls eat, some don’t. Some work for the measurements on the back of their comp-card, some don’t at all. Some are forced to lose weight by their agencies; some are dropped from their contracts for it. It’s a variant situation with a lot of sad outcomes. As an appearance-only based profession, no one cares how you can deliver a line or cry on cue like an actor—it’s solely based in the way you appear on camera and how a piece of clothing looks on you. This is a topic I can go on about forever, but I will spare you.

When I tell people what I do, and receive such questions, I always say, “It is about a bottom line, and you are it.” All you can do is enjoy your time, go to your castings and give it your best—all without losing yourself. It’s possible. I’m sure it is.

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