At the weekend we saw the very funny comedian Rachel Parris, whose show Keynote was about how silly and counterproductive advice to children often is. We shouldn’t tell them to live their dreams, we should tell them to try out different jobs and lifestyles to help them find out who they are and what they’re good at. I’m not sure that always works, but it would probably be better for most people than a ‘Hollywood or bust’ approach. This is also the theme of a children’s book I recently drafted.
She asked the audience about bad jobs we had had, in the hopes we would admit we had learned from them. I couldn’t really chip in, because I’ve never done hard labour picking crops or dealing with livestock like other audience members. (Actually that’s not true, I have done both those things, but I haven’t been paid for them). The worst job I ever had was as a postdoctoral research scientist at Imperial College London working for an emeritus professor doing the dotty outdated experiments he thought up. It was mostly boring and pointless, but I doubt many people would pity me: there were some interesting bits here and there, I was paid enough to live on, and I had some fun colleagues (and some other monstrous ones we could enjoy mocking).
Ironically, the job I did for the lowest pay, while I was still in high school, is the one most people envy. I spent 2 summers working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre outside Washington DC (where I grew up). The tasks were routine, doing daily backups and relaying commands to the Solar Maximum Mission satellite, but my colleagues were kind and interesting people who taught me computer programming and treated me with respect. And there was a full-scale model of the space shuttle for payload testing right inside my building – how cool is that? I still miss it sometimes.