What Don’t People Get About Your Job?

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A few years ago I asked readers to tell me what other people didn’t understand or appreciate about their work. I’ve received hundreds of fascinating, funny, outraged, counter-intuitive, and insightful responses. Now I want to do it again. What’s the one thing most people don’t understand or appreciate about your job? Email me a sentence, paragraph, or essay—anything you want, really—at [email protected] In about two weeks I will post my favorite answers.

I publish anonymously by default. But I would like to add some details (which may make for a better reading experience). So if you feel comfortable let me know your first name or even your initials and your city.

I want to do this for three reasons.

First, I just find other people’s jobs interesting.

Second, I live in a labor specialization economy, which means my life depends on a carpet of work that is ultimately unfathomable to me. I buy coffee that I don’t know how to harvest or pack. I drive a car that I don’t know how to build or repair. I live in a house that I don’t know how to build—or, as my wife would attest, even how to fix if something breaks. I would like to be a little less alienated from the production of my own existence.

Third, in an age of political polarization and internet-mediated interactions, certain stereotypes have accumulated around certain jobs, viewed as high-ranking versus low-ranking and conservative versus liberal. Emerging from our bubbles to hear about the lives of people we don’t normally meet 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 inspiration, here are four of my favorite answers – short, medium, and long – from the last time we ran this experiment.

The Opera Singer

“We sing 99% without a microphone.”

The journalist

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

The purpose of opinion journalism is…

1) … to make money.

2) …to attract an audience.

3) … to influence people.

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4) … to generate ideas.

5) …to move conversations forward.

6) … to bring up different sides of a debate.

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

8) … to denigrate ideological opponents.

9) … to increase 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 TV.

12) … to argue intellectually honestly.

13) …to gain social standing.

To the extent that you see animosity among opinion journalists, it is often rooted in differing value judgments about which of these things, or a combination of these things, is or should be our subject.

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’re burnt-out social misfits, unable to adjust and plagued by PTSD and its associated horrors. Sometimes we are the carefree thrill-seekers, posing equal danger to the enemy and ourselves.

The reality is very different. What surprises people is that some of the freest thinking people in the United States are in the US Army. The problems we grapple with require innovative solutions, and given the broad educational background of Army officers, you’ll find some incredibly adaptable people.

The model

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

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

I already have an agency. They found me, they made them believe that I would make them money. They gave me a contract now they send me to auditions which will get me (fingers crossed) work. I go to my auditions, I give clients my book and comp(osite) card, I leave. There’s a 99 percent chance I won’t get it. I move on to the next. Reality show, damn it’s a business.

Number 2: wait, so you have to make a lot of money, right?

Yes you can. And people do. I know models and commercial actors who can go for $10,000 days – and then get residuals. It’s madness It varies by person, “looks”, height, how you looked at someone wrong or right, or whether or not the casting director was hungover that day. It also depends on how your agency promotes your specific look to a client. If you are more of a commercial model you will not be submitted for a fashion editorial and vice versa – again all dependent on client and requirements.

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The big markets (New York, Paris, Milan, Los Angeles) are very model saturated and it becomes increasingly difficult to get clients to book new people when they have been using many of the same models for years. This is especially true for the commercial industry (Target, Old Navy, Payless, Amazon, etc.). So, as everyone in the freelance world knows, it’s an ordeal by fire. You live on a perpetual roller coaster ride that takes you wherever you please.

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

I wish it was so simple. For agency/client relationships, they have 60-90 days to pay their till. That in itself is not binding, let alone enforceable. Some of the biggest money jobs I’ve had have taken close to six months to pay, while the smaller jobs (think $300-$500 range, editorial rate – if there is one) pay within that range. You would think these giant clients would be more than happy to lose a giant for your time within those three months? [Insert sad jalopy horn sound here] They’re more likely to take their time knowing they’re a huge company that books continuously through your agency – and they will.

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

It is, it is real. It’s even more rewarding when you see the images/commercials that you are in and that actually paid for. It keeps you on track and makes you work hard.

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But don’t forget that as an agency-signed model, you are contractually bound. They find the work for you, ship your book to clients, print your sedcards, host your digital book on their website – so they take a percentage and charge where necessary, as they should. However, it is in your own (business) interest to check where the money is going and how often it goes out with each paid paycheck.

Number 5: So you are a model. You don’t eat then, do you? Neither of you eat, you just do.

I can’t tell you how much this is asked of me, it’s even more of a stigma permeating my own work environment. It’s also something that worries me the most about how 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 work at all. Some are forced by their agencies to lose weight; some are removed from their contracts for this. It’s a different situation with many sad results. Since it’s a profession based solely on looks, no one cares how you can deliver a sentence like an actor or cry on cue – it all depends solely on how you appear in front of the camera and like an article of clothing looks like you. This is a subject I could go on forever, but I’ll spare you.

When I tell people what I do and get questions like this, I always say, “It’s about the bottom line, and it’s you.” All you can do is enjoy your time, go to your castings and to do your best – without losing yourself. It is possible. I’m sure it is.

Remote work is already changing the way millions of people work and live. Sign up for Derek’s consultation on the future of this phenomenon. If you are unable to attend, you can always watch a recording on The Atlantic’s YouTube channel.

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