Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hear, Hear

I have to agree with this Conor Friedersdorf post on the question of choosing one's employment - the word sacrifice is entirely inappropriate when discussing what is entirely a free and voluntary decision. A fat paycheck and the ability to afford lots of shiny status symbols it affords are not the only reason people work, and we should not assume that any rational person, when choosing a career to pursue, will automatically opt for A over B just because A pays more. Public service jobs may not pay what those in the private sector do, but they offer a number of other compensatory benefits, not least of which is the psychological reward of feeling one is serving the public rather than merely one's own interests in going to work.

It's fair to say that in choosing to be a teacher, I have not pursued the most monetarily remunerative career I could have when I graduated from college. Many of my peers chose typical career paths for Ivy League graduates - law or medical school, or work in lucrative fields like finance. They make a lot more than I do, and I'm fine with that. The thing is, I'm perfectly happy doing what I do. My job offers many things I value - the chance to work with people in a personal and meaningful way, the ability to go home at 5 p.m. every day, the freedom to not have to think about work seven days a week, plenty of time off. It does not offer me a particularly high level of social prestige, a corner office, or the ability to afford a Lexus or a five bedroom house with a pool and a home theater. The fact of the matter is, I don't particularly value those things. As such, giving them up is not that difficult, and to speak of it as making a sacrifice, just because other people might value them, seems absurd to me.

I suspect that would-be economic elites who choose public service instead talk about it as a "sacrifice" partly as a way of making themselves feel better about what they do. In my experience, it does make work much more enjoyable if I feel I am undertaking it with a purpose, and no doubt the idea that they are giving up some portion of their own potential happiness to improve society is part of what motivates such people to do their jobs. That's fine, I suppose, but if happiness is what at's issue, they're not really making a sacrifice - they're just accepting one compensation package (lower salary + altruistic sense of purpose) in lieu of a different one (high salary + high social capital) because the former leaves them more satisfied.

No comments:

Post a Comment