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Glamorous Careers Turn Out to Be Boring--This American Life Podcast

Apr 17, 2007 • general

This American Life

In the latest episode of This American Life, the show explores how glamorous jobs really turn out to be boring. It's one of the best audio podcasts/shows I've ever heard, and fits right in with some of my previous posts on Is Technical Writing Boring? The episode has several profiles of people in desirable careers, such as astronaut, actor, and cartographer.

In the first segment, the host explains that most astronauts never see space; instead they mostly sit in conference rooms. Astronaut Marsha Ivans says, "Mondays are the days from hell. Monday I go to meetings all day long." Only one day a week do they get to do something they love — such as practice walking in space.

The second segment gets into the story of Ed Ugel, a lottery buyoff dealer. His job was to offer lottery winners lump sums in exchange for the extended lottery income (paid out over years). The host explains:

When Ed discusses lottery winners, it can sound like he's talking about someone getting cancer. Because in his experience, it's not even a mixed blessing. It's a catastrophe. Of the winners he's met, he figures 80% wish they'd never won. More money often just intensifies your own worst tendencies, and allows you to get into worse trouble, be it through gambling, philandering, drinking, or just plain boneheadedness than you ever could have at fifteen dollars an hour. And, he says, it makes you paranoid. (29 min. mark).

The point is that glamorous jobs usually turn out to be boring. The third segment profiles a cartographer who hated expeditions but loved map-making.

... Charles Preuss ... charted the Western Territories with two of American history's legendary explorers—John Charles Fremont and Kit Carson. The maps Preuss made were best sellers and helped open the Western frontier to settlement. But, as he wrote in the diary he kept while in the wilderness, he hated pretty much every minute of the expedition.

Preuss had to rough the uncharted frontier so he could do what he really wanted to do: make maps. Isn't life like that?


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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. Topics I write about on this blog include technical writing, authoring and publishing tools, API documentation, tech comm trends, visual communication, technical writing career advice, information architecture and findability, developer documentation, and more. If you're a professional or aspiring technical writer, be sure to subscribe to email updates using the form above. You can learn more about me here.