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

by Tom Johnson on Apr 17, 2007 •
categories: technical-writing

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 San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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