Hating a Dream Job

This story on the BBC reminded me of something:

Despite having earned millions of dollars and winning eight Grand Slam titles Andre Agassi now admits that he hated tennis.

That something James Hamilton wrote about a couple of years back, the idea that a highly paid successful sportsman might not actually like his job.  It had never occurred to me before, assuming as I’m sure most people do that sportsmen are happily raking in millions as they go about living their childhood dreams.  But as James says (in a post that is well worth reading in its entirety):

But football draws into it men and women – more and more of the latter as the game grows – who are extremely gifted at it, and able to work hard enough to develop that talent, but who aren’t actually interested in it and don’t enjoy it. Fans can miss this, because we all wanted it so badly ourselves as kids (and do you find, as you get past 30, that your fantasies contemplate retirement, your fantasies hang up their boots, your fantasies start taking coaching badges?). But it’s perfectly possible to be international standard at football and not care about the game at all.

You can live the dream and find it’s your nightmare job; and then you find that no one wants to listen or sympathise. Footballers can’t complain about anything – all that money! what more could they want? except the things that we all really want and need: an honest day’s work, and then the sleep of the just. But how many footballers fetch up with the sleep of kings?

I guess I’d never thought of sport as like any other career, which most people choose because it happens to be what they are reasonably good at.  But it stands to reason, to a point anyway.  How many people do you know in a well-paid job which they hate, but stick at it because of the money it brings in?  I’ve known a few.  Of course, the trick is to find a job which you enjoy and pays well, but there’s usually queue for them.  I’m lucky and like my job a lot, and it pays very well provided you’re prepared to live in shitholes and forget about a normal family life.  But there are plenty of people who get attracted into law, accountancy, investment banking, and management consulting because of the huge salaries and end up hating it, but don’t know what else to do.  That’s the other reason why I’m lucky: I’ve always known I would be an engineer, right from the time when the 3 or 4 tests I took at school each spat out Mechanical Engineer, Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer as my first three most suitable careers based on the boxes I’d ticked.  In fact, I knew even before that, when I used to take apart anything which could be taken apart to “see how it worked”.  I rarely did see how it worked, and whatever it was never did so again.  Little has changed.  I never said I was a good engineer.  Anyway, an awful lot of people take a long time to figure out what they want to do and some never really know, and simply stick to what pays well, or at least enough.

So why shouldn’t a top sportsman like Agassi find himself in a similar situation?  Could he do anything else, and if so, did he know what that was?  Having discovered he was brilliant at tennis, did he have time to see what else he was good at before his career took hold of him?  For me, it’s one hell of an interesting concept and I’m sure there are far more sportsmen – and probably actors and rock stars too – who hate what they do but are too good at it to stop.


10 thoughts on “Hating a Dream Job

  1. Then there’s people who reckon that there are lots of things they’d be good at and enjoy, and don’t know which to choose.

    And people who suspect that there are different things they might be good at but they all look pretty boring.

    Etc. It takes all kinds…..

    On the other hand, if there is a job which you are good at, and enjoy, and is well paid, you should thank your lucky stars – because essentially it is just luck.

    By the by, did James ever say why he stopped blogging? I used to find his one of the best.

  2. I rarely did see how it worked, and whatever it was never did so again. Little has changed. I never said I was a good engineer.

    Ah, Tim, now I worry for the state of Oil Industry! On the other hand, “that explains a lot”(c) – assuming you’re not the only one. On the third hand, the world is lucky I stopped being an engineer 25 years ago.

    Which brings me to yet another case: people who started one career (which even might be their dream and indicated inclination on all possible tests), hated it or just moved to a place they couldn’t pursue it, etc etc – and then moved to other things, some even successfully. World is operated by survival of the fittest (for a job marketplace).

  3. You can’t be that bad as engineer, otherwise you’d be out of job. But if you ever get bored, you could try being a writer instead, you have the talent.

  4. No, I never did know why James stopped blogging. My guess is that real life took over, which is what happened to so many bloggers who were around so much between 2003-2008. I think blogs do have a natural life, after which the authors just seem to throw the towel in for one reason or another. It’s a shame, but most of my favourite bloggers from a few years ago have quit, and I struggle to replace them. I’ve thought about it myself, but see no reason to call a formal halt to things.

    The exception is Tim Worstall, who is truly the Ron Jeremy of blogging. 🙂

  5. Of course, the trick is to find a job which you enjoy and pays well, but there’s usually queue for them.

    It’s also possible to find such a job, and have the fact that it is your job take the enjoyment from it. The fact that you must keep doing it to feed your family / keep your lifestyle means that the activity becomes stressful in a way that was not the case when you were doing it for fun.

  6. Safin made no secret of the fact that he hates tennis, playing any sports in fact. Kafelnikov’s father would beat him so that he would practice. No wonder why they were considered underperformers.

  7. James Hamilton is quite active on Facebook, so I would suggest sending him a friend request if you want to hear what he has to say.

    So, for that matter, am I, and while I still blog, I am a much faded blogger. It would probably be better to devote the activity to blogging instead of Facebooking, but somehow I don’t feel like it.

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