Just Because You're Good at It, Doesn't Mean You Have To Do It

Just because you're good at something, doesn't mean you have to do it. Not for your career. Not to make others happy. Not because you would be successful at it.

I've long said this about cooking. I love cooking, and I've good at it, but I don't want to do it for my job.  I've also said this about raising children. Would I make a good mother? Absolutely. Does that mean I should have children? No.

An Opportunity Arises...
A position opened up in my workplace recently for a managing editor. The job requires a blend of all my strongest skills: organization, scheduling, creative problem-solving, and meeting deadlines.

I've been a managing editor before at a different company (I'm a writer now). I'm really good at it. And this open position would be a step up the ladder in terms of company structure. And although I didn't ask for the details, I'm fairly certain the pay would be higher.

Would this be a good move for my career?

At first light, most objective observers would probably answer, "Yes, and you're a fool not to go for it."

The Happiness Factor
When I thought through the opportunity, however, I decided it would not make me happier than I am now. Plus, that job comes with a different stress level, one that I frankly don't feel as a writer. A lot of other writers in the company feel the pinch of deadlines, the burden of generating story ideas, the worry that  their online articles aren't generating much traffic for the website. But I just don't worry about those things. I do worry about whether I got all my facts straight. I worry whether the headline reflects the story that I've actually written, because I've messed that up in the past pretty royally. I stress out about potentially missing a huge feature of a product that I'm planning to write about. But I never worry about the things I consider to be procedural level.

To be a good managing editor, you have to be really competent at the procedure-level stuff. And I am. But you also have to enjoy it, which I do to some degree, but I don't enjoy it more than writing.

Money in Decision-Making
Not long ago, I read some advice that said, "Never make a decision based solely on money." I think by and large only the privileged among us can take that advice fully. Money drives a lot of decisions, especially when you don't have it. But I did take away from that advice this idea: Any time I have the opportunity to set money aside from a decision, I should. It won't always be the case, though.

My job pays me what I need. I'm comfortable. When I think about where I want my career to go, I don't have to consider money as a factor at this moment in time. I'm extremely fortunate in that sense.

Having made up my mind not to think more about applying for the open position, someone in my office asked me if I might be interested in it. He said he knew my skills made me a great candidate. He reminded me that it would be a big step up in hierarchy. 

Flattery can be quite persuasive. Nothing makes me reconsider a decision more than hearing from other people how great they think I'd be if I made the opposite decision. I once was in a department store trying on a jacket that I didn't like that much, when another shopper spotted me and said, "Wow! That fits you like a glove!" Actually, I think I own two jackets purchased under those same conditions.

Opportunity Costs
Economists love to talk about "opportunity cost," which means when you choose to do one thing, you necessarily can't be doing some other thing or things at the same time. In other words, you are giving up some opportunities in order to pursue one specific opportunity.

And it's a little more complicated than that, having to do with the estimated value of the thing(s) you're sacrificing in order to have the thing of your choosing, but let's not go too far down that road.

Sometimes I think the idea of opportunity costs leads people into false dichotomies. Here's an example: If you go to college and choose to major in English literature, you cannot also choose to study biology. You have to pick one or the other. Or do you? Can't you double-major in this case and get two degrees? Maybe you can choose a university that supports double-majors across both humanities and the sciences.

A lot of times, job positions are what you make of them. You can mold them to your strengths, desires, or ideas. Could a managing editor also spend a lot of time writing? It's possible. It's very possible.

The Decision
For this particular decision, I'm 90 to 95 percent certain I'd rather be a writer and continue along my chosen path. I think there are some opportunities as a writer that I would not be able to replicate, even if I were to manipulate the nature of the managing editor job. There's still a chance I might have a few more informal conversations about the job with the people who are most closely connected to the position. I wouldn't want to write off an opportunity without fully giving it a chance.