A Note on Careers, Jobs, Vocations and Hobbies

A co-worker asked me the following question when I told him that I was giving up on my current attempt at employment:

btw which kinds of jobs have you enjoyed in the past?

I found myself quite unable to formulate a non-glib response. That’s kind of funny of course, but it’s a very deep question and one I should probably ask myself. So here I am.


When Ari was small, then medium sized, they used to get anxious about how they would choose which things not to do with their life as an adult. Could there really be a career based at the very least in lower earth orbit for a physicist with mad comedy skillz who is also a world(s) renowned comic book and installation artist? With a sideline in anarchist pedagogical analysis and commentary, leaning hard into science fiction as a work bench?

I had a similar awakening to the realities of adulthood in my early teens, though for me it was focused on the banality and relentlessness of existence once you’re responsible for yourself. Of course I didn’t have the vocabulary to say it this way, but I was horrified that what I’d been sold as agency was such a huge lie. That we not only live and die within these absurd, mundane, soul-crushingly amoral daily routines, debts and responsibilities; but we also grow so invested that we judge people harshly for their transgressions.

For example, it’s nice that ADHD is now recognized as not being a choice in some places, but it is most useful to have as a diagnosis because you can use it to immediately stop adults from abusing children. Just like that, it goes from ok to punish a kid for behaviour, to not ok. We don’t actually value individuality here in the global north, we simply crave to act without accountability while we hold others to account, and assume that both are human nature.

I told my buddy that it was a hard question - it is, but I have a degree in overthinking things from every conceivable angle (no shit), and to me it just looks like an essay question.

At different times in my life, I have enjoyed different things. It’s true to say that I’ve had some fun hours and minutes during those parts that belonged to someone else under the terms of my employment. I’ve also enjoyed playing supportive roles in some cases (pit orchestra, coach at a webskills bootcamp). I even had fun working for HM Prison Service in the UK, though I could never do that again. The thing is, the Big Lie (not that one, the one above, about agency) always requires some kind of buy-in, so you signal your commitment. Corporations give you t-shirts and require their employees to call themselves dumbass things like “Googler” or “Cisconian” and demand subsumption of your identity into the corporate person. Startups give you t-shirts and frame your particular set of narcissistic indulgences as heroic and beyond morality rather than transactionally engaged with morality as with their older brothers.

I’ve worked for corps and startups, in and out of tech. I’ve worked in retail, and food service, as a driver of a pickup service for factory workers, as a worker in an underwear factory. I’ve worked in a pit orchestra, I bought musical instruments from burglars in Notting Hill (legally, though never ethically). I’ve argued against the release of prisoners serving sentences for violence, and I’ve taught prison guards how to enter their vacation into a wyse terminal. Since moving into tech jobs I’ve done a bunch of things in a dozen or more languages, some scaling dynamically, others not, some in a “cloud”, others not, some in the UK, some in the US, others in Canada, or in Germany.

Sometimes I’ve had small children, other times teenagers. Yet other times semi-dependent adult children. Once or twice I was young and orthogonally ambitious, which threw a very different light on what I did with my days. Other times I was older and dependent on medication to manage chronic pain, and found myself with much less patience to spend on trade-offs. On at least two occasions (lasting considerable periods) success and continued functionality were completely contingent on medication. That was actually quite pleasant, an observation which requires some examination.

I’ve played a lot of shows in my life, and almost never been paid for it. Those were probably some of my very best times.

Here’s a start then. I like to be right. I don’t like to be involved in hierarchies other than in high-functioning real-time architectures such as orchestras and bands. I get bored easily. Boredom crushes me. I like to tinker. I like to fiddle and tweak, and I like being herded toward being a leader by others - not by being upped by some manager to their manager, but by being activated and then having (or recognizing) the best ideas, moving things forward occasionally by gestalt but mostly through obvious consensus. But it won’t work twice, so don’t hire me to do something because I did it well one time.

I’m going to leave it there for now. This is a work in progress, and my initial intent was to edit this in place until I was done. Maybe I’ll just add more pages as I flesh out some of what comes up when I consider which kinds of jobs I’ve enjoyed in the past.