Careers, compromise and capitalism

just a girl in a capitalist world

Time for the latest installment in the ‘loving your work’ series! (Previously: Can we all realistically expect to love our jobs? and The job-that-you-wake-up-excited-for propaganda.)

The TLDR version: It’s hard to not feel a bit hypocritical whenever I write about this, since I’ve always known basically what I wanted to do, followed it where it led and had it work out. BUT! I am married to a textbook Scanner who still doesn’t know what he wants to do for the rest of his life. At last, thankfully, I think we’ve weaned him off the ‘find your passion’ Kool-Aid (it’s so ridiculously pervasive). At some point I think you need to choose: spend a lifetime chasing that elusive and possibly nonexistent thing, or stick with something and be able to fund the other things in life you enjoy or aspire to, such as having a family, playing sports, travel.

We all know money matters

It may not always buy happiness, but a lack of it is a surefire path to unhappiness. Money, (or lack thereof) more than job dissatisfaction, sex, housework or any other issue you can name,  has always been the toughest issue for us. It’s no coincidence the two times that nearly broke us were during times of unemployment.

As this excellent Aeon piece on happiness/meaningfulness (worth a read in its entirety) observes, “Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need.”  Security of employment/resources falls in the second most important tier of Maslow’s hierarchy; ‘self-actualisation’ is just the cherry at the very top. 

The intersection of money + career has reared its head for me again recently, with my change of direction and T finding, then losing what seemed to be a 90% dream job, followed by a good job that turned toxic.

T has always worked to live, rather than lived to work.  Certain material things and being able to spend somewhat freely are important. Dog, kids, motorbike, project car – these things all cost money. And here, they boil down to needing to buy a house (not to mention all the other things that make renting here a genuine nightmare). Oh, and that in turn ties back into needing even more money. We cannot afford to wait around for years for my husband to figure out a dream job (which I doubt exists for him), and he knows it.

In short, we have dreams, and none of those dreams come for free.

Find a job that lights your fire? Fantastic, but if not, well, you’re not getting any younger and at some point you need to stick with something. The recession and layoffs aside, you can’t afford to bounce around from low level job to low level job forever, never increasing your income, or your earning potential.

What if you don’t have a passion?

When you know how you like to spend your money, but not what you want to do to earn that money, to me it only makes sense to search out a job that fits your lifestyle.

I rather like the plan laid out by Marty Nemko in Kiplinger:

My advice? Unless you’re a driven superstar, pick a non-glam career that you’d be good at… Pick the one offering as many of these characteristics as possible:

  • Moderately challenging
  • Meaningful work
  • A kind, competent boss
  • Pleasant co-workers
  • Learning opportunities
  • Reasonable pay
  • Reasonable work hours
  • A short commute

At one point in his job hunt last year, I came across an advice letter penned by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, which seemed like it could have been written just for him. Here’s Mike’s response to a guy seeking excitement and flexibility but with steady pay; a hands-on type of person who hates offices and gets bored easily but wants to have a family at some point. No big ask, huh?

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Harsh? Yes. But there’s truth in it. Job satisfaction is complex and happiness is not going to come from trying to figure out some inchoate passion. Every single job where he’s enjoyed the actual work has had major, potentially unsustainable inherent downsides. Lack of money/potential advancement. Physical exhaustion/danger. Less than ideal hours/schedule. And that’s before even getting to peripheral things like bad managers/colleagues.

As Penelope Trunk once wrote of his personality type, or very close to it: “The key to being a successful ENTP is followthrough. Because lack of followthrough is such a huge risk factor for an ENTP, it’s almost more important to followthrough on anything than to followthrough on the right thing.”

Finding happiness at work

Work is about so much more than your actual duties. There’s the environmental factors – commute, your physical surroundings, dress code, etc. The people factors – are you treated like an adult, does your boss micromanage, do you get along with colleagues? All these  intangible elements that can make or break working conditions, and that’s before we even get to whether the job offers variety, autonomy, challenge.

What we’ve come to realise is that in a way, this is a bit of a crapshoot. As my career hero Ask A Manager lays out:

I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. Because as much as you think you might love doing that work for that company, it might turn out that the boss is a nightmare, or your coworkers are horrible, or the company makes you sign out for bathroom breaks and bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or you’re abused daily by clients, or your workload is so unreasonably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.

Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at a company that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind, or at least unobjectionable — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know.

It doesn’t have to be a choice between extremes – a $150k job you hate and a $40k job you love – there’s usually options in between. It’s hard to place any hard and fast rules on this kind of thing, but for example, I’d personally trade a ‘dreamy’ $50k job up to an ‘okay’ $80k job any day. (Adjust the numbers accordingly for your area’s cost of living…)

‘Do what you love’ is a nice philosophy and it works for some of us, but I absolutely detest it as blanket advice. At the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

We rarely hear the advice of the person who did what they loved and stayed poor or was horribly injured for it. Professional gamblers, stuntmen, washed up cartoonists like myself: we don’t give speeches at corporate events. We aren’t paid to go to the World Domination Summit and make people feel bad. We don’t land book deals or speak on Good Morning America.

lthough my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy – See more at: the risk of aiming too low, perhaps – just don’t do something you hate.

Or how about letting your passion follow you? There is so much goodness to unpack in this Billfold piece on discovering job satisfaction, written by someone who was toying with taking up fulltime work in a field she volunteered in but came to realise that mission and purpose are not everything:

While I had always believed generally in the cause I was working for, it didn’t speak to a deep part of my identity. The day to day tasks, however, did excite me. I liked the variety, the creativity, the people I worked with, and the latitude I had in my role. I recognized that I had a lot more control and flexibility around my responsibilities than I had previously thought. I also loved my work environment, which included wonderful colleagues, a predictable schedule, and natural light. Ultimately, I realized that these elements were far more influential to my overall satisfaction and emotional health than working for a cause I’d believed in since I was a kid, but whose day-to-day responsibilities were a poor fit for my personality.

Life’s too short to starve for passion’s sake. It can be fun when you’re young but it gets old fast. Trading glamour/ego for more money/a normal workload is something I do not regret one iota. It’s also nice being on the side of a growing niche, rather than a struggling one – feeling positive and hopeful about lifetime career prospects rather than depressed.

At some point in my 20s, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in soulmates. I believe there are a lot of people out there we could be happy with.  If we waited for total perfection, nobody would ever get married. And likewise I suspect there are a lot of jobs out there that many of us could be perfectly happy with. I was pretty excited about all the possibilities when I started job hunting a year ago, and I hope I get to explore all those paths over the coming years (unless of course I lose interest in some of them, which is always a possibility).

Because don’t get me wrong: I need a lot of variety.  Honestly, even if traditional publishing wasn’t in the state it is in now, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck around forever. I was ready for a change.

Having grown up in this era, I started out with rose-tinted visions of some unicorn of a dream job. Now I’m older and wiser and perhaps a tad more cynical and mercenary.

“The work world has become a battleground for the struggle between the boring and the stimulating. The emphasis on intensity has seeped into our value system. We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful — but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events.” –  Po Bronson

Did you always know what you wanted to be/do?

Although my friends sometimes accuse me of being unromantic, I don’t believe in the concept of soulmates.  I just don’t think that there is one person out there with whom we are destined to spend our lives.  Rather, I feel that there are a number of people out there who could make us happy. – See more at:

It’s not about what you DESERVE

It's not about what you DESERVE

The other day, I had to talk myself out of booking flights to Niue for next month. I tell ya, at less than $100 each one way, it was a tough call. After all, travel is my weakness.

Niue is one of the destinations on my bucket list, but ultimately it just isn’t the right time. Cheap flights are great, but accommodation is pricey (remote island, whoo! Niue tourism is pretty young still from what I can tell). And I’d like to go in whale watching season, which starts in July.

We already have a Japan trip later this year, T isn’t really in a position to take any time off, June will be busy at my job, and hello, recovering from a financial trainwreck. Niue is fairly close, I often see good package deals and I’m sure there will be more in the future.

But man, sometimes it’s hard to make the smart choice.

Don’t I deserve a break after a nightmare year?

If only life worked that way.

Doesn’t T deserve an awesome, secure, full time job?

Don’t I deserve a decent home to live in after enduring years of terrible rentals?

Hell fucking yes. But this ain’t the movies and people don’t always get what they deserve.  (It’s particularly galling when people around us have houses bought for them when/because they only have four grand banked or an unplanned kid on the way. That’s never going to happen for us.)

It goes both ways, too.

Did I really deserve to get paid more per hour to run around and stick up flyers at my first office job, compared to when I typed documents and made up invoices back at the office?

Did I really deserve double pay on weekend shifts at my first editorial job? (God bless unions.)

Did I really deserve not 1, not 2, but 3 dream jobs in a row?

But back to my original point. Much as I’d like to indulge in a tropical getaway right about now, working towards getting into a stable home where we can have a family and pets is way more important. EYES ON THE PRIZE.

When you get right down to it, we all deserve better – a better car, a better house, a better holiday – whatever does it for you. You deserve better. We all do.

That said, we also need to make savvy decisions about what and when we’re going to spend. The timing’s got to be right – otherwise we end up dissolving money in the near term and turning our backs on the opportunities we can take up for the long term.


Wise words, right there. It’s hard to say no, but Future Me will be grateful for it.

What’s your ‘big prize’ right now?

Let’s be friends:

Is it time to start planning for kids?

Is it time to start planning for kids?

It’s really hit me that one of my best friends will most likely be off overseas post PhD – quite probably for good. ALL THE SADS.

I’ll miss him dearly, and he would be such a rad uncle, it’s painful to think he’ll miss out on that.

Aside from a few months back there when I was still on a post-travel high, for most of my 20s I’ve been sure I wanted kids. That’s really ramped up in the past few months. I can only assume it’s largely driven by the ever growing number of people around me getting pregnant and having babies – we’re entering that phase in life, I suppose.

I ain’t got baby fever yet … but to be quite honest, if our circumstances were different, I think I’d be just about ready to try. (Cannot believe I just admitted that.) It is so weird – like a switch flipped almost overnight.

But it’ll have to wait till we get many practicalities ironed out, which is still a while away, since I like being free of money stress a shitload more than I like, well,  just about anything else in life. (Yes, I know, there will never be a good time to have kids, but right now is definitely down the bottom of the charts. Regular readers know.)

I wholly believe reproducing is a privilege, not a right. That said, I was pretty horrified to realise that New Zealand does pretty poorly on the paid parental leave front – some other countries put us to shame.

Here, to the best of my research, are the parental allowances for NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared. It’s all super confusing, so any corrections/clarifications gratefully accepted. (And yes, of course there are employers here and around the world that offer additional benefits privately – this is only the minimum allowances as per legislation.)

Parental leave - NZ, Australia, UK and Canada compared

** I don’t know any women here who haven’t taken at least a full year off

Sources: NZ / Australia / UK / Canada

The older I get the more I realise NZ doesn’t actually do very well on this whole welfare state thing. But I’ve known that ever since 2009, when T’s employer went out of business. I was a student making maybe $15-20k a year between student allowance and work, absolutely nothing in a city like Auckland, yet he couldn’t get unemployment. There was no way I could support a partner too on that kind of money, but basically if one person is working at all, the other is SOL. (Thankfully he got a sympathetic case manager and something was worked out.)

Anyway, circling back to my original point… The prospect of kids is still terrifying in oh so many ways.  But I’m starting to feel ready to tackle it. If nothing else, this was oddly reassuring.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.


The hysteria around these choices is off the charts. People will say, “Oh lots of parents regret having kids, they just don’t tell you about it.” Or “Working women are miserable” or “Kids with working mothers are anxious and unhappy” or “Kids will destroy your career” or “If you can’t give your children every ounce of your energy you shouldn’t have kids at all” or “You can’t be a real artist and have kids” and all kinds of other completely black-and-white, fearful, conflicted nonsense. I’m not inside other people’s heads, but the close friends I have who are in good marriages (like yours) and have kids AND engaging careers are some of the happiest people I know.

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Mad Max is the best action movie EVER. (I haven’t seen the originals and now I definitely don’t want to.) #thatisall

This week’s links

The state of patriotism in NZ. So true.

Privilege, illustrated

A super insightful into the different types of work stress

How to transition into a new job like a boss

Would you choose your education/career path all over again?

How to stop worrying and embrace the future

It’s so dang hard to just be happy/enjoy the moment

Happy weekends!

Introducing: The Blue Spring/Te Waihou (aka I live in paradise)

I had no idea this place even existed until recently. Know how I found out about it? Instagram! All in the name of work, of course.

Near the Waikato town of Putaruru, the Blue Spring is so ridiculously pure it supplies the majority of New Zealand’s bottled water. Photos don’t do the blue, clear water justice.

This was a quick stop for us on the way to Taupo so we parked at the Leslie Rd carpark to make it a 10 minute walk to the stream. (There’s another track from Whites Rd to the downstream part, which apparently takes 90 minutes to walk.)

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru

Blue Spring Te Waihou near Putaruru



What I learned from taking part in a study about Facebook

What I learned from taking part in a study about Facebook


I don’t like talking about myself very much IRL, but in the name of research? Sure.

The other day I took part in a study about Facebook usage by young women (for a Master’s project) – here’s what I came away thinking.

I don’t post very often

At least half of the posts on my page are by other people (mostly one of my best friends who is a power user, posting links multiple times a day). There’s a surprising proportion of posts and pictures from outings with people from work. I’m definitely closer to my workmates here than places I’ve worked before, plus there’ve been a few different work trips away.

Personally, I’ve only posted a few photos/photo albums, interesting links, asked a couple of questions and fed through a couple of Goodreads reviews. The past year in particular has been pretty quiet. I didn’t have much to share and just generally stepped back from socialising IRL and Facebook browsing. Avoiding other people across channels was a coping mechanism – their happy and successful lives only made me feel worse about mine.

And yet … it’s difficult to imagine life without Facebook

One question posed to me was: how do you think we would communicate today if Facebook wasn’t around? I couldn’t come up with a good answer – I really struggled to imagine.

It’s so pervasive – I take private messages, photos, events and more for granted. It’s the easiest way to share news enmasse, make announcements, communicate with people overseas (so glad my friends who once deleted their accounts are back on, especially now they live abroad). It’s how we organised our recent Tongariro Crossing trip. Cutting Facebook out and relying on phone and email (because none of my closest IRL/local friends use Twitter) would be nothing short of crippling.

What about life before Facebook?

Facebook for me basically coincided with university – that’s when I graduated from Bebo to Facebook. Life pre-uni isn’t really reflected at all.

Two of my very first friends ever (as in from the Kuala Lumpur days) found and added me, sure. But so many of my friends from my school years, I’m not connected to. Friends from my first primary school and friends from my intermediate school. My one-time best friend and technically first boyfriend. The random guy I once befriended at my call centre job who I think would have been a really awesome mate (that said, he had a crush on me so not sure we could have actually been friends). Various penpals and email pals from the early 2000s, even. All people I think about from time to time.

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Guys,  in the past couple of weeks I did two things I’ve never done before.

I wrote to a councillor regarding the city transport plan, and I sent in feedback about the transport plan to Auckland Transport.

It was scary. But it feels good.

It’s interesting how some of my peers are getting noticeably more political – the city’s growing and changing and for the first time I think a lot of us feel that politics actually affects us and our lives.

This week’s links

I cried a couple of times this week: once while watching I Am Big Bird (recommended) and while reading this Esquire piece by a husband recounting the last few months of his wife’s life before she died from cancer

I was so fascinated by this advice column on settling in relationships (mostly, the crazy insightful comments, moreso than the actual column)

Finally, a mainstream piece about the reality of renting in Auckland. EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. OF. THIS.

This so perfectly sums up all my feelings about the new Avengers film

Here are 5 essential tips for freelancers – Tonya knows what she’s talking about

Lord knows I need help with this – keeping romance alive when your life is in chaos

And the top reason we’re unsubscribing from your blog (duh)

Happy weekends! 

How NOT to do the Tongariro Crossing

1. Have your husband pull his hamstring at rugby the week before. Nothing but pain can come from that.

2. Get lost driving to the shuttle pick up point and just about miss our ride. Bloody Aucklanders.

3. Fail to plan out a good lunch stop beforehand. Result: a teeth-chattering summit stop in freezing temperatures.

4. Forget that you have a terrible head for heights and that the ‘alpine’ part of the crossing does actually involve a mountain ascent. (Seriously, I always do this!)

Despite the mishaps, this was an epic experience from start to finish.

Hiking the Tongariro Crossing, April 2015

Tongariro Alpine crossing - NZ Muse

It all starts with a few kilometres of easy jaunts through fairly flat terrain in the Mangatepopo Valley. The sun is a scorcher, although as we wander in and out of sheltered valleys, the wind amps up to a pretty ferocious bite at times.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe


Why hello there, Mt Doom! (Mt Ngauruhoe, actually.) Those colours are REAL.


Tongariro Crossing - flat valley looks like Mars


Only a panorama could do this part justice. It was like an alien moonscape, down in a wide, barren flat.


Tongariro Alpine crossing - Mt Ngauruhoe

Clouds rolling in past the mountain peak. (No, we didn’t climb this one. It adds 3 hours to the trek and most definitely was beyond the ability of at least some of our group.)

Scrambling up the slippery earth and scoria slope toward the Red Crater summit did get slightly hairy; this is about the point when I remembered HEY I get dizzy at heights, and wind + fog only exacerbate that by infinity! It’s safe to say I didn’t really enjoy myself along this stretch.

This is also when it started to get seriously, seriously cold. We spotted a few slivers of ice along the ground up here.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The Red Crater reveals itself at the summit. The colours, again, are out of this world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Red Crater at summit

The sheer scale of it blew my mind. The enormity is humbling.

Then it was time to descend. Surprise #1: the big volcanic rock ridges were warm to the touch! Surprise #2: there was a whiff of that (un)lovely geothermal smell in the air. Surprise #3: those lakes!

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

The three Emerald Lakes are all slightly different colours, as you can see here: a deeper green, light green and a blue.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes


Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

Tongariro Alpine crossing - Emerald Lakes

You can see the wind rippling across the surface of the lakes.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

Fog was a near constant companion through the second half of the hike.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock


T found it boring, but I was in my happy place. I love these muted reds, yellows, purples – volcanic, desert type landscapes are my absolute favourite in the world.

Tongariro Alpine crossing - last stretches, volcanic landscapes and tussock

The very last stretch (not pictured) turns into what looks exactly like West Auckland bush.  Every single one of us felt this part was neverending – it just seemed to go on and on forever! It felt like someone should be at the end to greet us with medals once we emerged into the carpark (or at least hand out Milo and cookies).

We lucked out with great visibility and no rain. I can absolutely see why this hike gained its reputation as the best one-day hike in NZ.

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Currently on my mind:

Why is dental care not subsidised (beyond age 18 that is) while pregnancy costs are? Dental care is something everyone needs. Having children is not. (No, I don’t have kids, and yes, I would like to one day.)

The internet can be a pretty damn ugly place sometimes. More than one person I follow has quit Twitter in recent times. Another made the mistake of hashtagging a tweet with GamerGate, and you can imagine what followed (I made the exact same mistake a few weeks earlier). I’m always aware when I publish something painfully honest that there’s likely going to be the odd thoughtless comment, but it still hurts when they come.

Nothing is permanent, really, is it? From cookware to clothing, everything wears out eventually.

This week’s links

That deep, deep craving for certainty

On not raising bilingual kids (I wasn’t and mine won’t be either)

Everyone needs hacks to keep their marriage sane

Doing money as a compulsive worrier

How our childhood perspectives on money continue to shape us

Getting the inside scoop on a new company

For those of us not in favour of mailing lists

You don’t have to be excited to stay committed

Achievement unlocked: Surviving a year of unemployment, setbacks and an unplanned move

Achievement unlocked: Surviving a year of unemployment, financial setbacks and an unplanned move

At the end of 2015 we’ll celebrate 10 years. But today it’s two years of being married. Year 2 has been fucking hard, thanks to all the curveballs life bowled at us. (If I hadn’t made those vows, I’m really not sure I could have stuck it out.)

Unemployment is the root of all evil. Financial stress is the worst. Everything builds on from there.

Is it sad that money (or lack of) could take such a toll on our relationship? Sure, but it’s not love that makes the world go round – it’s money.

Our opposite personalities normally complement each other, but during this time they put us at odds.

Emma Lincoln has it right. Fear is the problem. I was constantly stressed, and my body started coming to pieces in response. I was afraid, on a daily basis, for so long.

I’m still scared. Terrified that the curveballs are only going to come harder and faster in the future.

It would be cruel to have to endure another year like it. But anything can happen. More than one person has reminded me recently that ultimately much of your life is beyond your control, and grand plans are often going to be derailed. The rug could be pulled out from under us at any time, and I’m trying to be okay with that. (It so nearly was just the other week. The joys of temp life.)

I want to say that I feel hopeful about the future, but I’m reluctant to tempt fate (that is just asking for trouble) and thus, even though I’m feeling pretty happy on a day to day basis, that’s probably not going to be reflected in my writing. For now at least, as long as money’s coming in and I have a somewhat dry and warm house to live in, that can be enough.

On the plus side, I’ve finally got around to getting our wedding photos printed. Waiting on them to arrive. Hurrah!