In four short years, I’ve cultivated a varied collection of digital garbage. The first online publication I started writing for was premised by the pop culture nerd sphere. If you happened upon the website during my tenure you’d see eight trailer breakdowns, four Game of Thrones theories, two articles on how to beat the hardest level in whatever and then one lonely article unpicking Pascal’s Wager — that one was mine, a bloviating, schizophrenic harangue penned by a squishy brained trash rocket. Overtime It became clear that the finished work would never be a fulfilling reflection of the effort I put in.
It wasn’t just that Pascal’s Wager had nothing to do with nerd culture (though I would always pepper in thinly veiled attempts to suggest the contrary), it was also that I didn’t understand that liking a thing, doesn’t mean you’re owed an aptitude for the thing. In most cases, job satisfaction is finding a way to reconcile doing a thing you love, in a manner in which you don’t, or are unable to.
Even though I haven’t progressed on a technical level, I grow more and more aware of the mirage, a consideration I share with a former senior editor at Newsweek, Mo Mozuch who co-signed with the following: “ ‘Do what you love,’ they say, ‘and you will never work a day in your life.’ … that’s bullsh–t. And it’s responsible (in part) for why I quit my dream job.”
“Passion is a finite resource”
Recently Ladders had the pleasure of speaking with Mozuch just after he published a bittersweet farewell to a decade long career as an internet journalist. Ultimately, the piece, initially featured on Newsweek and later taken down, was a meditation on falling out of love with a gig he’s always wanted.
“When you stop enjoying the thing you love to do, you’ll know. You start to be unable to divorce yourself from work and only see your interests as a well for content and angles for stories. On one hand, this kind of obsessiveness can be an asset, but because media is so competitive you’re constantly plagued by impostor syndrome. ‘I don’t love this thing as much as X does, so what right do I have to say Y about it?’ Then it’s a question of finding new interests or finding a new job. I chose the latter,” Mozuch explained to Ladders.
The word ‘job’ is important here. The pandemic career malaise currently seizing Gen Zers and Millennials is staffed by a conflation of “jobs” and “callings.” Not everyone is supposed to get paid to do the thing they’re passionate about, and even those that do are not promised ever-lasting gratification. The boundary locating bad jobs and bad jobs worth keeping is one illustrated by integrity, not contentment. You have rights, your interests, sadly, do not.
There’s nothing more dispiriting than having to survey your dreams with a practical lens-but there’s no way around it. Sometimes filmmaking, or Djing or rock banding or whatever dumb thing some liar told you not give up on, doesn’t love you back, and unfortunately, you can’t pay your rent with pitty.
“Broke is temporary but unhappy is a state of mind. I don’t advocate for people leaving a job because it’s difficult or uninteresting, rather, it’s a matter of self-worth and respect. If your employer is treating you well, that’s important.” Mozuch continued, “As far as I can tell there will be no such thing as retirement for me or my generation. We’re all waiting to see if the planet or our society collapses first. I’m 35 years old which means, at best, I have an entire second lifetime ahead of me where I’ll be working five days a week, 50 weeks a year. I can’t fathom what things might be like for me at the end of that. I hope I’ll still be writing.”
Mozuch was a writer long before it paid his bills — aberrations usually don’t last too long in the industry. Every wannabe pamphleteer likes to fashion their origin stories after Orwell’s — a writer who once said being an essayist wasn’t a choice but a duty and to neglect this duty was to outrage his true nature. In fact, he would have preferred to write puerile fairy stories if the times in which he lived could afford to lose a mind so principled at facing “unpleasant facts.” By and by the writers that covet this ideation come to find that there really isn’t a place for it anymore.
I talked to Mozuch about how bandwidth and a keyboard has encouraged a saturation of provocateurs, panderers, and politicos. It seems the only way to earn people’s interest via print is to echo their opinions, vehemently reject them or champion an elaborately outlandish one of your own. I asked, “Do you suspect that essayists will ever come back to fashion or even adapt to the new age with any sort of utility?”
“I think the attention span of most readers has truncated thanks to our digital distractions, but the spirit of essayists is alive in well especially on social media. I’ve read some amazing Twitter threads that were as engaging and informative as any essay in a legacy publication. There is certainly room for essayists in the landscape, though the opportunities are limited for people who haven’t built an audience on their own. Anyone hoping to have someone hand them a platform for their ideas is in for a long road. It’s possible to write your way onto some amazing publication, but I think the modern version of a great essayist is building their own following first and then taking it somewhere,” Mozuch rejoined.
Fair assessment. The only problem is, while you’re securing that following, your preserving thoughts and perspectives that you likely won’t maintain in the ensuing years. The internet is unforgiving in this way, but its bannermen are even worse. More than that though is the liability of a semi-permanent record of all the instances that you were bad at your job. I’m perpetually choked, ‘like tea leaves in a sink” by the fear of dying and leaving behind a hereditament of subpar junk for my grandchildren to laugh at me about. Sometimes for appraisals that haven’t stood the test of time, but most often by reason of an aggressive lack of quality. Mozuch is all too familiar with this panic, adding: “I make my peace with it by occasionally Googling myself and seeing what comes to the surface. More often than not it’s a more recent piece I’m proud of/comfortable with. Anyone who goes digging deep looking for my worst work will find it, but if that’s their agenda to start with there’s not much I can do.”
“I think the key thing is to keep reviewing your catalog to make sure you haven’t said anything that might now be construed as offensive or out-of-touch, as the rules about what’s acceptable keep changing and, unless the piece itself is amazing,” Mozuch adds. “It’s not worth the risk to catch heat over something you wrote for clicks years and years ago. Policing my Twitter account is more important than my clips, to be honest.”
One of the benefits of leaving such a high-pressure job was the clarity it afforded. After a while, Mozuch sort of forgot why he was getting up to go to work every morning. With a wife and new child in the mix, he was all of a sudden forced to address the question head on-parsing what it was he did and didn’t need from a place of employment. Only two weeks into the world of book publishing, he’s confident he made the right choice.
“Top-to-bottom, there is better communication and respect for employees. There are an abundant amount of perks and programs and everyone feels valued. It’s not a competitive environment, it’s almost stiflingly collaborative which is a huge change from my previous job. Everyone wins or loses together because there is genuine communication and involvement on projects among multiple teams every step of the way,” he continued, “One man’s writer is another man’s keyboard wannabe pamphleteer, so I think being honest with yourself and the work you do is important.
“Having an abundance of competitors who aren’t talented is far less a bother than the handful of competitors who were demonstrably better than me at everything. I didn’t worry much about the people behind me. Plagiarists and click-baiters don’t get very far and all their wins are temporary. ”
That last bit felt personal.