Yesterday, while driving back to my family's house after yet another interview (!), I listened to the end of NPR's interview with Jason Reitman, who directed Juno and, more recently, Up in the Air (which he also wrote, in collaboration with Sheldon Turner). I didn't catch much of the interview, but while discussing his latest project Jason mentioned something that had intrigued him -- and which, in turn, really struck me.
Up in the Air features a character who makes his living by firing others. While filming in St. Louis and Detroit, Reitman took the opportunity to put out an open casting call for people who had recently lost their jobs. He interviewed each of the hundred people who responded for ten minutes, and simulated their lay-offs on-camera, asking each of them to respond as they had on the day they were fired. The process was eye-opening, as you can imagine.
And what intrigued me about the interviews Reitman described was this detail: though he asked each of his interviewees what the hardest part of unemployment was, none of them answered the way he expected. He had thought people would say the obvious -- that finding money was tough -- but not a single interviewee mentioned that. Overwhelmingly, the unemployed people to whom he spoke responded that what they struggled with, each day, was finding a sense of purpose. "I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing," they told him.
Okay, so that's not the spot of cheer you were looking for to start your day. But I was really struck by the reality of that comment, and I can't help but draw parallels to my own situation as I look for a way into the publishing industry, and to the situation of those already in the industry as it changes and as it suffers from the economy.
Let's be honest -- none of us are in this for the money. The industry has taken a hit of late, but it's never offered the sort of career that makes many people rich. And that fact, in some ways, really defines the people who enter the industry, whether they do so as writers, editors, publishers, designers, publicists, marketers, or salespeople. The people who come to the industry, knowing it offers long hours and low pay, come to it because they have what everyone is looking for. They have an overwhelming sense of purpose.
When publishing struggles -- when you're worried about your career, or struggling to keep up with its changes, or trying to get your footing and find your way into that elusive first job -- it's more important than ever to take some time to remember that, and to hold on to it. So tell me, writer friends and editor friends and random followers whose presence here may or may not make sense: what makes the industry meaningful to you? What have your struggles been, and what do you do when you need to be reminded of why you keep on going? What triumphs have given you a sense of purpose?