It happens slowly. One by one, your friends and peers all begin to get “real” jobs, with law firms, banks and the like. The real jobs come with real salaries, and these real salaries, and what they’re used for, just remind you of how little yours is and how little it buys. That’s when you start to question yourself even more and start to wonder whether you made the right decision, whether it’s all worth it.
I’m a 26-year-old freelance writer, mostly covering sports. I’m not an employee of any company, though I do have a few steady paychecks coming in. Journalism is not a particularly profitable industry, especially for those of us just starting out. My paycheck doesn’t amount to a lot, even though I make enough to pay the rent of my Upper West Side sort-of-studio apartment without having to ever worry about my latest credit card bill.
That said, when my friends go out, I’m always the one worried about how much it will cost. When a bachelor party comes around, I’m always the one wandering the casino floor with nothing to do because I don’t have cash to throw around.
There are enormous expectations for men in the Modern Orthodox community and they’re thrown at you as soon as you take off your college graduation cap and gown. The part of life where you get to “find yourself” is not included in this culture; it’s assumed that you’ll be making six figures before you hit 30—and if you don’t, you’re looked down upon. That look — of discontent — is one that people like me get met with all the time. And I get it. Between, kosher food, Shabbat and holidays, synagogue fees, schools and summer camps, and schools again, and then school some more, the price of a Jewish lifestyle is costly. It’s stressful and tough and can really claw at your mind—just ask my therapist, who I’m pretty sure has this conversation with me about once a month. When people ask me how I plan on paying for my future kid’s Yeshiva tuition, I have to say that, right now, I’m not sure.
So why have I pursued a particularly difficult and non-lucrative field? Despite all my fears, I can honestly say I have no regrets. I love what I do and for me, that’s the key.
It seems, to me, to be a simple equation: the majority of our time on this planet is spent at work. It’s a sad fact, one that doesn’t really hit you until you’re an adult. The people you see the most and speak to most often, other than those you live with, are your work colleagues. The things you spend the most time thinking about, and devoting effort to, are work related. The accomplishments that come to define us as human beings are, frequently, those achieved in the work place.
My profession is who I am and much of what I gain satisfaction from. The traits that make me a good reporter — listening, being informed, interested and creative — are the ones that I’m most proud of. My job comes with an incredible amount of opportunity and some cool elements too. I get press credentials for games and get to stand courtside as the Knicks warm up. I’ve been in the Knicks’ locker room dozens of times. I’ve talked to a countless amount of NBA players, and even have some of their numbers in my phone. A few of them, I think, even know me by name. Five years ago I would have killed someone, literally, to get these opportunities. Today I get paid for them.
These perks are not even what I enjoy most about my job. Talking to all sorts of different people, hearing their stories, telling their stories, the digging for information, the challenge of writing about someone who doesn’t want to be written about, the joy that a subject shows after reading a story you just wrote on them, the ability to turn a one-sentence story idea into an 8,000 word narrative — that’s the good stuff and what I spend the most time thinking about.
Yes, work is still work, and every job no matter what profession, has its hardships and struggles. But rare is the day where I wake up dreading what lies ahead. I’m not sure there are many people my age that can say that about their jobs.
The card I decided to bet on is happiness. Some people choose money; others choose stability. Others just go with whatever immediate opportunity opens up. All of these have value. They all also have downside. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t wish more people chose to go with happiness, especially men in the Jewish community cocoon. I have no idea what my future holds, or if I’ll still be doing this in five years. Obviously as you get older finances start to matter more. If you start a family you can no longer just think about yourself. But I don’t think it’s irresponsible of me to say I’ll worry about all that stuff then. We’re all dust in the wind is a bit of a cliché, but any lyric that finds itself in both a rock song and a Yom Kippur machzor has to have some truth to it, right? Life is fleeting, so what’s the rush to give up on dreams. I wake up every morning eager to get to work and I go to sleep every night (or, sometimes, morning) proud of the work I did. I can’t imagine having it any other way. Yeah, maybe I don’t end up writing for Sports Illustrated or ESPN, and maybe, eventually, a choice between finances and my career has to be made.
Or, maybe I do. The thing is, we don’t know. But the only way to find out is to give it a shot.
Yaron Weitzman writes about the NBA for SB Nation and SLAM Magazine and is the Editor-in-Chief of SLAM's football website, TDdaily.com. He has also written for SB Nation Longform, as well as Tablet Magazine and the Journal News. You can follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman and read more from him at YaronWeitzman.com.
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