There’s a new guest blogger on Brazen Careerist: A.J. Jacobs. He is an editor-at-large at Esquire, and from what I can tell, it’s one of the cushiest jobs in the world. He doesn’t go to meetings, he seems to have some sort of tenure-track thing where he would never be fired, and he doesn’t even have to write for every issue.
So you want to know how he got such a great job, right? He specializes. Which you need to do, by the way, if you want to have control over your career. And one of the best ways to find a specialty is to find what area you excel at that pays well, and find what personality traits of yours make you quirky. If you can place your career at the intersection of those two things, you’ll have a successful, specialized career.
So anyway, about A.J.’s specialty. He’s a great writer. But there are plenty of great writers who don’t have great careers.
Surely A.J. could write well in a lot of situations. Like, he would be great at writing ads for used microwaves — in fact, I might even subscribe to a daily dose of those ads from AJ because they’d be so funny. But the market for this would be very small.
Instead, A.J. decided to go the route of immersion journalism. The immersion journalist that you probably know is Barbara Ehrenreich. She does things like work in menial job for a year in order to write about how hard it is to live like that. Ehrereich does important work, to be sure, but I don’t think anyone would call her fun.
Though A.J. has never worked as a hotel maid like Ehrenreich, he wrote about outsourcing his life to a team of people in Bangalore, India, (reprinted in the 4-Hour Workweek), and he spent a year reading the encyclopedia and writing about it in his book titled, The Know It All. This book is hilarious and endearing, and every time I go to the book store I pick up a copy and read a few pages as a pick-me-up.
What I love about A.J.’s writing is that he is immersing himself in something crazy but he does not sound like a crazy person. His book reads like hanging out with a good friend. Who happens to read the encyclopedia for a living. He is working at the intersection of what he is great at (writing) and what makes him quirky (his ability to create a weird life for himself and write about it in a way we can all relate to).
No one with A.J.’s great sense of career management would be blogging without a purpose. This week he’s blogging about the encyclopedia, but in the coming weeks, it’ll be the Bible. That’s his new book, A Year of Living Biblically, which he is promoting, of course. He spent a year living according to the Bible. Literally. So he followed the Ten Commandments, but also the lesser known laws of the Bible, like don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers. And stone adulterers.
Sometimes I read A.J. to remind myself what is important about work. What A.J. does that no one else can do is write on insane topics with sentences full of joy. He is smart and funny but the thing that makes me absolutely adore his work is that everything he churns out is bubbling with enthusiasm and fun. And I think that, on some level, this is what we all want our career to be about.