I should be happier

According to CareerCast.com and the Wall Street Journal, I should be one happy guy. This is because Career Cast has done a “study” to rate the best jobs, and mine is right up there.

Number 1? Mathematician. Which is partly me. Number 2 is actuary, which is barely different than number 3, statistician, which is me all over. But we also have 12 (philosopher), 13 (physicist), and 15 (meteorologist), which are various flavors of me.

Six out of the top fifteen ought to see me skipping down the street each day (if I didn’t worry about slipping on the ice), smelling the flowers (if there were any in this deep freeze), smiling at children (who dangerously crowd the sidewalk), and whistling happy tunes (I worry my lips would freeze together).

Yet I am less than sanguine.

Maybe it is because I don’t completely trust the “study.” After all, job number 14 is “parole officer”, which, if Career Cast is right, is better than being a weatherman. Sitting on your wallet hoping your “client” doesn’t find out where you live is better than explaining vorticity to somebody?

How did they come up with these numbers anyway? Well, being in the top three is supposed to guarantee a job “indoors and in places free of toxic fumes or noise.” Obviously, these people have never been to a hospital before, where I work. The scents emanating from the public toilet outside our ED are so obnoxious they are actually visible.

The last job in the list, number 200, is Lumberjack. What boy, or man remembering being a boy, doesn’t want to be a lumberjack? Career Cast cares about safety. They worry you might stub your toe tripping over a log. I’d care about dropping enormous trees with pinpoint precision with just a chainsaw and then heading to the bar for a cold one. Or two.

Number 199 is Dairy Farmer. True, you’re going to see a lot of cow shit, but it’s beats the stuff they continuously shovel at job number 10, Accountant.

Some others in the bottom twenty: Seaman, Roofer, Welder, Auto Mechanic, Butcher, Fireman, Garbage Collector.

For the last eleven years I have seen the same two guys drive their garbage truck down my street. They are always chatting and appear happy. They are outside and not hunched in front of a computer. There’s very little stress. They get good pay and benefits and first dibs at any choice garbage1. They don’t need to shell out cash for a gym membership to “exercise”, which is better defined as work that you pay for. In every parade I’ve ever been to, it’s the garbage men following after the horses that get the biggest applause.

Butcher? Free meat and access to sausage of every type, being covered with blood in a manly way, and flirting with housewives. Auto Mechanic? The satisfaction of fixing something with your hands, the chance of custom jobs, the relish of being needed. Fireman? The benefits are too plain to mention.

All the jobs at the bottom are those that scored low on Career Cast’s “Physical demands (crawling, stooping bending, etc.)” index. Somehow, these keyboard punchers decided that these were negatives instead of the positives they truly are. It’s easy to imagine the folks over there have never gotten their hands dirty and view the prospect with horror.

For me, I’d rather be a Construction Worker like my dad (number 190) than a Medical Lab Technician (number 16) any day.


1I think I stole this line from Mike Royko.


  1. bill r

    I don’t know about those “manly” jobs. I did “track gang” for a summer and a winter break, and laying track in below-freezing weather (Nebraska) pretty well cured me of a desire to work outside or spend my time lugging lugging ties and straightening rail.

  2. Bernie

    What about those 3000 plus people who showed up in Miami for a handful of firefighter jobs!! I would rather trust an economist’s view of preferred careers than some sociologist’s view.

    By the way, Gavin at RC, I believe, has used Bayes’ to support a thesis that has just been shown by SM at CA to be based on somewhat unreliable raw data. If I read it correctly, somehow he thinks that the probability that the hypothesis is true has gone up!! Perhaps you would care to chime in. A propos your career theme, I am not sure Gavin is particualrly happy with the last 24 hours of his chosen career. People havebeen rather unpleasant about his failure to acknowledge SM’s role in uncovering the data glitch in the BAS data for the Harry AWS station. (I know, I know. I began to see how many acronyms I could pile into this post!)

  3. I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay.
    I sleep all night. I work all day.

    I cut down trees. I eat my lunch.
    I go to the lavatory.
    On Wednesdays I go shoppin’
    And have buttered scones for tea.

    I cut down trees. I skip and jump.
    I like to press wild flowers.
    I put on women’s clothing
    And hang around in bars.

    I cut down trees. I wear high heels,
    Suspendies, and a bra.
    I wish I’d been a girlie,
    Just like my dear Papa.

    [In memory of Charlie Wiggins, my lumberjack neighbour who killed himself falling a tree]

    Personal observation: butchers would have to be the happiest workers I’ve ever come across. I’m clueless as to why this is.

  4. conard

    As someone with a career/job in the top 5 I can tell you that my some of my happiest career moments were working as a hog-tender during my first few years of college. At the end of each day I could point with a muscled arm to something real and declare that “I did that”. I miss the heat, the cold, and not being able to take my work home with me.

    Last Friday, my poor son had to spend the day with me in my office for “career day”. In the weeks leading up to career day I scoured the neighborhood looking for someone with a real job but they are all like me; almost completely shutoff from the physical world. If it weren’t for the lunch-time jog or bike ride the separation would be complete. I took him x-country skiing for “lunch”– we had a great time.

    I hope he goes to college. I hope he finds the right balance between brain and brawn, between the worlds of ideas and of action. Matt, I hope we all do.

  5. Joy

    Think of it this way, your misery is our entertainment! We love reading your blog. it sounds like you’ve got a bad case of realisation that “this IS as good as it gets”.
    But, as my Dad told me,
    “You get in life what you are prepared to settle for.”
    And life begins at forty, so you’re only seven.
    (I haven’t been born)
    If numbers aren’t enough, then there’s something missing, and if you’ve got six out of the top fifteen jobs then I’m guessing that what is missing has nothing to do with work.
    If you’d rather be a mechanic or a lumberjack ,what’s stopping you?

    Yep, it’s suspicious that the numbers guys finished at the top this could be true.
    I mean all you do is carry one and add a nought all day, how hard can that be? They don’t move around or refuse to lie down or undress.
    “Um not tekin mai cloves off for aniwun!…Uv bin ‘ere before…got chucked out!”
    They don’t throw furniture at you or shout because you told them the good news, complete recovery, is inevitable and their symptoms were not caused by the speed bumps on the bus ride.
    They don’t tell you that they had an “enaurgral hernia, or helicopter backwards.
    “What tablet are you taking for that?”
    Oh it’s a little orange one,…it’s diamond shaped, green box, oh no, it’s not it’s blue, yes it was changed…I’ve got it in my bag…” rummage rummage,
    Here it is! ‘verycoxalaminomidearest slow release,’
    “So how many of those do you take?”
    “Oh, I don’t take it, it’s rubbish, my neighbour told me not to bother, it gave her hives.”

    If the stats inventor’s ears were burning today it’s because I was victim to some of their hijinks and I don’t mean the left one either.
    I just landed the worst job in Christendom for the next six weeks. Its whereabouts shall remain nameless, and those quotes were from a different time.
    Lovely patients and staff, worst example of why numbers guys and administrators should never be allowed near hospitals.
    If any of you have ever asked staff to fill in tick boxes to allow for easier audit and research then who ever you are, May your winter log slip from your hearth and burn your house down and may your paper cuts become infected with galloping pustulating, suppurating sores.

    I realised today why I like my job and why I do not.
    Two choices:
    Become the boss, (involves meetings and words like synergy, pencilling people in, ‘T’ing things up” and not laughing when someone tells you that
    “we’re going to start having a body part of the month” and resist the temptation to suggest a calendar, what parts and who might be good for December and so forth.
    (I’m seeing them for lunch tomorrow I’m going to ask about the body part of the month, Bet they didn’t make it past February.
    Be my own boss. That’s the way.
    Meanwhile I’ll read the rest of this black book of knowledge called “real life statistics in plain English or something, by some fellow called Criggs.
    Mr PG:
    On the local news a couple of months ago there was a butcher who was being taken to court by the person living above his shop because he was chopping and singing too loud!He said that he would never stop singing and chopping what else is a butcher supposed to do?

  6. Briggs

    Sitting on your wallet hoping your “client” doesn’t find out where you live is better than explaining vorticity to somebody?

    I shared an office with a guy who used pipecleaners to illustrate some findings about vorticity for his thesis. He also made loads of pretty pictures.

    We all thought the pipe cleaners illustration was pretty cool!

  7. conard

    Hmm. I should have checked my spell-checker’s checks.

    Clarification: I did not tend hogs but was a hod tender. I am not sure what a hog tender could point to say that he/she did– the images immediately pop into mind are not for the weak or humorless 😉

  8. Briggs


    Don’t even think about it. As reader’s of this blog (and it’s book) know, proper spelling does not count.

  9. Joy

    Oh! Conard I really thought you had your sleeves rolled up in the sty and everything.
    Far more romantic picture.

  10. Colin

    Hello Mike D and JH — Are you happy to be a statistician? I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks.

  11. Colin — thanks for the question. I began my career as a forester. I have never made much money, have encountered incredible problems and frustrations, but have not regretted my career choice for a single minute. Being a forester is the coolest job in the world.

    After 15 years of “dirt” forestry, I came to the realization that good science was the foundation and backbone of everything I did. The Big U invited me to participate in a large forest study, and while I was there I snatched up a degree in stats. Statistics is more than playing with numbers; it is the distilled scientific method, the Cult of Logical Inference, mathematical epistemology. Statisticians seek the truth. We want to know what is probably true, probably false, and what the measures of those probabilities are.

    I think Briggs complains too much, and with obvious ironic humor. I think he loves seeking truth. It is his passion, both vocation and avocation. His new book reeks of passion for the truth. Positively reeks of it. And he is involved in medical stats. He saves lives. That’s admirable and honorable and nothing to sneeze at.

    I combine stats and forestry, and call myself a forest biometrician. I study forest growth and change, development pathways, the history of forests. It is fascinating. Did you know that human beings have been living here and hugely impacting forests, prairies, savannas, soils, wildlife, watersheds, etc. for thousands of years? I call what I do “forest forensics” but it is really the investigation of Man and Nature and the intimate relationships that have existed for millennia. Old-growth, terra preta (black earths) cultural landscapes, lost civilizations, anthropogenic fire, anthropogenic predation; they are all pieces of an enormous outdoor history puzzle. Those intrepid scientists who plumb the depths of that puzzle are shifting the paradigm in environmental sciences. It is exciting and double cool to be a part of all that.

    By the way, nobody calls themselves a lumberjack. People who harvest timber are loggers. Those who fell trees are timber fallers or in the vernacular, cutters. Lumber is boards, and they don’t happen until logs are sawn at the mill. Many logs end up as chips, pulp, or plywood, not lumber. There are dozens of specific jobs in logging besides cutting, and they all have cute names, like knot bumping, hook tending, choker setting, etc. But nobody jacks lumber in the woods.

  12. Rich

    A while ago I tried asking a (non-random) sample of my colleagues, “For what percentage of your time at work are you happy?” Most replied something like 20%. Then I said, “Oh, I find I’m happy about 80% of the time” and they’d say, “Well maybe more then 20%. 50? It’s not a bad job really”.

    But this is England where it is de rigeur to complain about the job, hate the boss and use French phrases.

  13. JH

    Happiness is contagious!

    Colin, I have had a straightforward career path, and overall I enjoy my job. If you are thinking of pursuing a particular career, there is some useful information in the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. See, for example, statisticians.

    Oh, let me proudly volunteer Mr. Briggs to answer all questions regarding statisticians and statistics, and nothing is more rewarding than volunteering. ^_^

  14. Ari


    I think The Office (BBC) summed up work the best:

    “Tim: The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don’t know them, it wasn’t your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day. ”

    That, and:

    “David Brent: You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.”

  15. Independently Gav

    “It’s easy to imagine the folks over there have never gotten their hands dirty and view the prospect with horror.” Yep, but I imagined it first.

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