Hidden Costs

Most adults know that basic goods have a cost to produce and a price at which they’re sold, and if the producer doesn’t cover his costs with enough to spare for him to live on… then he’s not going to be in business that long [unless someone’s subsidizing him, but that’s another question]. Most of us also know that there are other costs in life. If you want to be a doctor, then there’s the cost of medical school, and the time spent as an intern and a resident – and maybe more training beyond that in some specialties. Most “professions” require additional education and training beyond four years of college.

But there are other non-dollar “costs” that aren’t so obvious, and many aren’t considered costs at all.

I spent roughly twenty years in politics as a staffer, political appointee, and consultant, and two of the unacknowledged costs were long hours and the requirement to live in Washington, D.C., with high costs of living and/or a long commute, if not both. Political professionals who want to make a living at politics are essentially limited to living in restricted locales – large cities, state capitols, or Washington, D.C. Perhaps the highest cost is the effect of high pressure on health. Yet another cost is uncertainty. In those twenty years, I could have been released or fired at a moment’s notice [and it did happen]. Then there’s the psychological cost of continually trying to please [or at least not displease] conflicting constituencies convinced that their viewpoint is the only correct one while trying not to be undermined by your supposed friends [who are politically often more dangerous than the opposing party].

Other professions have similar costs. Academic university-level jobs that can support a family, especially these days, not only require a terminal degree, but will likely require relocation, sometimes more than once, and working under rules and practices that constantly change without apparent rhyme or reason, while laboring under various delusions, such as that every American child deserves and is capable of getting through four years – or more – of collegiate pedagogy or that technology can replace expertise, or that the newest idea is the best.

Professional actors and musicians, or for that matter, professional athletes, all compete in fields where essentially about 1/10 of one percent of those who finish their training ever make more than a bare-bones living, and those who do can almost never stay settled in one place, and, on top of that, can usually look forward to perhaps a decade of substantial income, possibly two at the outside, not to mention that the profession can easily destroy a personal life.

As in most fields, law is intensely competitive, particularly at the highest levels, and very few of the hotshot young attorneys actually make partner, possibly because some of the saner ones decide it’s not worth it – and then, given the nature of law, there’s the fact that they have to deal with clients with either insurmountable problems or more insurmountable egos.

Writing’s not any easier. I know a bit about that. In the first years of writing, I never even thought about self-promotion, but when I became a full-time writer, it became rather more important. Over a ten year period, I visited every bookstore I could manage to get to, somewhere in the neighborhood of 700-800 hundred [of course, you can’t do that now; there aren’t nearly as many bookstores]. That’s a time and effort cost. Then there’s the website, and answering emails and letters, and going to conventions and comic-cons and doing other author-outreach efforts. Most successful authors do a great deal of this [unless they have movie or TV deals], and with all budget tightening by publishers, bookstores, etc., authors have quite a range of non-dollar costs.

But these non-dollar costs aren’t unique to the professions I’ve mentioned. Virtually every job has non-dollar costs…and we tend to overlook them or accept them as a necessity. But they’re still costs, even if they can’t be totaled in dollars, pounds, Euros, pesos, yuan, or whatever.

1 thought on “Hidden Costs”

  1. David Middleton says:

    I think every profession/job has its hidden costs that go hand in hand with the upsides that it can bring. What I have seen & experienced is that some professions will provide a high rate of pay & rewards, but are subject to variable employment, sudden layoffs, or harsh conditions /working outside in extreme weather,that few people value. Even in the trades, where the entry /education costs can be lower, the work is often strenuous, can be dangerous but can provide a reasonable income. Even location can be a factor, where each locale has its benefits and risks. Do you live in the north with extreme cold for part of the year, or on the benign California coast with earthquakes, fires and floods? We all learn to accept and persevere.

    On another note, I did want to say how much I have enjoyed your writing over the years, and the logical building of your worlds, whether in SF or Fantasy realms, you always provide an excellent read, and I have many times re-read your books and always find new appreciation for your work. Thank you for the time you put into your writing, and I always look forward to the new releases.

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