Friday, December 28, 2007

Why Are Law Professors So Unhappy? -- Part Two

Miserable_2I previously blogged Tax Prof Michael Livingston's answer to the question Why Are Law Professors So Edgy?:

A friend of mine has come up with a novel explanation as to why law professors, who would seem to have a pretty privileged life, are so persistently uneasy. ... [T]he professoriate ... is one of the few activities that is (a) very competitive, (b) primarily personal (that is, noncooperative) in nature, and (c) almost entirely devoid of objective standards that might be used to measure success or failure.

A new book by Patrick Lencioni, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (2007), supports this analysis:

The first sign of a miserable job is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.

The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life--a customer, a co-worker, even a supervisor--in one way or another.

The third sign is something I call "immeasurement," which is the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers’, to gauge their progress or contribution.

Cross-posted on TaxProf Blog.


Anonymous Rick Bales said...

By these standards, we all should be ecstatic about our jobs (and I am!). (1) Yes, the occupation is competitive, but in my experience, it's also extraordinarily cooperative. I routinely give and receive fantastic advice from my "competitors" on scholarship, pedagogy, job searches, administrative matters, etc. etc. (2) Success is not overly difficult to measure: you're successful if your class evaluations are well above average, you're publishing routinely, you are actively engaged in helping to build your institution, and (after you've been in academia for several years) you are regularly solicited to speak at conferences and to contribute written scholarship. (3) If "anonymity" (as defined above) is a problem, you need a new Dean, not a new occupation. (4) This is the best job in the world precisely because it is so easy to see how we make a difference in the lives of others -- our students.

12/28/2007 2:59 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

I agree with both Paul and Rick. Except for all expenses paid wandering guest lecturer, what could be better. In what other job can you do pretty much what strikes your fancy? If your research bores you, pick a different topic. If your teaching is stale, take up a new course. But there is a difference between the job in the abstract and the environment in which it is performed. If your faculty is composed of individuals or sub groups who view the world through a zero sum lens, its an unhealthy situation. If your idea of success is recognition, it can also be pretty dismal. On the other hand, if your idea of success is to be constantly personally engaged, if you cannot be a success as a law teacher,it would make sense to look for a new job.

12/29/2007 6:23 AM  

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