Guest post: Love it or leave it

By Brad Dodge on May 29th, 2009

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief for Healthcare Informatics, provides some advice on succeeding in the healthcare industry.

It was somewhere between the throw pillows and coverlets that I knew I’d made a huge mistake.

The rest of the editorial team and I were touring the Croscill showroom in New York City. That company, like dozens others in the home textile industry, was the focus of the new publication I’d joined, a business/fashion weekly both aptly and oddly called Home Textiles Today (HTT). As our tour guide excitedly picked up assorted merchandise, extolling the virtues of color, fabric or both, often referring to a product’s “soft hand,” my colleagues furiously took notes. I looked out the window pondering that most disturbing of questions:

“What the heck am I doing here?” The answer came back, as it often does, “Oh yeah. The money.”

Rewind a few months. I was coming up on 3.5 years at Wall Street & Technology, a publication I had joined straight out of graduate school. Over those years, I had come to love both the subject matter and my colleagues. I had done well at the magazine, receiving three promotions during my short tenure but, despite the best efforts of my direct managers, my salary did not keep pace. I was executive editor in name, not in paycheck.

So with only dollars on my mind, I hit, a site anyone reading this piece will no doubt be familiar with, to survey the editorial landscape, doing searches for “executive editor” and “managing editor.” A number of positions popped up, most with the salary field blank, and I subsequently fired off a few resumes affixed to slightly tailored cover letters. A few responses came back, most inquiring, “What are you looking for, in terms of salary.”

Due to some twisted logic, I replied to each request with a salary inversely proportional to my level of interest in the position — the more I liked the job, the more moderate the salary, the lower the interest, the higher the requested wage.

My thinking was something like this: “If I’m not going to like it, I better get paid for it.”

When HTT didn’t balk at the salary I requested, I found myself at the beginning of a slippery slope that ultimately led to two years of lackluster professional growth. At each step in the multi-interview process, which included testing of my editorial proficiency, I would have been just fine, perhaps relieved, if the process broke down, but it never did. During my tenure in that position, I served as a solid operational managing editor, but one that brought little value to the editorial content of the publication.

It is very hard to provide maximum value if you are not completely engaged in what you’re doing. And it is impossible to fully engage if you are not deeply interested in both the function and content areas of your job.

In editorial positions, this means you do not just “write,” but you write about something, so you better like it. To public relations professional, this means you do not just position companies and craft releases, but you do it for companies in a specific field. If you have little interest in that field, you will never be able to offer the quality of service that you truly should. Superior PR work is much like superior editorial work – you must live, eat and breathe the subject. Especially when positioning companies and knowing how best to get their messages out, you must be intimately familiar with all the dynamics of the industry they call home.

For whatever reason, I find the business- and political-level dynamics of healthcare IT fascinating, so I don’t mind pouring over the information that comes through my monitor. I do not attend meetings of ONC’s Policy and Standards Committees because I have to, but because I want to. I never had that same level of interest in the textiles business, while many of my colleagues at that magazine did. Had I cared about the difference between pom-pom trimming and scalloped detailing, I could have been of much greater value to the staff. They deserved it.

What you do during your day – your work – does matter. If you like not only the type of work you are doing (PR) but the content of what you’re positioning (healthcare IT) you will be the best agent on the block. If you find boning up on the industry painful, boring and “not really necessary to do the job,” you’re on a slow road to nowhere. If that’s the case, your PR competitor across town will always provide better service.

Work is about so much more than a paycheck. Work should have meaning, should provide some level of fulfillment. If you don’t like your work, spend time figuring out what would engage you – it’s the fairest thing to you and your employer.