Brendan George from Palgrave Macmillan writes at The Bookseller that he regards academic publishing as a vocation rather than just a job.
I have to say I always felt that way too, though there were one or two places where one did have to seek the Lord’s guidance in sustaining one’s vocational enthusiasm. It just always seemed to me that we were all engaged in a noble mission to spread knowledge around the world. And not just any old knowledge; knowledge of the highest type, polished and honed to optimum communicability. This wasn’t something one thought much about, or even thought about at all: it was just there lying silently behind everything we did.
I always assumed that everyone else felt exactly the same about work. Now I wonder just how realistic that was. It’s the same sort of impulse that makes one just know that all one’s colleagues are liberal with a lower case ell. It was so much a part of the wallpaper that one didn’t need to bother asking anyone: it just was. Of course this is stupid of me. When in November 2008 I hand wrote and taped up in the hallway a gigantic poster saying “YES WE CAN” it was taken down immediately because it offended the sensibilities of a certain unnamed, but loomimg unmistakably large, colleague. I still like to believe that’s the only conservative person I’ve ever worked with (while silently having to acknowledge that this can’t really be so.)
Was I a chump to buy in on the noble mission story? I don’t think so. Nobody sold it to me: I grabbed it and paid for it as soon as I started my first job. I remember condescending quite unforgivably to a person I’d been at university with and one of his friends who’d gotten jobs in a more commercial house, berating them on the ideals of a university press from the height of my six-month’s experience. (When the friend became my boss, or actually my boss’s boss, he had the grace never to refer to my sermon — though of course he had no doubt forgotten all about it, having more important matters on his mind.)
I know that presses, even, God, knows university presses, let people go. Of course some people are just lazy and incompetent and no doubt deserve all they get, but I’m thinking here more of those blood-letting sessions designed to bring costs down to compensate for a sales shortfall. Viewed from the shop floor there seems to be little loyalty aimed downwards, so are you a fool to be motivated by loyalty to the company and to its mission? Maybe yes, but I’d still argue that a happy idealistic fool is better than an embittered cynic — so I wouldn’t change a thing. To me, my vocation was entirely satisfying.