The Vigilante is a product.
No, I’m not saying I’ve sold out. I’m not saying that I feel like just another cog in the machine, man. Unfortunately, I’m not saying that a line of I, Vigilante products is now available for you to purchase from the I, Vigilante Online Megastore.1
I’m saying that, literally, my mind is for sale. Every day. It’s just what I do.
This may be true for a lot of occupations and interests, but it is especially true for the two in which I spend most of my time today: practicing law and blogging. While nearly every activity that people are paid for2 has some kind of mental aspect to it, law and blogging are among a smaller subset of activities that have unique demands and benefits as purely mental services. Activities for which we are compensated for providing the benefit of our time to solve a problem, rather than for a good or service that causes an obvious change around the client.
I offer clients and readers the use of my brain. They want advice and/or entertainment, and I come up with it. They buy my word vomit – which I endeavor to make more valuable than it sounds. There’s no gadget, no gizmo, no clear start or end to a service that I offer. I just allow others to use my brain for their purposes in exchange for some compensation. In other words: I rent my brain out.
Basically, I am a brain prostitute product. And as any professional advice-giver knows, being a product has its ups and downs.*
As a professional advice-giver, you usually have the freedom to work when you are willing and able. As a lawyer, if I have a particularly slow-minded day,3 I don’t have to bill my full time requirement: I can go home early, refresh, and bill extra time the next day. Or the next week. As a blogger, if I don’t feel like writing a blog post, I can go live my life and simply write when the mood strikes the next day. Or the next week.
You have this same flexibility in one way or another with nearly every similar service. You always have a taste – a tiny, nearly indiscernible taste, but a taste nonetheless! – of true independence, since you can choose your time off without checking with dad, mom, or the boss. Much like you did in college.
Professions focused on providing valuable advice are typically more highly compensated than other jobs. People often ponder why: there are plenty of jobs out there that are equally as difficult and necessary – or more so – but they come with lower pay. What gives?
It’s largely a result of supply and demand, which works in favor of these thinking-based, brain-renting jobs. It takes a lot of training to be able to give advice worth the cost, and there are few people who put in the time to receive that training. The relative scarcity of these people4 is often a driving force behind the high compensation.
I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I spent a summer working 10-14 hour days at a minor league ball park, as an unpaid marketing and communications intern in the morning and as a slightly-over-minimum-wage security guard in the afternoon and evening. I might have been lucky to make 1/6 of my current biweekly pay after working “harder” and longer for those two weeks. But the there’s a key difference between me then and me now: There are many, many people who could have performed the tasks I did at that ball park. Nearly any literate and responsible person on the planet, really. But my legal employment today is reserved for those who have certain training and certifications to verify that their advice is likely to be worth the cost. Joe Blow couldn’t step in and perform adequately at my current job, so there’s a greatly reduced supply of potential laborers for my current field. And my blogging? Well, anybody can do it…but to generate enough quality content to turn a profit is a special, unique skill. (Which I almost have!)
Low physical demands.
I can do my job and my blogging habit from the comfort of my living room couch. This is wonderful on a hot, humid summer day when my office is borderline parka-level cold. It’s awesome when there’s a blizzard and I want to work from home, saving the trouble of getting to the office and potentially saving lives on a snow-covered road. I get to be a baby, wrapped in the comfortable embrace of central air or gas heat and warm coffee on a moment’s notice.
When I work out, I know that I can handle it. I won’t have a sore back from a long day of ditch-digging, and I won’t have worn-out legs from a day of running back-and-forth from the kitchen to my tables at the local diner.5 Any muscle soreness I feel will be intentional, targeted, and effective rather than a nuisance. It’s a nice perk.
Low physical demands.
As I said, I can do my job and my blogging habit from the comfort of my living room couch. But if I take the universe up on that offer too often, I might not like the results: We weren’t made for a sedentary lifestyle. My job and my hobby require time and my full attention, and the latter isn’t easily divided with, for example, team sports. Can’t play football and prepare an appellate brief at the same time.
A good workout is much more difficult to achieve after being mentally exhausted by your day. I remedy this with efficient morning workouts, but this can be demanding in its own way. A lot of my tweets happen between sets of bench and squats, which I’m trying to do as I power through morning grogginess. But those sets (and tweets!) turn out better than if I wait until after billing 8 or 10 hours on legal research and writing.
When you’re the product, you always have to be on top of your game. People don’t like to pay for crappy things, like a store-brand battery that dies in half the time but comes at only a 10% discount compared to a superior brand. They don’t like to pay for the services of a lawyer who takes a week to answer phone calls, and they don’t like to read the blog of a blogger who makes shitty clickbait posts every other day.
So speed is valued, but so is quality over quantity. Combine these two valued ideas and the expectations can be…high. Dealing with those expectations requires a brain brewed from a few key ingredients: speed, stamina, and ability to ration fucks. If you have all of those ingredients in one brain, it doesn’t mean that being a product is easy; it just means that you’re potentially capable of satisfying the demands of product-ness.6
There are direct parallels between all professional services and the world’s oldest profession. None more obvious than this: You have to sell yourself.
No one likes to be this guy. But when you sell yourself, you are always closing:
This is also why I have to pepper in a few jokes to keep blog readers coming. Like this:
Did you hear about the guy who had his whole left side cut off? He’s all right now.
* Which brings me to the reason for today’s rant. Why this post, and why now?
If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed the recent drop in post-rate from at least once biweekly to…well, only one post in July 2017. This post. I wanted to call attention to why…and promise that it isn’t a new habit!
I’m not giving up this blogging thing. But a more important demand on my time has consumed much of my summer so far, and I expect it will continue to present an unreasonable demand on my rentable brain-space for a few more months: I am practicing a brand-spankin’ new area of law.
Like, new new, not just new to me. Ask any lawyer and they’ll tell you: This is demanding work, but also the most interesting. You get to make the law by arguing your client’s best case.
We’re all familiar with America’s love affair with guns and the Second Amendment. We’re all equally aware of ever-expanding gun control laws. Now I’m not really a gun enthusiast, but it’s really easy for these laws to sometimes go a bit too far. Like taking family heirlooms away from an otherwise respectable, law-abiding citizen who plead guilty to a minor theft charge when he was a teenager in the 1970s.7
I’ve recently begun to assume the firearms rights practice in my law firm to help people who are stuck in that type of situation. It’s a rare, developing practice area with a lot of room for interpretation and new precedent-setting decisions. And I’m in the Third Circuit, where some of the leading firearms rights cases in the United States are currently happening.8 So without any hyperbole, I can say that the work I do right now will go a long way to protect each American’s property rights from overzealous legislators, law enforcement, and judges!9
I’m lucky to be able to practice this constantly evolving area of law, and to help shape the laws of this country in a way that affects the property rights we hold dear. But, man, shaping a nation’s laws can take a lot out of you.
It makes blogging at the end of the day seem a bit taxing.
You’re no less important to me than you were one month ago, Vigilantes. We’re still together in the fight against Villains and lame desk jobs. But I am focused on learning a big new skill. And when the scarcity of time demands that I either sacrifice my health or the frequency of my blog posts, prepare for some silence. Sorry in advance, but that’s the price I pay for making myself a product – and the price you pay for renting my brain to protect your rights!
- Well, sort of.
- Well, at least those things we’re paid for that are legal in the United States…outside of Nevada.
- Also known as “most days.”
- Compared with people who are capable of offering other services – like, say, house cleaning – at a valuable level.
- Been there, too. Waited tables at a breakfast restaurant during law school. I always hated lifting afterward, because my legs were always tired and I was always sticky. Servers know the feeling: Why were we always sticky?!
- And you get to make yourself a martyr through posts like this!
- A real case!
- There’s an old joke that rings somewhat true: Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. Lots of unique firearms cases come from that “in-between.”
- Ok, maybe a little hyperbole. So shoot me…if you’re still allowed to possess firearms.