I Want Your Job: Interview with Lisa Pryor, SMH Columnist
“I have been really lucky. I have been able to forge a career that I really enjoy. Not everyone is lucky enough to have everything fall into place – though I was a neurotic kind of law student.”
-Lisa Pryor, SMH Columnist and Author of ‘The Pinstriped Prison: How overachievers get trapped in corporate jobs they hate.’
“Law school is full of people trying to escape – and journalism is one of the escape routes,” declares Lisa Pryor with a provocative grin as we sip tea in the fifth floor lounge of the UTS Faculties of Law and Business, the only student social area in the university with city skyscraper views. Lisa Pryor is something of a nerd myth – HSC whiz with a perfect 100 UAI, she was wooed by law firms before she even stepped foot in her first Arts/Law class at Sydney University. True, the myth is much of her own making – in late 2008, she penned and published a partly biographical, partly therapeutic, very witty account of the high-low lives of overachievers and their tragic, affluent, pinstriped plight in the corporate world, tracing their route from elite schools and universities to drug addled, alcoholic, depressed, workaholism, based on the anecdotal experiences of her inner clique.
The crux of her book, insists Pryor, is not that the corporate world is a dirty Faustian bargain with a side of wealth and sin ala Devil’s Advocate; rather, it is a call to action. “I wrote the book because I wanted to know why people aren’t taking risks when they can afford to,” says Pryor. “Of course, I realised in some ways that I was one of those people. I’d been working in one job [at the Sydney Morning Herald] for seven years.” Writing the book – and the nerve it struck with young professionals and law students – has spurred Pryor to make good on her moral message, quitting her full-time role to freelance as a columnist and work on her next book.
“I have been really lucky. I have been able to forge a career that I really enjoy. Not everyone is lucky enough to have everything fall into place – though I was a neurotic kind of law student,” admits Pryor, who applied for a graduate position in the Sydney Morning Herald before she finished university, quite sure that she wouldn’t land the job, but feeling that at least she might “get a sense of the exam for next year.”
“The thing I love most about journalism is the life experiences you get, the stuff you never get to do in normal life. One day, while I was sitting at my desk at work, the Chief of Staff came over and said, ‘Do you have anything to do right now? Do you have any media passes for official visits? No? Alright. Go to a warship in Woolloomooloo and report on a speech by Condoleezza Rice.’ It was amazing – going through all these check points, sniffer dogs, snipers and massive tank-like hummers with official people and just being on a war ship in Sydney Harbour, ten metres away from Condoleezza Rice. Knowing there must have been snipers everywhere. I knew I could have guaranteed my own death if, during her speech, I just ran towards her! No matter how much money I might earn in another job, I could never, even if I was a millionaire, be able to buy that time on a warship.”
Still, even the dream job has downsides. “I’m not an expert at anything. It’s all very middle-brow – you are always writing for general audiences,” says Lisa. “I love hearing about my friends who are lawyers standing up in court, speaking at coronial inquests and really knowing their stuff. That’s the only problem with journalism – you’re always going to be the dumbass asking questions in a room full of experts!”
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