career

YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE A CAREER

The past couple of posts have been really dedicated to my students. I have been thinking them a lot lately as they face a constantly changing job market, the uncertainty of the future with robots, the sharing economy, the gig economy, and the ability to afford the things there parents were able to.

As I was thinking about those things I thought about how many people hate their jobs. According to the latest surveys over 70% of are dissatisfied with their career choices. Now according to the article that I just cited he argues the one of the primary reasons are dissatisfied with their jobs is “praise addiction.” I don’t want to get too deep into this article, because I think it deserves a blog post of its own, but the logic makes sense. People base a lot of their identity on their job. We have grown up in a culture that rewards people with trophies, good grades, stickers, praise, etc. In fact, when I informally poll my students the overwhelming majority of students say they would take a job with less pay, if they liked what they did. So I think there is a lot of truth in that article.

But I want to push back on something and this might be a bit hypocritical of me. I want to push back on this idea that you must have the perfect career that you must have something that love going to every day.

I am lucky. I have a job I truly love. I know my students feel a lot of pressure to choose the right major so that they can get a job. They are constantly told by the general public that a lot of the majors they might have chosen in the past (e.g. English, History, Art, Philosophy) are worthless because the STEM fields are where you make the most money. Now I plan to have a post in the future that defends the liberal arts (partly because I am a liberal arts professor and employers say they want the skills that we teach) but I want to talk about this idea of having the perfect career.

My advice to my students, similar to last week, is that you don’t have to have the perfect career. In fact, there is no such thing as a perfect career. Sometimes, it is ok to just have a job or a career field where you work to live, not live to work.

Now what does that mean working to live, not living to work. That is really up to you. Some people find a great job in their work (as I do) and living and working are one in the same. But if 70% of Americans don’t like their jobs or they are dissatisfied then I think we need a reframing of the ideas of careers and what it means to work. We need to focus more on living.

Work is a means to end to do that living.

More and more living to me means enjoying simple things like time with family and friends, a good dinner, time with my wife, hopefully raising a family. I fully admit my identity, in part, is wrapped up in my job. So that is why this message from me might be a little hypocritical because I draw so much of my identity from my job.

But I am trying to be better. I am trying to find greater joy in other things. That this job doesn’t define me. I am defined by other things and the legacy I leave this world isn’t what I put out for research or teaching, but in how I treat other people or the memories I make with my wife and I. How I help other people (which is one of the reasons I love this blog).

So if any students are reading this blog I hope you find a career that you love. That would be great. At the same time, I would encourage you to really find what you love in life and your job can be a means to that end. You don’t have to have a career that changes lives. You can do that with other things. You can volunteer. You can just lead a good life and be a good person, raise children that will look out for others, and there are certainly other things. But this idea that you need to have a career that you love throughout your working life is probably not going to happen for a lot of people.

And part of that is because life changes. Our goals change. Our lives change. But we need to always be living. However, we define that. Hopefully, we define that in less material terms.

It is ok to not have the blockbuster career. It is ok to not even like your job. There are other things in life. And your career can just be a means to your end for happiness.

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