The first world is afflicted by a mortifying disease of the heart. The transition to the professional world by millions of people is fraught with a host of treacherous negative emotions: discontent, uncertainty, and boredom to name a few. And for unlucky multitudes these feelings are unshakable, like buzzards silently circling offices and cubicles just waiting for years of tedium to take their toll.
This is the career crisis.
Our cultural definition of a career equates to decades of hard work, often doing little of interest, and saving money for the twilight years. This idea feels old, outmoded, and just plain unintuitive. More importantly, it certainly doesn’t jibe with the increased pursuit of travel, exploration, and, for good or ill, self-satisfaction so prevalent in recent generations. We expect to do something we love – it’s ingrained in us throughout our school years – and there’s a hollow feeling of failure and waste when that love is nowhere to be found. Time has moved on, technology has advanced, and still we cling to the same definitions of work used by our parents and grandparents.
The Greatest vs. The Latest
For the last couple of decades we’ve been at a crossroads where the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers collide with Generations X and Y. The belief that hard work yields happiness just isn’t clicking these days. Who wants to work hard at something they despise, or even mildly dislike? Today, there is a serious dearth of satisfaction in simply having a job, working hard, and earning money.
Perhaps in the history of mankind the opportunity to choose what you’ll do with your life is relatively new. In days of yore you took over the farm or continued the family business. Is it grossly inaccurate to suggest that times were simpler in this regard? Today, we are lead to believe that the dream career is out there and that we just need to find it. Thankfully, the secondary education system exists to help us.
Going to college after high school has become so commonplace that it’s the default career path for most kids. The thought is that you’ll find a career that you love and have the skills to do it. This, alone, makes me laugh. I’d love to be an actor, I just have no acting skill. The reality is that most kids go to college for the social gains, and delaying the work life for four or more years doesn’t hurt either. Millions exit college with the dreaded liberal arts major, or, as I like to call it, the “beer major.” You’ve got a degree to put on your CV and you’ve gained some useful and interesting knowledge, but for many, you’ve failed to identify your dream career. The beer major hasn’t prepared you for anything specific. Except, perhaps, more schooling.
That was my path. I graduated with a liberal arts double major and got a job that I’d hold down until I figured out what I really wanted to do. That would be some magic, wouldn’t it? I call this delusion. What evidence is there for suddenly finding your dream career while you toil away at an unfulfilling job? It’s only a matter of time before inescapable disillusionment sets in and you decide to jump ship. Ironically, this often leads many to return to school since years of education are often perfunctory for entry-level positions. And the cycle repeats.
There’s an App for That
If you’re interested in finding something to blame for this career crisis, blame technology. People are bombarded by incredible amounts of stimuli each day; the amount of information that can stream through the iPhone in your hand is enough to make my head burst. The world in all its enormous grandeur is mapped and known, and the ability to visit any place in the world with relative ease is incredibly jaw-dropping when you take a minute and think about it. New and wild ideas burst into being each day. We are an ambitious and ravenous species; knowing what we know thanks to radio, TV, the internet, iPhones, Google, etc., it’s understandable that we might not be satisfied with the norm and the familiar. How can the expectation remain that we will find dream careers by following the same century-old path when our dreams are so much bigger? I would argue that it can’t, and that those who do find their dream careers are the exception to the rule.
Maybe all this time we’ve been looking at it backward. We don’t really want dream careers, do we? As Tim Ferriss put it, most dream careers wouldn’t involve working 40 hours per week. No, we want dream lives, and we just need income to support that dream life. A growing subculture of people have started breaking from the standard work life. Some call it untemplating, others call it derailing. The essence of the movement is a rejection of the 9-to-5 rat race and of trading your youth for money in your decrepitude. The technology and social media of today have created new opportunities for people looking to be location independent with their work and play. Perhaps this is the career crisis coming to a head as more and more people are saying no to car payments, mortgages, bottomless school debt, and 401ks, and choosing minimalism, creativity, eco-sensitivity, and entrepreneurship to help them lead the lives – not careers – they’ve always dreamed of.
Have you derailed? Could you not possibly disagree with me more? Tell me about it!