The Career Crisis

by Keith Savage · 17 comments

Post image for The Career Crisis

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.

Beer Majors

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!

Chloe ChowNo Gravatar August 17, 2012 at 8:35 PM

I ‘m a 20 year old student about to go into my second year of uni, doing a B.Sc in psychology. I just returned from a ten week trip in Europe that I embarked on by myself. Your article expresses everything I am currently feeling in terms of the life “script” that I feel first world society has imposed on us in terms of school, university, career. For the first time in my life, I am taking a step back from the path I have been almost blindly following and am questioning everything. It’s extremely confusing, but travel has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that exist and I feel like if my trip has done anything, it has made me finally fully understand the saying “The world is your oyster.” Thank you for a refreshing article – I feel comforted by the fact that I’m not alone in the career crisis.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 18, 2012 at 12:36 AM

Hi Chloe, thanks for reading. The simple fact that you’re encountering these thoughts now, when you’re 20, is such a huge accomplishment. Don’t dismiss them easily. Consider them carefully, realize there’s more to the world than college, and be deliberate about your subsequent decisions. I know I didn’t think these thoughts when I was in school, and I can’t say what I would have done had I.

Best of luck.

Marcello ArrambideNo Gravatar June 8, 2010 at 4:35 PM

GREAT ARTICLE!!! This is applies to EVERYONE in our generation!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 8, 2010 at 4:42 PM

Thanks Marcello. I think it’s true what we were told as kids, that we could be anything when we grew up. We just didn’t anticipate it would be so difficult.

KeithNo Gravatar January 17, 2010 at 9:15 PM

@floreta: Totally agree with your comments. That assimilation into your career – often your first career out of college – is so awfully easy that it really takes a huge concerted effort to pull yourself back.

KubNo Gravatar January 16, 2010 at 9:07 PM

Savage –
You continue to inspire. We should talk Monday night.


floretaNo Gravatar January 16, 2010 at 5:02 PM

Heck yes!! That’s what my current guest blog series is a bit about. How people assimilate themselves into their careers and how it’s not about who you want to be when you grow up, but being who you ARE. the key is to find your passions and cultivate that into your life/work. This is why I am pursuing entrepreneurship and lifestyle design/travel. I just want to be who I am and follow my intuition; in a big way. 🙂

I do think the Gen Y generation is starting to shift the job paradigms a bit. Though, for the most part, I think untemplating is still a bit of sub/counter-culture. I think in the coming decades, more and more people will come up to speed though and I will welcome its mainstream!!

Mostly, I think it’s because Gen Y feel that they are entitled to everything. Ha, at least that’s what I read about us in articles written by baby boomers. 😉

Oh, and I love that “There’s an app for that” section. SO true that the more technology connects us, the smaller, and yet BIGGER our world becomes..
.-= floreta´s last blog ..The Ways We Are: Justin =-.

KeithNo Gravatar January 15, 2010 at 7:35 PM

@Debbie: Thanks for posting, Debbie. I wouldn’t trade in my college years either – I learned so much about relationships and all of the skills you need to get things done. Definitely a lot of social intelligence gains. Unfortunately, the “reason” (i.e., the major) has done less for me than simply having a degree.

I can hardly wish to change my past. They’ve made me who I am today and in many ways it has been great. Consider me happy with my awakening now.

Your site also looks great – nice graphics!

Debbie FermNo Gravatar January 15, 2010 at 5:09 PM

Hi, I found you at TBEX. I love what you’ve done with thesis. Very cool!

I agree with you about much of this post in that I have never been able to stand the 9-5. But many people do thrive there and go on to have great lives. Also, people feel that discontentment for a variety of reasons and I think it is just something that keeps you searching and changing throughout your life. Good for you for figuring out what makes you happy at this point:)

I have three kids and I have dragged them from here to kingdom come throughout their childhood and into their teens. I plan to travel long after they leave home. Still, I want them to go to college after high school, because you learn far more in college about life than about your “major”.

I would never trade in my college years, nor would I ever regret having gone. I hope you don’t either!

I wish you good luck with your site! Mine is brand new as well. Stop by for a visit:)

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar January 14, 2010 at 7:33 PM

I couldn’t agree more. I fault the cultural norms that are in place. There certainly aren’t many high schoolers who are self-aware. In fact, it seems many make college their career because there’s nothing else to do, or they have little choice. A movement is afoot indeed! Hopefully we’re part of it. 🙂
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Gypsy Wednesday – Go Your Own Way =-.

KeithNo Gravatar January 14, 2010 at 3:15 PM

@Nomadic Chick: It’s a tough decision for high school graduates to not go to college straight away. You need to be highly self-aware to opt out. I think for many, myself included, there is the belief that you will find your dream career by going to college so it makes sense (and it’s exciting) to go after high school.

@Shawn: Thanks for sharing, and for the compliment on the site!

ShawnNo Gravatar January 14, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Hey, by the way, nice job on your site using Thesis, I am in the process of switching over all my sites on Thesis. My travel blog will make the move in a few months.
.-= Shawn´s last blog ..The Beauty of the Weather—Bulgaria =-.

ShawnNo Gravatar January 14, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Well, I have been traveling/nesting for over two years now and I will never go back to the negative energetic entrainment of the workplace that collides with the world.

The trick is non attachment, and of course a little faith.
.-= Shawn´s last blog ..Spiritual Eyes of Blindness—Mawlana Rumi =-.

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar January 13, 2010 at 7:42 PM

Keith, you map out beautifully some of the fantasies and reality that NA folks face as we grow up. I personally believe kids shouldn’t attend university right out of high school, before knowing the world or themselves. My idea for this movement is designing how you want to engage in the world, then build work/money around it. Too often, it’s the opposite, which leaves many adrift. That’s when tedium, boredom and finally, depression set in.
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Gypsy Wednesday – Go Your Own Way =-.

KeithNo Gravatar January 12, 2010 at 2:05 PM

@karenzo: I see where you’re coming from. Last summer I spent five weeks in Europe traveling around Portugal and Scotland, and it was very difficult returning to the same old routine. We are a generally risk-averse society and the decision to start from scratch requires an incredible amount of risk.

@Matt: Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check it out.

Matt (Geeky Traveler)No Gravatar January 12, 2010 at 11:08 AM

There is evidently a LOT of us with the same feeling, enough that this brilliant woman is starting a whole movement on it : – I highly recommend reading her book.

I was all about starting my own business until I was suddenly laid off last August. Got hired at a new place in October and feeling a lot less adventurous right now.
.-= Matt (Geeky Traveler)´s last blog ..Historic California, Part 1 – Placerville =-.

karenzoNo Gravatar January 11, 2010 at 11:45 PM

Actually, to be frank, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve just spent the past few months traveling in South American and feeling very baffled by the fact that I’m still not feeling quite ready to return to the wonderful world of “car payments, mortgages, etc etc.” now that I am back. Nothing about returning to my agency office job after spending day after day discovering the gorgeous wide open world appeals to me. Rather, I just want to go back to South America and continue what I started… Ah, but can I do it?? To be continued…! ps. thanks for this wonderful post. Karen

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