In conversations with young, professional women peers of mine, I hear a great deal of angst about how their career ambitions will play out alongside other things they value, namely family. Indeed, there are a lot of things to be anxious about when it comes to navigating workplaces and professions that structurally and culturally disadvantage women, while also building family. That said, I think that implicit in some of the anxiety is the idea that they will have mediocre partners. That is, less-than-partners really, who wont take on at least an equal share of the burdens (and joys) of home-making and care-giving, making career sacrifices when necessary. That makes me sad. I can’t speak for other men, and I struggle myself with social norms at the intersection of masculinity and career, but I am committed to the work and sacrifice of true partnership. I want to be involved in the messy, exhausting, beautiful work of care-giving and home-making, and of making a life with someone at least as ambitious and capable as I am.
Two years out
Reflecting on the past couple years, there are a few things that I’ve learned at the intersection of the professional and the personal. I was talking recently to a bright young guy coming out of undergrad and found myself giving to him the advice that I most desperately needed a couple months ago:
- The most important skills that come out of your first years in the working world are not so much narrow and task related as they are broad and emotional. They have to do with coping with mediocrity and monotony, with recovering from miserable days and discovering fresh stores of self, with crafting new means of motivation, with developing perspective, and appreciating the comedy and richness in the absurd dramas you’ll encounter.
- If you can make it through the day, you can make it through the week. That seems obvious to the point of being a refrigerator magnet truism, but there have been a lot of days that when I woke, I couldn’t see the end of; there was only the crushing weight of the things I had to get through. But then the day ends, and the morning’s impossibility gives way to the fact that you’re still breathing and nothing is broken beyond repair. You get up and do it again, and again, and next thing you know the week is over.
- Things can change remarkably quickly, in our inner emotional lives, and in the circumstances that we construct our lives in compromise with. Develop a capacity for differentiating between momentary internal crisis and real, potentially life-shattering crisis. Don’t build your happiness around small, passing events. I think the word for that is “Equanimity”. Practice it. Play a long game and ignore the noise. Few of your mistakes are likely to condemn you and no one achievement will guarantee you comfort.
This and other things from pep talks and graduation speech babble. [edited]
Thank you for this thought provoking piece. My reaction is mixed. On the one hand I tend to agree that many of the benefits of college could be had by other means. This is especially true as knowledge repositories and forums for the exchange of ideas are digitized and democratized. On the other, the social and intellectual space of the university can provide some unique and extremely valuable experiences.
For instance, you suggest, “Instead of sitting and sitting and sitting, why not stand up, walk outside, and talk to people who are doing what you want to do?” As someone who went to college but didn’t go to “class” all that often in the traditional sense, this is exactly what college afforded me. When an idea seized me, I was surrounded by people who could help me explore it and flesh out my understanding - peers and professors and practitioners who formed the ecosystem of the university.
One particularly poignant example comes to mind - I was in a guest lecture on Design Thinking which touched on the idea of engineering public spaces that engender the development of shared values and social fabric in heterogeneous communities. The idea fascinated me.
Later that day, (at an outdoor concert in White Plaza, a student space designed to engender personal/intellectual interaction) I ran into a number of people - an economist deeply interested in interfaith bridge-building, a jazz saxophone playing electrical engineer researching next-gen photovoltaics, an anthropologist interested in conservation and sustainability. We had an exchange of ideas, in turns idealistic and humorous and philosophical and technical, which touched on topics from vertical farm engineering to religious politics - all relating back, amazingly, to the original lecture takeaway about engineered public spaces.
I realize that this encounter represents the university at its best and may not be typical. But I would point also to a couple of other important experiences that I suspect are more typical and are not provided for in many other spaces in American life.
For instance, as a black kid raised by liberal parents of modest means in deeply segregated and blighted communities in DC, I was paired for three of my four years with conservative white and Indian roommates. It was one of the most valuable intellectual and personal experience of my life. I had my values and beliefs tested in ways that were often uncomfortable and which I might not have sought out. I learned powerful things about winter sports, social graces and financial literacy and privilege (my own and others’) that inform my personal and professional path.
Another opportunity that a college experience may afford is the space to test out ideas in the real world, but in a fairly low-risk and potentially high-reward way. Even as I explored broadly in the humanities, I was interning at tech companies and prototyping products and pitching ideas to peers and practitioners in industry, many times as part of class projects. This is an increasingly common model in higher education.
All of this is anecdotal, and I realize it represents a remarkably privileged and perhaps atypical college experience, but I do think it bears witness to some important underlying truths about the unique place and value of the university as a space intentionally structured and uniquely resourced to converge diverse ideas and people in ways uncomfortable and magical.
It seems like this article and many commenters are missing the point. We shouldn’t be thinking of academic fields or majors as direct corollaries to jobs or professions (with few exceptions). Rather, an academic course of study should engender useful skills, models, modes of thought (broadly construed) which allow an individual to engage with and navigate the zeitgeist in a way that produces value.
The Theater major’s study of Stanislavski’s System may make them a great actor, but could also make them an effective Interface Designer with deep UX insights (because it encourages them to ask the right questions about user motivation, objectives etc…). The Computer Science major’s mastery of a software development concepts may lead them to a career anonymously (or famously) hacking code, or they might make a career of translating the paradigm of the ‘platform’ into systems and practices for building political movements or enabling institutional transparency.
When I was in High School, Dan Pink told me (and a crowd of my peers) that the jobs we would work as adults, likely hadn’t been invented yet. It was a terrifying thought at the time because, how do you prepare for a job that hasn’t been invented yet? Looking back, that claim articulated immense opportunity even as it acknowledged the perils of our age. The peril lies in the fact that it’s not only hard to find a job because of a down economy, but because many categories of productive endeavor are being transformed by the disruptive forces of technology, globalization, changing cultural/generational paradigms etc…
The opportunity lies in realizing that we live in an age of bricolage - the boundaries between disciplines are of necessity falling down, and the skills and subject matters that constituted the old jobs and professions are being reconstituted in new and remarkable ways. Those who are able to separate the impact they want to make on the world and the sorts of endeavors that bring them personal and professional satisfaction (what sort of work tasks, work settings, customers/constituents/colleagues, subject matter, recognition, compensation), from the jobs and professions (and even academic fields) of yesteryear, will win big.
Just two cents from a recent college grad living and working at the intersections.
Person and Profession
This post has been moved to: http://www.tariqwest.com/2010/04/10/person-and-profession/
Fluff and Flatulent Chihuahuas
Sometimes I love the fluff and inanity of the internet, other days it drives me insane. Lately I’ve been thinking, if I read one more fluffy, ripped-off, popcorn-flick post titled “10 ways to ace a job interview” or “What Gen-Y Wants” or “5 reasons your business needs social media”, I think my head might explode. I’m not saying all the writing on these topics is bad, just that they are rehashed ad-nauseam and most posts I read add little to the conversation.
Making something into a list and putting a number in front of the title (i.e. X ways to do Y) may make it more accessible, but it does not make it insightful. In the case of some of the career advice, it seems like would-be experts are constantly dangling cheap-tips for better prospects in front of struggling people like a leash in front of an ugly chihuahua with a flatulence problem (have you ever seen an ugly chihuahua?). Please people, lets stop providing fodder for Andrew Keen.
Do ya feel me? Feel free to sound off.