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What should I do with my life?
June 26, 2008 9:45 AM   Subscribe

"If I make enough money now, I can quit and do what I really love later." "If I just think hard enough, I'll finally figure out what I want to do with my life." "I know people in this career path lose their souls, but I'll be different." "What if I try a new career, and it turns out I don't like it?" Po Bronson tackles some of the thoughts that keep people from pursuing a career they would really love. The article (one-page version) is based on his New York Times bestseller, What Should I Do With My Life? The writing is several years old, but the question seems to spring eternal.
posted by vytae (195 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember there being a month where I worked as an assitant video editor for this hot shit nyc advertising agency. the money was outstanding, the free lunches a great perk, but the work was soul crushing and I'm one of those people who considers the general messages of a lot of our advertising nowadays to be grossly detrimental to society. Basically I couldn't wait to get out of there. And of course, because the world is designed to frustrate you at every possible moment, once the gig was basically over I got the "how'd you like to stay on here as staff?" offer. I'd probably be rather wealthier right now if I'd taken it, but I'm honestly not sure I could be all that comfortable with myself if I'd contributed to some ad campaign designed to make women feel bad about themselves if they don't buy some useless crap.

of course, I hear that swimming pools full of money help alleviate that discomfort.
posted by shmegegge at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you ask me, there's no better time to seek meaning, satisfaction, and change than when the economy is so far into the shitter that all you can see on the horizon is rusty pipes and tiny little bits of shredded, soggy toilet paper.

That said, this guy does have some great advice, especially the part about living within your means. After all, that's pretty much the only shot most of us have at being able to afford to make a major career change, much less decide on one.
posted by vorfeed at 10:07 AM on June 26, 2008


And then you have kids...
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on June 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


I honestly can't think of a job I'd rather have than the one I have now, teaching first grade. The money's not great, but I feel good about what I do, and I have fun at my job, mostly. I kind of lucked into it: after getting a degree in journalism and working some dead-end jobs, I decided to get a credential almost on a whim. After six years I still enjoy it, and I'm starting my 2.5 month summer vacation this week. Can't complain about the time off...
posted by Huck500 at 10:40 AM on June 26, 2008



Um, what's original here? Does anyone really advise people to choose a career that they hate and to avoid their passion, other than parents afraid their kids will never support themselves?
posted by Maias at 10:47 AM on June 26, 2008


And then you have kids... your tubes tied, because the last thing this world needs right now is another mouth to feed.
posted by mek at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


DATING ADVICE: BE YOURSELF
posted by bonaldi at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


People constantly make career decisions based on money, perceived prestige, and other secondary reasons, Maias. It may have been said before, but it bears repeating. Also, great stuff about how "good work"≠"exciting or dangerous work (necessarily).
posted by Mister_A at 10:56 AM on June 26, 2008


Witness as the author spins out platitudes backed by anecdotal evidence!

He constantly throws up examples of people stuck in a boring job, and then, find an awesome new job that is fulfilling and meaningful. The fact that he went out to look for these people, and only these people, shows a lot of confirmation bias. How many people went down similar roads as the ones mentioned, except only found debt and dead end, meaningless jobs?

I guess I have the same problem with self help books/articles that I do with articles about management: the problem relies on too many variables to be written about in an article or a book. But we hope for instructions to intractable problems, and these promise them. "If you do this, you too can find happiness and fulfillment" See also: religion.
posted by zabuni at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2008 [6 favorites]


I am sure you work exclusively on empirical data, zabuni.
posted by Mister_A at 11:00 AM on June 26, 2008


That article made me feel warm and fuzzy. Sadly it did not help me find the career I will love.
posted by Democritus at 11:05 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don't. Period.

What if you don't love to do anything? Or what you love to do isn't a financially viable career? I mean we do have to eat, and unless we're born with property, we ain't got no land to grow food or build shelter. *shrug*

And then you have kids... your tubes tied, because the last thing this world needs right now is another mouth to feed.

I don't think humans should give up and quit just yet. Although I do understand the feeling.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Still waiting for lucrative career opportunity playing guitar on my porch with my dog at my feet.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:19 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


You could be Willy Nelson!

Being Willy Nelson is my dream job, but Willy never really went at it like a job, y'know?
posted by Mister_A at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


The section summaries are good things for any person to keep in mind when considering a job search, career change, or even in adjusting their current role to be a better fit.

It's the difference between reading a book on musical theory and the Dummy's Guide to Musical Notation (hint: this article is more like the former and most folks are looking for the career version of the latter).

I understand that many people look up to those who have already found success in order to find their own path, but I think the article - like many career resources - over-focuses on a narrow image of what success can be.

The truth is that figuring out what to do with your life is a failure-rich project which can't generally be easily summarised or broken down into discrete steps, as everyone's needs and wants are different.

It takes a variety of resources and attempts to even get to the point of reliable self-support, much less knowing what to do with one's entire life.

Looking at is as a journey with frequent progress checks and re-alignments is probably the most realistic approach, and allows for flexible use of the multitudes of "almost-there" resources.
posted by batmonkey at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Then you has mortgage.
posted by anthill at 11:24 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Zabuni, his book actually has a lot of example of people who have either failed, or are still stuck with the Sword of Damocles of indecision. It's well worth a read - I can honestly say it changed my life, and put me on a career path that makes me happy.
posted by rednikki at 11:24 AM on June 26, 2008


Does anyone really advise people to choose a career that they hate and to avoid their passion, other than parents afraid their kids will never support themselves?

that's a weird distinction you make there. As though parents raising their kids to think that way are some weird outlier phenomenon rather than one of the driving forces behind the current culture of mediocrity and banality.

Also, have you really never met any doctors/lawyers/brokers who, when they're introduced to an artist or creative professional react toward that person dismissively (and in extreme cases outright derisively?) Maybe we don't live in the 80s any more, but I've met plenty of people who sure as hell seem to think we still do.
posted by shmegegge at 11:25 AM on June 26, 2008


Po stands for Po' Boy.

Will Po pay my student loans?
posted by Ironmouth at 11:25 AM on June 26, 2008


also, as an aside, I recently found out that this kid I used to play high school baseball with just won a tony for his orchestrations for broadway. his dad, when he was growing up, relentlessly pushed him to build a future toward becoming a doctor like himself. thankfully he still allowed him to pursue his love for music. kid was a pretty ballin' sax player for a high school kid.
posted by shmegegge at 11:27 AM on June 26, 2008


a friend once said that for him, happiness in life comes from being prepared to live with the consequences of your decisions, whatever they may be. As I have struggled not only with The Question, but the consequences of my decisions, I am struck, in retrospect, by how little the conscious thinking I applied to some pretty major decisions has turned out to have been even remotely accurate in terms of where I ended up - bottom line, for me at least ... it's still a crap-shoot and seems more often than not to boil down to making the best of whatever situation you are in (regardless of how you got there). Maybe that's what my friend really meant. Not really a bad deal if you consider the alternative..... and you still have the option to make another decision - of course it will have consequences! I enjoyed Bronson's piece. Must have been fascinating to meet those people. Thanks for the post vytae.
posted by troutmask at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2008 [9 favorites]


Does anyone really advise people to choose a career that they hate and to avoid their passion, other than parents afraid their kids will never support themselves?

Who encourages people into a job they're going to hate? High school guidance counselors. At least in private schools, where you measure how good your school is by how many students go to Ivy League schools for premed. My guidance counselor had me applying to journalism programs because "writing" was a burnout major. I changed my major my sophomore year and I've never been invited back for career day. Young women don't need to aspire to be burnouts.

For the record, I have a BFA in (essentially) English and now I'm working a shitty job so I can go back to school. Because I want to be a neuropsychopharmacologist. Yeah.

I'm of the opinion that kids really shouldn't have to pick any concentrated direction of study until they're really ready. I had no idea what I wanted when I was 17 and applying to colleges, and my parents threatened to not pay for school if I didn't attend straight out of high school (who turns down free college?), so I picked a subject I did well in and just ran with it. So people like me must account for some of the population of people who hate their jobs. I mean, I hope there are people like me.

And I got nothing out of "What Color Is Your Parachute?" except that I'm supposed to use my connections to find jobs and not rely on the Internet. To which I said, "...what connections?"
posted by giraffe at 11:30 AM on June 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh yea shmegegge, I hear you there. Just yesterday this woman pulled in next to my hot '86 Buick Century—it's the kind with the peeling roof paint, all tricked out—in an Infiniti and just gave the car the meanest look, as though it had somehow violated her or something. I wanted to say "Lady, I'm not my car, and you are not your car," but I was listening to the recap of the latest NY Mets disaster so I just shook my head.

OK that was a little off-topic.
posted by Mister_A at 11:31 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


What do you do when you find yourself in a career that isn't making you happy, you aren't especially good at, and doesn't make ANY money?

But your other options are minimum wage?
posted by jb at 11:32 AM on June 26, 2008


You get some training, jb, if at all possible.
posted by Mister_A at 11:34 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


sorry - to be more accurate, it isn't that there isn't ANY money, just very little of it, but still more than minimum wage for less work.

but likelyhood of future poor.
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on June 26, 2008


Do you generally hate social situations and like being left alone while working on some tedious menial task?

Ask your local agency if temping is for you!
posted by giraffe at 11:34 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Um, what's original here? Does anyone really advise people to choose a career that they hate and to avoid their passion, other than parents afraid their kids will never support themselves?

Well, I teach at a private school with a strong arts program. Our dance program is especially outstanding. Our dancers are regularly offered "free ride" style scholarships to some of the most prestigious dance programs in the country.

99% of them don't take these free rides. Our guidance counselors patiently explain to them that they're never going to make it as dancers and even if they do "there's no money in it" and shouldn't they consider going to colleges that will help them get a good job in business. This causes our dance teachers to lose their minds because, of course, all of our dance teachers went into dance and make a decent living performing and teaching.

Talking to other teachers from other schools, this is a pretty common guidance counselor move - to encourage kids to pursue a college path that will lead them into a lucrative job over something they genuinely like and have a passion for.

I have a drawer full of letters, cc'd to me, from alumni to our guidance counselors about how following their advice was the worst decision they ever made and that they wish they'd stuck with dance (or whatever art they were interested in at the time). Good times, good times.

The school system is aimed at "get into a better college, so you can get a better job." "Better" being defined as "higher paying."

So, in essence, I think parents, guidance counselors and basically the whole educational system all work together to make sure that kids know that making money is the point of life and that enjoying what you do is not relevant.

Randy Newman put it pretty well.

One last thing, doing what you love is not necessarily the same as being poor - which I think is the crux of the "wait 'til you have kids" argument. The point of it is, if you do something you love, presumably you're going to do it well enough that you'll make enough for you and your family to do the things you need to do.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:38 AM on June 26, 2008 [11 favorites]


Articles like this always annoy me with their unrealistic portrayals of the ease of job switching. I find such articles pedantic and insulting to the very large group of us who are on the bottom of the employment ladder and always have been. With a resume compiling 14 years of retail service, never making more than $14K/year, this advice is completely worthless to me. Sure, I'm working towards a degree in a field which will appease my need to do something important for society (planning on being a high school math teacher), but not only will that take a while, I am also unaware as to whether I will be able to handle such a position. So, if not, I will be left in essentially the same boat, only seven or eight years older and with much more debt.

I (and many, many others) can't afford such nonsensical feel-goodery.


Sorry, I've got a lot of money/employment related stress right now.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2008 [6 favorites]


The point of it is, if you do something you love, presumably you're going to do it well enough that you'll make enough for you and your family to do the things you need to do.

Unless you really love children and choose to be a childcare worker. Then you make $17K a year.
posted by giraffe at 11:41 AM on June 26, 2008


doing what you love is not necessarily the same as being poor

Amen - that's a false choice.
posted by Miko at 11:42 AM on June 26, 2008


I dunno, I kind of like doing a difficult and rarely exciting job that pays extremely well so that I can live within my means and still go out to $200 dinners. Guess I'm the exception to the rule.
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:44 AM on June 26, 2008


I'd like to be a lion tamer.
posted by hoskala at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2008


Joey Michaels, I didn't mean to snark and your comment definitely gives me hope. I'm still riled up from that damn Slate story from yesterday.
posted by giraffe at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2008


Training would be a good idea, except that I've just had several years of training to realise I don't like what I'm doing and I have no financial safety net (family or otherwise), so you can understand my waryness of jumping into another form of training.

my problem is that my initial years of training bore little to no resemblance to the work I was training for, and I excelled at the training without having the aptitude for the actual work.

But I can't blame guidance counsellors - I never went to any.

And trust me - more education, better college =! better money. I think there is probably a sweet point where this is true, but then the relationship between education and pay/job security starts failing, even in the most lucrative of high education professions. Medical practice (but not medical research) may be the exception.
posted by jb at 11:47 AM on June 26, 2008


The point of it is, if you do something you love, presumably you're going to do it well enough that you'll make enough for you and your family to do the things you need to do.

Unless you really love children and choose to be a childcare worker. Then you make $17K a year.

Sure, but that's a choice. What if you really love children and choose to own your own daycare? What if you really love children and choose to become a daycare consultant? Or work for the state certifying daycares or training daycare delivery staff? Or become a child development psychologist and study children in daycares? Or create a popular series of videos that gets bought and played by daycares across the country? Or offer a special drama/musical/interactive program to daycares within a 100-mile radius that is sold at a premium?

One of the tricks to happiness with your career is figuring out what elements of your "love" are the most important to you, and how to make them pay. Settling isn't a recipe for happiness. Usually, though, there are more choices than settling for the entry-level position in any particular field. You might love literature, but working as an editorial assistant at a big publisher is going to offer a lot less of what you love than working as an editor. The thing is to recognize that you only need to accept the employment that works for you. No one forces you into any job.
posted by Miko at 11:47 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


You know what? This article has FAILED TO SOLVE EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM IN MY LIFE. I read it, and I AM NO RICHER, MY HAIR IS STILL TURNING GRAY, AND MY COCK IS ONLY SLIGHTLY LARGER THAN BEFORE.

Crap post.
posted by Mister_A at 11:48 AM on June 26, 2008 [6 favorites]


You must commit to that secret, urgent, radiant idea. You must have faith in yourself and give it your all, or at least your most, or whatever you have available without having to make special arrangements. You will not foresee what labor and resources will be required, but you must persevere, because you are inspired.

Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? You destroy your health,waste your finances, devastate the lives of those around you and eventually either die in miserable penury or forestall that fate by taking your own life? Well, boo, hoo, hoo! Nobody said life was fair. —
Ellis Weiner.
posted by Floydd at 11:49 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


Part of the stress and urgency that attends the question of "What should I do with my life?" comes from the very way that people like Bronson are framing it. There's a presumption that it's a valid, natural question to be asking in the first place, and that unless you're "doing something" with your life that can be neatly and pithily encapsulated in a book chapter -- unless your life resembles the dramatic arch of a movie or a novel -- you're somehow not realizing your full potential as a human being. It's tough to avoid the tug of this question, especially if you're a young person today and you see all the options that a privileged existence in the world's richest civilization has laid out before you, but you can also step back every once and a while and realize that the tug is largely an artificial and senseless one.
posted by decoherence at 11:55 AM on June 26, 2008 [15 favorites]


It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don't. Period.

There's a four letter word I use to describe what I do between weekends: work.

Work comes down to a simple paper check: either it is big enough to accept doing the work, or it is not. Period.
posted by three blind mice at 11:57 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a great thing to look for strong resonance between who you are and what you do for work on a daily basis. Some people accomplish that; some don't.

One must go deeper, past Bronson.

Here's a resource that one could use to augment Bronson

Here's Book V, with opening text, below:

"In he morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present- I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?- But this is more pleasant.- Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?- But it is necessary to take rest also.- It is necessary: however nature has fixed bounds to this too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet thou goest beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in thy acts it is not so, but thou stoppest short of what thou canst do. So thou lovest not thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst love thy nature and her will. But those who love their several arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and without food; but thou valuest thy own own nature less than the turner values the turning art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to sleep rather than to perfect the things which they care for. But are the acts which concern society more vile in thy eyes and less worthy of thy labour? "



Here's Book IV, with opening text, below:

"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest. For with what art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.- But perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee out of the universe.- Recall to thy recollection this alternative; either there is providence or atoms, fortuitous concurrence of things; or remember the arguments by which it has been proved that the world is a kind of political community, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps corporeal things will still fasten upon thee.- Consider then further that the mind mingles not with the breath, whether moving gently or violently, when it has once drawn itself apart and discovered its own power, and think also of all that thou hast heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgement in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee.
posted by MetaMan at 11:58 AM on June 26, 2008 [14 favorites]


Who encourages people into a job they're going to hate? High school guidance counselors.

I would ammend that to "High Schools," honestly. I remember when I was a kid, after I realized being an astronaut was not like star wars and that firefighters, though incredibly brave, do not have adventures the way I imagined it, I had a whole bunch of stuff I wanted to do with my life.

One was being an actor. This was based entirely on the fact that I thought it would be awesome to be Bruce Willis in Die Hard or the kids from Honey I Shrunk The Kids. I did the high school plays and shit, and eventually realized that I didn't like acting and I especially didn't like actors. Not insignificantly, the school tried for the entirety of my tenure there to eradicate the program so the money could be put into the football team.

Another was to make computer graphics type stuff. That's what I thought of it as at the time, and I didn't understand what it was I wanted to do until in college I was introduced to 3d modelling and animation by my favorite teacher ever. In high school, though, I was taught that nobody really does that stuff for real and I should just learn to put pastels on paper because that was more like "real art."

Another was to be a comic book artist and writer. Needless to say, there was absolutely no encouragement there in school, or even an attempt to channel that energy into an art program that might one day lead me in a number of directions related to illustration or design.

Another was to make movies. My school had no A/V club.

Another was to be a writer. That's about the only career path that my school actively encouraged me to follow. Had some great teachers on that front. I went to college for literature, and once there discovered that art and digital media was way more my speed. I graduated with a BA in literature, but I now work in video.

Basically, high schools teach you to follow these incredibly narrow (and narrowing) career paths that are either a) pro athlete (or construction worker if the whole "pro" thing doesn't work out), b) academic, or c) business. our art classes seem to breed art history majors more than artists, and for every college educated spielberg type there are a thousand plucky dudes who had to learn shit themselves and fight for their lucky break into showbusiness. our drama or musical departments teach us nothing about acting or production or direction. our shop classes teach us to be welders and carpenters, not engineers and inventors. our history and english classes are breeding a generation of people forced to work as copy editors at the NYPost. To quote Dead Prez "Our schools can't teach us shit." They seem to be a holdover from a different work force, one with entirely different opportunities and requirements. My brother went to a great culinary institute to become the pastry chef he is today, but he had to learn everything from the ground up there because no institute really expects high school home ec to have taught anyone the skills they need.

It honestly seems to me that, despite the valiant work of legions of dedicated and marvelous teachers, the school system itself is designed quash the dreams of students and to prevent them from learning the useful things they'd need to know to pursue the career of their dreams. History is important, yes. Physics, chemistry, all of that is obviously important. But if I have to learn another language and cannot learn anything about film making or even appreciating film then there's a pretty big gap in the available education. The number one language needed for translators right now is Arabic. How many schools offer that as opposed to French and Spanish?
posted by shmegegge at 11:58 AM on June 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


Our consumer corporate economy is set up with one thing in mind: How can I best get you, the worker, to make me, the owner, wealthier without it making my life a hassle.

2 hour commutes? 10 hour work days? Six day work weeks? Cubicles? 15 minute lunches? Products that you know are not truly ethical but sell? As long as most of you don't bitch to me this is what I will do. I will always push to sacrifice your happiness for mine. Period.

Now the best people in any given industry will realize their value and will stop getting pushed around. If I can't find people that will be pushed to sacrifice I will then make concessions to my own immediate profit and hire better people that cost more who will push back and be happy but also get more done. However in lieu of those people I will take the sheep who are cheaper and hire more of them.

You want to happy like me? Go start your own business.
posted by tkchrist at 12:06 PM on June 26, 2008 [10 favorites]


"That question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars." - Michael Bolton
posted by roystgnr at 12:06 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem, shmegegge, is that schools are slow to adapt to changes in society. The more significant problem though is that now schools are teaching kids how to take tests. Grade school and high school have become a long, long Kaplan Test Prep course. That's because schools will lose funding if their pupils don't perform sufficiently well on standardized tests.

I'm a good test-taker. I could get a 60 coming in cold on a multiple choice test on a topic I know nothing about, but being a good tester just means you have some intuition about the nature of these tests, and know how to eliminate possibilities. It means you can figure out puzzles, but it doesn't mean you know anything of value. I would like to see the various standardized achievement tests abolished for elementary and high school students.
posted by Mister_A at 12:13 PM on June 26, 2008


They seem to be a holdover from a different work force, one with entirely different opportunities and requirements.

Well, of course, they were designed for a different workforce.

I quote the May 2008 issue of Educational Leadership:
Why are U.S. high school failing us? Partly because they were nbever designed to meet today's moral and economic imperative of graduating all students. When the "modern" high school system was established in the early 20th century, only 10 percent of 14- to 17- year-olds attended high school (National Center for Educational Statistic, 2006). It wasn't until 1918 that all states required children to attend elementary school; in that era, a high school education was a luxury afforded only to upper-income families. Getting a well-paying job without a high school diploma was not simply possible; it was the norm ("Public Education," 2007).

Fast-forward to 2008, when 90 percent of well-paying jobs require post-secondary education or training (U.S. Department of Labor, 2006). A constantly changing labor market has created new challenges; students must acquire adaptable, transferable skills as well as specific content knowledge to be adequate employees. And as many markets go global, the skills of U.S. workers - and the standards of education - must meet new international benchmarks.

Clearly, the education goals of the United States have changed profoundly from those of a century ago. Yes, the typical U.S. high school education has remained virtually unchanged. Classroom teachers are still often trained to be isolated content lecturers who engage in little collaboration with local communities, colleges, or businesses. And high school students are still pushed into outdated, one-size-fits-all courses rather than given the personal attention and flexibility they need to stay on the path to graduation. These antiquated practices show that the education system has not fully responded to changing demands and continues to be misaligned with the modern workforce.
To whit, a cookie cutter approach to education suggests that all the cookies are going to come out the same. In fact, it demands that all the cookies come out the same.

Want to be a scientist? Well, why not follow the business path and see how you like that.

Want to be an artist? Well, why not follow the business path and see how you like that?

Want to go into business? Good choice, kid. Here's your training cubicle.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:17 PM on June 26, 2008 [9 favorites]


Definitely true, Miko. The problem is that not everyone gets higher education or any specific job training, mostly because it is so. damn. expensive. I guess the childcare example was a bad one on my part because I know nothing about it. Do you have to go through some certification to inspect and certify a childcare-related business? Is it paid training from the state, and if so, do they have requirements like a bachelor's degree?

The problem is, you can find a job you love if you can afford it, and unfortunately some people need to settle for less-than-love. I spend 12 hours a day getting to work, working and getting home from work and it seems like an insurmountable challenge to use the other 4 hours I'm awake to take classes (I'm looking for a different job). I imagine less fortunate people who didn't get to go to college probably work harder and for a longer period of time than I do. I imagine that those people have even less time and resources to work their way towards something more fulfilling. Do you just end up loving the job you have?
posted by giraffe at 12:19 PM on June 26, 2008


Who encourages people into a job they're going to hate? High school guidance counselors.

This is a misreading of the problem. It isn't the career choice that causes people problems, most of the time. I loved what I did, when I had a day job, but I couldn't stand the lifestyle choices I was pushed toward, or the power structure of the company I worked for. It is those kinds of details that destroy your soul. High school guidance councilors don't have anything to do with that.. To such an extent, actually, that you could argue they are complicit in a whitewashing of how soul destroying and unnecessary compartmentalized corporate work is :P
So ya.. That argument went full circle..
posted by Chuckles at 12:22 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I was making the best money of my life, I was miserable. Mainly because I left my support system and comfort zone... I LOVED what I was doing, adored the job itself, but increasingly I found myself feeling insanely lonely while doing it and THAT was what I really couldn't take.

I've come to realize that a lot of people in this world life a life of quiet desperation and have no passion in life, so finding out what you love is hugely important. And pursuing that is huge. But feeling surrounded by people who love you and appreciate you while you're doing what you love is even more important. Without that it doesn't feed you as much.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:24 PM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


"LIVE a life" not "life a life"
posted by miss lynnster at 12:25 PM on June 26, 2008


I think elementary and especially high school kids need to do "preceptorships" with people in various fields to get an idea of what they actually do, because when you come out of high school, you have no idea what a typical day as, say, a CPA, is like. That would help kids make better decisions about college. '

That said, most of the people I know and work with went to school for something radically different than what they're doing now. Except the art directors; most of them got formal training in college.
posted by Mister_A at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


I quote the May 2008 issue of Educational Leadership:

Why are U.S. high school failing us?


Indeed high school are failing us.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:30 PM on June 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


Why are U.S. high school failing us?

Indeed high school are failing us.


Yeah, sorry, I typed that quote in without looking at it. My bad for relying on spell check and not proof reading it. There are other errors, too.

The article isn't online so I had to type the quote out. It isn't actually spelled incorrectly in print.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:33 PM on June 26, 2008


Our guidance counselors patiently explain to them that they're never going to make it as dancers and even if they do "there's no money in it" and shouldn't they consider going to colleges that will help them get a good job in business.

Of course, on the other side of things, they're right. I don't think anyone I know is more miserable than the people trying to pursue careers with arts with nothing to fall back on. People who got MFAs from great acting schools, and now they're working their butts off in exhausting low wage jobs to pay their bills while they try as hard as they can to try to work on their craft, but they don't really have the time or the energy because they have to work so damn hard for peanuts. I don't know if many of the people who think they regret not pursuing that path would truly regret it if they say how very hard it is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:33 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeh, dream jobs are also still jobs, and work sucks.
posted by bonaldi at 12:38 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, on the other side of things, they're right.

Well, no, they're right some of the time. They're also wrong some of the time. They have no way of judging whether a student has the potential to succeed in an art - or a science - or a sport. They encourage the students to abandon any career option that is outside the safe, predictable world of business.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:40 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have always loved Thoreau's quote:

This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:42 PM on June 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


I think the more important thing is not connecting your worth as a person to your job or set of job skills. I see a conscious thing going on with a lot of people i know (bobtroy included) that is a rejection of the idea that you need to struggle on the nasty treadmill for a while before you can relax and be happy. It helps that were generally old enough to have found out for ourselves (you can't be told it!) that the money/stuff isn't worth the shit you crawl through to get it. I would rather have four free hours to play around on the piano or guitar than work four extra hours to buy CDs of someone else playing around on the piano or guitar.
posted by troybob at 12:46 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your job does not define who you are.
posted by mattbucher at 12:46 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Your job does not define who you are.

But people sure make it seem like it does.

So what do YOU do, mattbucher?
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:48 PM on June 26, 2008


What is "what you do?"

Is it the work you do all day? Or is is the people you spend time with, the food you cook, the books you read, the tv and movies you watch, the video games you play? The older I get the more I realize that although my job is certainly important to my overall satisfaction level, expecting it to be wonderful and satisfactory in every way is just unrealistic and will end up making me more unhappy.

To a certain extent, I think stuff like this is counterproductive because it encourages people to endlessly strive for that "perfect career." I mean sure, if you're totally miserable figure out something else to do, but if you have certain dissatisfactions why not concentrate on spending time with your friends and family (if you like them) or developing a hobby, or whatever it is you do outside work?
posted by miss tea at 12:48 PM on June 26, 2008 [5 favorites]


Another great Thoreau nugget:

Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2008


They have no way of judging whether a student has the potential to succeed in an art - or a science - or a sport.

That's not true. There are plenty of ways of judging whether someone has the potential, the means, the training, the background, whatever, to succeed in the career path of their choice. Will that judgment be right all the time? No, but it can still be useful.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:51 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think elementary and especially high school kids need to do "preceptorships" with people in various fields to get an idea of what they actually do, because when you come out of high school, you have no idea what a typical day as, say, a CPA, is like. That would help kids make better decisions about college.

Isn't this career day at most schools? It's not a field trip or anything, but people come to the school and speak about their jobs. Or do they not do it anymore? My school did this for the senior class like, two weeks after application deadlines for college, so we kind of failed at life in that respect. Also, we only invited alumnae to career day, which totally reinforced the whole, "you can only go into X, Y or Z fields" prodding we'd been receiving earlier. So I got vague impressions on what a day was like for a first grade teacher, a CEO for some random nondescript company and other stuff I didn't care for.

On the other hand, I thought I had a great understanding of writers did from reading Bukowski. I was so wrong. I didn't have a typewriter, I still don't like hardboiled eggs and I barely ever got laid. I don't think Bukowski read through a publisher's slush pile for a menial wage either. The drinking parts were spot on though.
posted by giraffe at 12:51 PM on June 26, 2008


Our guidance counselors patiently explain to them that they're never going to make it as dancers and even if they do "there's no money in it" and shouldn't they consider going to colleges that will help them get a good job in business.

It can cut both ways, though - I know a lot of people who, because they were the best dancer, artist, singer, actor in our crappy high school, were encouraged by teachers to view their talent as a viable career option far beyond what would have been in their best interest. Advising is a tough gig, and I wouldn't necessarily want the responsibility. Out of every group of bright young dancers who decide that they're gonna make it.... how many make it? And how many wind up in low-pay, low-satisfaction jobs and teach ballet class on Saturday afternoon? That vast majority would have been better off pursuing (o! how tragic!) a career that would enable them to support themselves. Out of the dozen or so Artists! I knew in high school - the only one who's still in the game is the one who married a rich guy. The happiest people I know are those for whom their work is their passion and vocation - but if you aren't among that happy few, maybe you'd be happier in your work if you stopped expecting your work to make you happy.
posted by moxiedoll at 1:05 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


i look forward to the future utopia when all people are self-actualized and happy and running shoes and hamburgers make themselves. until then, BACK TO WORK, YOU LAZY BUMS!
posted by klanawa at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2008


I have determined that what I *really* want to do is batter Po Bronson around the head with a copy of The Secret.
posted by Artw at 1:10 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


As someone who is going through a major career change process right now, I've read a lot on this subject. There are days when full time work plus night class seems like too much trouble, not to mention too much expense. There are days when I don't want to give up this paycheck, even though I know my new path will bring so much more satisfaction. That's why I appreciate articles like this, because they remind me of how much I really do want to make this change, and that it's possible.

Still, the old yay-you, go-be-happy stuff all starts to sound the same after a while. A couple people in this thread have commented on that. The reason I felt like this article in particular was worth posting was that it hits a few points that I haven't seen elsewhere, and they're points that seem much more grounded in reality than many follow-your-dreams articles tend to be. For instance:

"avoiding crap shouldn't be the objective in finding the right work. The right question is, How can I find something that moves my heart, so that the inevitable crap storm is bearable?"

"We still cling to the idea that work should not only be challenging and meaningful -- but also invigorating and entertaining. But really, work should be like life: sometimes fun, sometimes moving, often frustrating, and defined by meaningful events."

"One of the most common mistakes is not recognizing how these value systems will shape you. People think that they can insulate themselves, that they're different. They're not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life?"

"The first psychological stumbling block that keeps people from finding themselves is that they feel guilty for simply taking the quest seriously. They think that it's a self-indulgent privilege of the educated upper class. Working-class people manage to be happy without trying to "find themselves," or so the myth goes. But I found that just about anybody can find this question important. It's not just for free agents, knowledge workers, and serial entrepreneurs. I met many working-class people who found this question essential. They might have fewer choices, but they still care."

I was also really struck by this next point in particular: "What am I good at? is the wrong starting point. People who attempt to deduce an answer usually end up mistaking intensity for passion. To the heart, they are vastly different. Intensity comes across as a pale busyness, while passion is meaningful and fulfilling." I know a lot of really smart people who aren't happy in their jobs, but who feel like their "potential" would be wasted if they did something that didn't require all their intellectual capacity. They're programmers who feel like they're "too smart" to be elementary school teachers even though they love kids and they love teaching. Or whatever, the example's not that important. I think a lot of people who were labeled "gifted" as students end up getting pushed into traditional "brainy" careers, when they could have been happier doing creative work or physical work or people-oriented work. "I'm good at X" is often equated with "I would enjoy doing X for a job" in career guidance articles, so I liked seeing them separated here.
posted by vytae at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2008 [8 favorites]


On the flip side of that, there's those of us who actually enjoy business and went to business school only to find out that every directionless frat boy with no intellectual curiosity whatsoever ends up in business school. My God, how soul crushing is it to work in a group wherever everyone's express goal is to get the project done as quickly as possible and with as little effort as possible. Then the kid who continually says "well my dad's companies" somehow always does well as long as he mentions getting his car fixed by Lee Iaccoca himself.

Hmm. On second thought maybe it was a good prep for the business world ...
posted by geoff. at 1:14 PM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


For all you idealistic dreamers throwing out Thoreau quotes, I want you to consider this: "Thoreau also wore a neck-beard for many years, which he insisted many women found attractive." So, there's something for you to think about.
posted by ND¢ at 1:15 PM on June 26, 2008 [13 favorites]


The problem is, you can find a job you love if you can afford it, and unfortunately some people need to settle for less-than-love. I spend 12 hours a day getting to work, working and getting home from work and it seems like an insurmountable challenge to use the other 4 hours I'm awake to take classes (I'm looking for a different job). I imagine less fortunate people who didn't get to go to college probably work harder and for a longer period of time than I do. I imagine that those people have even less time and resources to work their way towards something more fulfilling. Do you just end up loving the job you have?

I'm a little on the fence on this question. Though I'm certainly a big advocate for smoothing pathways for those whose educations and financial situations make choosing better employment hard, I'm also someone who has fought hard and clawed my way into a career that I love. It took a long time, and it wasn't easy. While transitioning to my present career, I had to take a large salary step down and worked a second job the entire time, so my days were also 12 hours or more (depending on how busy the restaurant got). The thing is - if you have a passion, if you feel you're on the right track and you have a vision for where you would like to be, you just keep hammering at it and finding ways to make things work. Maybe you can't go back to school with the job you have, so yes, getting a different job might make that possible. Maybe you can't work in the field you want right away, so opening doors by interning or volunteering or offering yourself as an unpaid apprentice can move you forward. These are all things I did (two jobs, unpaid internship, volunteering to get foot in door, changing jobs when need be). I'm about to do it again - I need to finish graduate school, and I don't have any money for it and can't enroll right away. So I'm on to solving the next set of problems - getting into a program, moving closer to that program, finding a job that will help pay for the program, and seeking funding and other pickup/side jobs to make it happen.

You can have a job you love. I think where people get off on the wrong track is thinking that it's easy to have the job you love. It's not easy at all. All the obstacles you mention are real obstacles. But, with effort, obstacles can be overcome. Once you stop telling yourself "there's no way" and start actively reasearching, talking to people, looking for and being open to solutions, and taking your goals seriously, pathways open up. But, yes, it's a project- not something as simple as wishing it and having it appear.

My career path has been bumpy and very difficult and at times discouraging. But at each decision point, you just have to ask yourself: how do I get closer to where I want to be? and act accordingly. Sometimes it means really struggling - but the point is, you can have the work you want, and make the money you need, if you refuse to give up on the idea that you deserve to. There is always a way to be found. And I say that as a lucky, but also hardworking, kid from a working-class family whose folks did not pay for college or buy me a car or start me off with any money. It's not that I think the breaks I got are available to everyone (not everyone gets to go to college, not everyone gets support to do so, not everyone had a good secondary school education, not everyone is free from supporting family), but I do think that for people who are bound and determined to do something they really love usually can do so, provided they are in a position to make even a few choices in life, and can articulate a goal and have some time - even a few hours a week - to devote to the pursuit of the goal.

I agree that there are people who are stuck in a combination of factors like a low-wage job, bad hours, long commute, little access to training or programs, few community resources, inadequate education, and/or responsibilities to family members, and for those people, it is damned hard to break out of the rut. Because access is everything - if you can't give yourself access to people who can move your career along, you can't get far. And all those problems are barriers to accessing people and institutions who can help you.

But I suspect the majority of mostly college-educated, computer-using people who are reading about this here are people who have many more choices than they tell themselves they have. They are not in quite the same straits as the working poor, who really do have many more obstacles to deal with at once. For those people, glib advice about doing what you love needs to be tempered with real, nuts-and-bolts assistance in overcoming structural barriers that are very real. But for everyone else, it's quite possible. It's just a problem to be solved. I think work life boils down to three kinds of people: people who do what they do because it's fine and they don't really care all that much exactly what they do for work; people who love what they do and will work really hard to make sure they can continue to do it or to do more of it; and people who dislike what they do, but never take action to do what they really want because they talk themselves out of it, don't want to work that hard at changing, or don't believe they deserve it. It's that latter group that I think pep-talky books like this are most useful for. It's not that hard to go from Group 3 to Group 2 if you listen to people like this author.
posted by Miko at 1:16 PM on June 26, 2008 [17 favorites]


But I suspect the majority of mostly college-educated, computer-using people who are reading about this here are people who have many more choices than they tell themselves they have.

Indeed! One of the things I've noticed with friends is that each of us will hold ourselves back because we start off with the assumption that it is just not possible; and then, coming out the other end, we wonder why we ever thought that in the first place.
posted by troybob at 1:20 PM on June 26, 2008


What if you really love children and choose to own your own daycare? What if you really love children and choose to become a daycare consultant? Or work for the state certifying daycares or training daycare delivery staff?

Maybe because you'd rather actually work with children, not manage people who work with children?
posted by JaredSeth at 1:21 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's not true. There are plenty of ways of judging whether someone has the potential, the means, the training, the background, whatever, to succeed in the career path of their choice. Will that judgment be right all the time? No, but it can still be useful.

FWIW, I am specifically talking about guidance counselors and, furthermore, in my specific case, I work in a school that has an arts emphasis with professional artists - who also are teachers - giving students intensive, daily training in their art in addition to a college prep curriculum. Our teachers, as professional dancers for example, have a good sense of what one needs to make it in the world of professional dance (or dance education). Indeed, since the guidance counselors here have no experience in the professional dance world and our teachers do, I would say that, in the case of our program, our guidance counselors truly are not the best judges of whether these kids have the potential to make it or not.

As I mentioned before, we've had kids offered full rides at some of the top dance programs in the country and the guidance counselors still tell them to give it up. Our top ballerina from last year was encouraged to pursue a career in travel industry management, for example. And that's what she's doing. She was encouraged to go to a college that didn't offer dance so "she wouldn't get distracted again."

Yeah, I suppose I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:22 PM on June 26, 2008


One last thing - some people love making money and don't care how they earn it, and that's pretty much ok, too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:23 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that what the article and all these personal anecdotes tell us is that there aren't really any "right" answers to this question. You can do everything right and still fail; conversely, you can make all the wrong decisions and end up with exactly the life you wanted.

It's like trying to predict, thousands of turns in advance, the winning movements on an enormous chess board. There are so many variables, so many chaotic possibilities, that the whole concept of "life planning" seems reduced to absurdity.

The words of troutmask and his friend ring most true to me.
posted by anifinder at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2008


Well, for me the perfect career would be musician/writer. But in both of those pursuits, I'm FAR outside of anything resembling commercial viability, or so it seems. And I don't want to compromise in any way to become viable. I mean, for people like us, it's not just about being poor as a sacrifice, you still have to do something 40 hours a week, which you probably won't like all the time, just to get the dignity of being called poor instead of broke. Personally, I feel fortunate to be making good money, doing something I like... reasonably enough, with free time to happily work on weird experimental music and a novel which might be summarily rejected by every publishing house in the country. That was my choice to make, and for now I'm glad I made it.
posted by naju at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2008


I think a lot of people who were labeled "gifted" as students end up getting pushed into traditional "brainy" careers, when they could have been happier doing creative work or physical work or people-oriented work.

Good point - a great example is my 33-year-old brother. He has spent his adult life bouncing around various semi-professional jobs, never finding a fit - working as a rare book dealer and a bookseller and a graphic designer and things like that - just because he had imbibed, all his life, the idea that he was a smart guy and should do something that was literate and genteel like that. He is quite intelligent, well-read, and bright, and we were raised with the insistence that you go to college and yu become a professional. We are the first generation in our family that could do so and the pressure was great to do just that: go to college and get the kind of job that the college-educated get.

Only last year did he and his wife sit down and look at their lives and goals. He had always hated his jobs. When he asked himself honestly what he really wanted to do, the answer, which surprised them both, was "I want to work with my hands." Doing something mechanical and finite and concrete. Lo and behold, he enrolled in a program to become a deisel mechanic, and he's really happy. It's concrete and suits his urge to understand systems and make them work. He gets a lot of satisfaction from the problem-solving and the gratification of a creating a healthy, working system at the end of a project. He enjoys the relaxed atmosphere and the lack of B.S. And in the big picture, it makes sense - we come from a long line of tradespeople and skilled workers who liked what they did and were proud of it. Just because their assumption always was that going to college and entering the professional world were better than those jobs doesn't make it true in our time. The wages in the field are insane, the benefits and hours good, the job security and field forecast excellent. Being happy with your work can take a lot of forms, and some of our assumptions about who's supposed to do what don't hold true.
posted by Miko at 1:28 PM on June 26, 2008 [12 favorites]


Maybe because you'd rather actually work with children, not manage people who work with children?

Nicely missed point that there are a lot of ways to satisy an interest, not only one. Besides, if you "really love children" there are many ways to feel you are helping children have better lives. I really love nature, but I have more choices besides running a plant nursery.
posted by Miko at 1:31 PM on June 26, 2008


But I suspect the majority of mostly college-educated, computer-using people who are reading about this here are people who have many more choices than they tell themselves they have.

Friends and I agree you could a religion, philosophy, way of life, or whatever by viewing The Eagles' Their Greatest Hits as a source of pithy wisdom like the Book of Proverbs or the Psalms. They've certainly got this covered:

So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key


They also have much to teach us on the value of taking it easy and not letting the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:32 PM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]


YOUR DREAMS ARE REAL. YOU SHOULD FOLLOW THEM.
posted by loquacious at 1:33 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


On this topic much has been written - below is quoted perhaps the most intelligent comment of them all:

"My friends, beware the siren song of those who would coax your ship of life away from responsible channels. The passage of time is real, the aging of the flesh and brain is also real. All your worries about your "art" and how you should live your life become ridiculous as you swing into your 40s, 50s and beyond, and (in the words of Bruce Springsteen) you stop wondering what kind of person you're going to become, and realize that you are now the person you are.

At that point, I don't care who you are, and how aware you are of the shallowness of our social lives and ambitions, you will become suddenly aware -- with a terrible sinking feeling -- that only two things are really important right now: your health and financial security. At which point, you become really sorry you never went into investment banking, medicine, or the law, and that you didn't begin flossing when you were a teenager.

As a thirty year old, you're still zooming along in life, worrying about whether or not you are fulfilled. Then over the next decade and a half, your life becomes a slow-motion slam into the wall of aging. It's not just a physical or mental thing. It's encompasses you're whole state of being. In one sense, it's magnificent, in that you come to see the whole pattern of your life as if from a great height, and get great understanding at a point where it no longer does you any good.

At the same time, you come to understand why non-hipster society has arranged itself the way it has, with its emphasis on job, family, responsibility, and the need to make lots and lots of money. You see why people tell you to take good care of yourself in terms of health and wellness, and to avoid injuries when you are young. Life narrows with age. Your options disappear. Your sex hormones dry up, and you suddenly wonder why the hell you did 90 percent of what you did in your life up until then -- much of which no longer interests you. Social status becomes very important, as you come to realize the very serious social penalties of aging with low status.

There is, indeed, way more to life than hectic busyness, work, keeping up with the Joneses, jogging, etc. But my advice to the young is: Be adult. Be very adult. Make lots of money. Save it. Take exquisite care of your teeth, your precious legs, and heart. Eat a low fat diet. Don't get fat (there are grotesque penalties for fat older people). Don't drink. Don't do dangerous sports.

The concerns of youth vanish like a vapor. Adult Land is your ultimate destination, and you will have to play by its rules. Learn them now, while you have the freedom and flexibility to determine some fraction of your destiny, and prepare. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. But there are billions of people in this world, and the odds that you are exceptional are very slender."

posted by Faze at 2:15 PM on May 27 2008

posted by ruelle at 1:38 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


But these kinds of sentiments, though they do contain lots of truth, always puzzle me, because there is nothing mutually exclusive about doing something you like for work and having health and financial security.
posted by Miko at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Being Willy Nelson is my dream job, but Willy never really went at it like a job, y'know?

Yes, because touring relentlessly from shithole bar to shithole bar in the 50s and 60s wasn't really, you know, work.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't know about anyone else, but I can't, for the life of me, recall a moment in my life where I so much as had an opportunity to discover what I might enjoy doing. As a kid, I got pushed into the direction of art by everyone around me because, it seemed, I had that talent. Then, it was strongly suggested, that I should study graphic design because that was field one could actually make a living doing. I didn't grow up in an environment where you could be exposed to too many career possibilities beyond factory work or "business", so I trusted the chorus since I sure as hell had no clue. And, I sure did like to draw!

30 years later, after a long string of soul-sucking jobs, I still don't know what the fuck I should be doing. But, I have that mortgage to pay...and health insurance...so, I just keep doing what I know how to do.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:42 PM on June 26, 2008


Following your dream ...

Surfwise [website | trailer].
"Like many American outsider-adventurers, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz set out to realize a utopian dream. Abandoning a successful medical practice, he sought self-fulfillment by taking up the nomadic life of a surfer. But unlike other American searchers like Thoreau or Kerouac, Paskowitz took his wife and nine children along for the ride, all eleven of them living in a 24 foot camper. Together, they lived a life that would be unfathomable to most, but enviable to anyone who ever relinquished their dreams to a straight job. The Paskowitz Family proved that America may be running out of frontiers, but it hasn’t run out of frontiersman."
posted by ericb at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


They also have much to teach us on the value of taking it easy and not letting the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy...

... and to always be on the lookout for witchy women.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:43 PM on June 26, 2008


Wow, ruelle...what a great illustration of the intimidation and fear designed to keep people handcuffed to that treadmill. It almost needs a tagline at the end: This public service announcement brought to you by the baby boomers, who ask that you please not stop working your ass off until our generation has been subsidized, cradle to grave.
posted by troybob at 1:44 PM on June 26, 2008 [16 favorites]


Yeah: and before touring and running a band, Willie Nelson was also working away constantly to fulfill some serious songwriting contracts.
posted by Miko at 1:50 PM on June 26, 2008


Then, it was strongly suggested, that I should study graphic design because that was field one could actually make a living doing.

Man, that was before every college graduate with a copy of photoshop decided to flood the market and start his own "this is why all design sucks except for my revolutionary designs" blog.
posted by shmegegge at 1:54 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Abandoning a successful medical practice, he sought self-fulfillment by taking up the nomadic life of a surfer.

Did he abandon all the money from that medical practice as well? something tells me that lucrative practice of his (and the home he presumably sold) paid for at least his abililty to pack everything up in a trailer and ride the fuck out of dodge in the first place.
posted by shmegegge at 1:56 PM on June 26, 2008


So what do YOU do, mattbucher?

I've been asking myself that very question. Just found out today that I won't be laid off although many others in my department were "let go" today. Staring down the barrel of unemployment in a weak economy has had me seriously examining my options in life and honestly, none of them sound very great. It's hard to get excited about working for another soulless corporation, sitting in a cubicle all day, doing "work" that really doesn't interest me. So, I've been thinking that what does sound good is working for yourself, being your own boss, being in a situation where you have some real control and the harder you work, the more you hone your skills, the more you achieve, the more you are rewarded (rather than fired). I am still slightly worried that I will have lived my life and not created enough. I used to be creative, but I feel some of that evaporating. It's hard to focus on that artistic vision when you work 40 hours a week, have a wife and kids to attend to, fix up the house, go to Target, and all that mundane shit. I know that it's possible and you could bust out 20 links about people who achieve so much, but I feel that slipping away and part of me thinks that's OK, let it go, provide for your family, put money in the retirement account, enjoy those few hours on sunday when you can relax, drink a beer with friends, and live in the moment.
posted by mattbucher at 1:58 PM on June 26, 2008


I actually had to address the "what should I do with my life?" question last night. With the birth of our first child and my wife having a better paying job, I planned on doing my current job from home come the fall. Unfortunately, my company didn't agree with my plans.

The one thing I'll be for sure is a stay-at-home-dad, but I'm going to have to find something to do to pick up extra money on the nights and weekends, and also pick up some skills so that when I do go back to full time work, I'm in a good position.

The question was: what skills to pick up though.

I'm a big dabbler/scanner type, I'm interested in doing so much, but I never care as deeply about any particular area as people who specialize. In thinking it over, the one broad way of describing what I wish could do with my life is inventor/builder of some sort. In a way, it's what I've always been working towards, learning building techniques from circuits to wood and metal.

Unfortunately, it'll probably be a while before my skills are far enough along that I can actually do anything self-supporting with them. So, in the mean time, I'll do whatever pays me the best to do the least objectionable work.
posted by drezdn at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2008


but I feel that slipping away and part of me thinks that's OK, let it go, provide for your family, put money in the retirement account, enjoy those few hours on sunday when you can relax, drink a beer with friends, and live in the moment.

swear to God I am NEVER having kids.
posted by shmegegge at 2:02 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am shocked, shocked to discover that our society is structured in a way to make us all unhappy 9-to-5 worker drones.

If I could offer any solution, it would be "Don't change your job. Change society and your job will follow."
posted by Avenger at 2:12 PM on June 26, 2008


I'm in the weird position that I have a very part-time 'job' that I absolutely love (web developing) and, at the same time, I'm in college following a career path that I dislike (high school teacher of english).

On one hand, I can't work full time in what I love because here in Chile no one would hire me without a diploma certifying that I studied something related. On the other hand, I would prefer to kill myself before having to work as a high school teacher (having to teach people who don't want to learn is a nightmare).
posted by Memo at 2:16 PM on June 26, 2008


For all you idealistic dreamers throwing out Thoreau quotes, I want you to consider this: "Thoreau also wore a neck-beard for many years, which he insisted many women found attractive." So, there's something for you to think about.

That tidbit in the wikipedia entry has made my day.
posted by maxwelton at 2:17 PM on June 26, 2008


If I could offer any solution, it would be "Don't change your job. Change society and your job will follow."

I would take it just a bit further: "Change yourself, and society will follow." I am encouraged by the fact that more people are deciding that the definition of success that has reigned for the past few decades is not the only one, or even the best one.
posted by troybob at 2:20 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I make video games for a living. Sadly, I can't do what I love because Burning Man is only one week a year, and they don't even have a Lap Dance Critic position with a six-figure salary.
posted by mullingitover at 2:22 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did he abandon all the money from that medical practice as well? something tells me that lucrative practice of his (and the home he presumably sold) paid for at least his abililty to pack everything up in a trailer and ride the fuck out of dodge in the first place.

Yep. Watch the "trailer."

In the documentary the family recalls when they burned through their very last dime.

They lived the nomadic lifestyle for 25 years (1958 - 1983), home-schooling their 9 kids.

The children turned out well and look back at the experience with fondness and having learned a lot about themselves, their family and life.

"...after almost 50 years of marriage the Doctor and his wife live in Honolulu, Hawaii. He still surfs at Waikiki. She watches him and swims in the blue water. They now have 17 grandchildren."*
"Talk to the Paskowitz progeny and they tell tales of their father’s iron will as well as their outlandish freedom growing up. 'It was like the Lost Boys and Lord of the Flies combined,' says Abraham, who treasures memories of 'the greatest childhood that could ever be lived.'

...It was the life Doc wanted, and society’s norms didn’t apply. 'Our day-to-day job was to parent our children in a way that they emerged from childhood as strong, wonderful adults,' he says.

All the children except Abraham now live in California, with occupations that run from movie producer to rock singer to surf instructor. At the Paskowitz apartment the phone rings constantly, always one of the children checking in.

...The money Doc scraped together wandering with his brood doesn’t come along so easily anymore. He used to work in emergency rooms for a few days and make enough to provide for his family for a month. Or he’d spend a few months as the on-set physician for TV’s Gunsmoke, the camper parked nearby. He’s still licensed to practice in California and Hawaii, but today he and Juliette mostly get money from the[ir] surf camp (run by fourth child Israel, a former surfing champion), their monthly Social Security checks, and a few of their kids who can afford to help.

For years Doc didn’t worry about the future. On their travels in Mexico he was the 'orange doctor,' so named for the only form of payment he took. Somehow they always got by. But now he’d like to have a cushion to leave his wife—part of the motivation for his writing Surfing and Health. At the moment there’s $300 in the savings account, and Juliette has put off fixing the brakes on the Honda.

'Forty-eight years—all for him,' she says on a rare breakfast out, happy to be dining on French toast. 'Sometimes I get a little claustrophobic and think "What if?" But then I think of my children. I have no regrets. I would do it again in a second.'"*
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on June 26, 2008


In the end all that matters is family and friends and the shared experiences and times together.

"No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office" (-- friend of Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts.)

The quote was referenced by Anna Quindlen in a Villanova Commencement Address. In that speech she also said:
"Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: 'If you win the rat race, you're still a rat'....Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?"
posted by ericb at 2:35 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


At that point, I don't care who you are, and how aware you are of the shallowness of our social lives and ambitions, you will become suddenly aware -- with a terrible sinking feeling -- that only two things are really important right now: your health and financial security. At which point, you become really sorry you never went into investment banking, medicine, or the law, and that you didn't begin flossing when you were a teenager.

Only if you allow your life to be ruled by fear. Fear that you have somehow failed to take every eventuality into account - fear that anything bad that happens to you must be your fault.

It's foolish and downright detrimental to try and foresee the future. We all do the best we can along the way, and this type of thinking is a sure fire recipe for misery.

So...no....I don't feel this way.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:42 PM on June 26, 2008 [9 favorites]


Take, for example, bestselling author Anna Quindlen, who at a commencement address a while back said this: "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." It's cute, cute, but if you think about it, it's really nothing more than an all-purpose excuse not to succeed. My version of that quote goes, "If you win the rat race, you will never have trouble feeding your family."

For some reason, commencement speakers, almost all of whom have been selected because of their notable achievements, love to warn about the fraudulence of success. This spring countless graduates of other universities have been told "It's lonely at the top." It's not. Believe me. It's much, much lonelier at the bottom.

Here's another soothing but useless bromide. "Every time one door closes, another door opens." That's not true. And very often when one door closes, another does open: A trap-door leading directly to that lonely place at the bottom.

And no doubt on some campus somewhere proud parents who never made more than twelve thousand dollars a year had to listen to Donald Trump tell them that failure is a better teacher than success.

Here's a line from late Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas that is often quoted at commencements. "No man on his deathbed ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.'" How does he know that? I'll bet someone on their deathbed said, "I wish I had spent more time at the office in my twenties and thirties, I would have had a much better life." gurgle--dead. I'm sure that happens. And it's quite possible that some former Enron or Arthur Anderson executive will use his last breath to say, "I wish I had spent more time at the office and less time in prison."

- Al Franken
posted by ND¢ at 2:48 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ultimately, all advice on what to do with you life is a "your mileage may vary" sort of affair, and there's no absolutes and no guarantees.

Hey, you can have the perfect job, the perfect life and still die of a heart attack when you're 30.

You can make a billion dollars and not be very happy, or go into the career of your dreams and still not be very happy.

To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, the tragedy of being human is that getting what you want means getting what you once wanted.

So, anyhow, I propose that since you are just as likely to be miserable doing what you want to do as being miserable doing what somebody else thinks you should do, there is a single big positive to doing what somebody else wants you to do.

Specifically, you can find some modicum of joy blaming them for your misery instead of blaming yourself for your misery. Now, that joy evaporates the moment you realize that you, ultimately, made the choice to follow their bad advice. However, as long as you avoid self-awareness for as long as you can, you can nurture that joy.

(of course, its equally possible that you'll be happy doing what you want or doing what somebody else suggested for you)
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Doc--It's spelled "condom."
posted by maxwelton at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2008


Doc--It's spelled "condom."

Use condoms.
posted by ericb at 2:59 PM on June 26, 2008


...it's quite possible that some former Enron or Arthur Anderson executive will use his last breath to say, "I wish I had spent more time at the office and less time in prison."

Um, yeah, if those are the only options. I get what you're trying to say, though it rings of intimidation; I think it's dishonest to promote 'financial security' in a world where nothing financial is secure, and where it's proven, sadly, time and again, that finance has little to do with quality of life--meaning life in the sense of what is not objectively quantifiable.
posted by troybob at 3:05 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Use condoms.

Used condoms
posted by kigpig at 3:08 PM on June 26, 2008


Jeez, ruelle-quoting-Faze, maybe we should just all shoot ourselves already, then? I mean, I'm old enough to see some of what's being talked about there, and yeah, age and poverty do suck. But having nothing good to look back on, having spent my youth drudging away for a secure old age that I might or might not live to see (no guarantees that the Hypothetical Bus wouldn't get me early, or something else) would suck just as much. I'm not sorry for the risks I've taken, and some of them have even paid off for me monetarily.

But then, I'm a fatalist, because I'm going to die anyway, no matter what, just like everyone else. I do save and I have a 401k and yeah, I floss, but none of that is going to make me live forever or guarantee I don't get a massive brain tumor or lose everything in a fire. That's why I have a kid, even though it hasn't been easy or cheap; because doing so gives me joy and contributes something great (if I raise him right) to the world.
posted by emjaybee at 3:13 PM on June 26, 2008


This kind of thing is frustrating as hell.

I do not want to have my life come out like this post by The Pink Superhero. I used to work in a creative field (in a dying industry, hence why I don't do it any more). I loved it at the time, but I shudder to think of how little it really had going for it other than me being actually interested in what I did 8 hours a day. My current cube job, well, I haven't had a single thing to say about it to outsiders in years and I hate being asked "how was your day, dear?" But the benefits are fat and I'm unlikely to get canned. I thought I could deal with plugging and chugging all day and then having the free time and money to do what I want the rest of the time.

The annoying thing is, I'm slowly starting to lose it out of boredom and want to do something interesting for 8 hours a day again. But I do NOT want to be my own boss (I am not a financial whiz), and that's really the only way to do it any more if you want to be paid for creativity. There's no regular job out there that still lets me have sick days and health insurance and pay to live on while making stuff. And I'm better off than most people because I don't have a family and mortgage I have to support. Oh, and now the economy's flushing down the toilet and if I make a move I risk being "last hired, first fired."

Bleah. I do appreciate Po's investigatory skills, and noting things such as "if you get a job to make the money to do what you want, you'll never leave", which is good to know. But if you're not a born self-starter, or you don't want to get into a field where there's already a clearly set path (step #1, go to college, step #2, get graduate degree, la la la), it ain't that easy to figure out after that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:27 PM on June 26, 2008


I'd follow my dream, but my dream's an idiot. Just when he thinks he knows where he's going, he changes his mind, and makes a u-turn in rush-hour traffic, narrowly missing the biker wearing a hell's angels jacket.

I think my dream has ADD.
posted by Bearman at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


it's proven, sadly, time and again, that finance has little to do with quality of life--meaning life in the sense of what is not objectively quantifiable.

ok, but that's not the meaning of "quality of life." if you get divorced and your wife's attorney is demanding a large portion of your income for the rest of her life to maintain her "quality of life" he's not talking about anything which is not objectively quantifiable. when people talk about the quality of life, they're generally talking about how much they're enjoying their life and situation. people living in poverty who love and are loved by their family can still be happy, and rich people can still be miserable. But you show me two families which are both filled with love and respect, and I'm going to say the one where the kids get presents every christmas and the parents know how they're going to pay the bills every month has a higher quality of life. people say money can't buy happiness, but failing to pay the rent doesn't make you all that happy, either.
posted by shmegegge at 3:39 PM on June 26, 2008


People with not very much to lose say the funniest things.
posted by Artw at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2008


Here's a resource that one could use to augment Bronson

metaman, you've changed my life - i'm going to become an emperor!!

At that point, I don't care who you are, and how aware you are of the shallowness of our social lives and ambitions, you will become suddenly aware -- with a terrible sinking feeling -- that only two things are really important right now: your health and financial security. At which point, you become really sorry you never went into investment banking, medicine, or the law, and that you didn't begin flossing when you were a teenager.

i won't argue with the flossing advice, but i'm 50 and i'm not really sorry i never went into investmetn banking, medicine, or the law - neither was my father - neither were my grandfathers, one an electrician, the other a farmer

yeah, money's nice, but it's not going to really help you with your last little lesson in life - that no matter what you think you own, you're just renting it - that no matter what security, possessions, piles of money, health, whatever you think you have, you are going to lose each and every last bit of it when you go

i feel like i'm committing extreme banality by even saying it, but it just seems that people do their damnedest to get, get, get, get and insulate themselves from disaster and then end up with stolid, unfulfilling, but safe lives - all in the name of "security"

no, our ultimate destination is not adultland, it's a plot of earth or a vase of ashes

monday morning i was getting ready to leave my apartment to go to work and people start pounding on my door because the building was on fire - just like that i was faced with the prospect of losing years worth of notebooks, work, my guitar, whatever and i had no time to get it all because my life was in danger too

so on my way out the door i grabbed the electric bill because, after all, it WAS due that day - and then two flights down realized that i'd chosen my ELECTRIC BILL over my guitar, my portable hard drive, whatever i could have grabbed in a few seconds

yeah, that's what living in "adultland" will get you - an electric bill while all your dreams go up in smoke

fortunately, the fire dept put the fire out before i lost anything - cause? - one of my idiot neighbors was drunk and fell asleep in bed with a cigarette

so sure, take care of your health and save your money and all of that; be responsible - but be aware that adultland can turn into idiotland at the drop of a winston and you shouldn't take it so seriously that you grab the goddamned electric bill instead of something that means something to you when a crisis strikes

not that it's necessarily going to matter to anyone else in the long run but you - but isn't that enough?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:47 PM on June 26, 2008 [12 favorites]


the parents know how they're going to pay the bills every month has a higher quality of life. people say money can't buy happiness, but failing to pay the rent doesn't make you all that happy, either.

But what those well-publicized happiness studies say is not that money doesn't matter at all. What they do say is that once the basic needs are met, more money beyond that amount doesn't make a noticeable difference to subjects' happiness. So yes, the stress caused by not being able to pay bills or buy presents impacts quality of life. But once you can meet those needs, piling on more and more presents and paying more and more bills does not make people much happier at all.

What that suggests is that it makes some very good sense to work toward a life in which you have sufficient income to meet basic needs without stress, but not to trade excess free time and attention to projects/relationships to pursue a level of income much higher than that, unless it's what you really love. So Bronson's advice to live within your means is one very important key to happiness. It's an ability you can cultivate: making the most of life (traveling, enjoying food, giving gifts, donating to charity, building friendships) while not spending excessively.
posted by Miko at 3:54 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I still haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up. Hard to follow your passion to your well-paying vocation when you don't know what the hell it is. Reading MeFi doesn't pay all that well...
posted by Space Kitty at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Q: "What should I do with my life?"

A: "Live! Life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death."
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:07 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


People with not very much to lose say the funniest things.

We laugh more, too.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:08 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I’m going to have to do a patronizing know-it-all parental type chuckle at you.

My god… what am I becoming?
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on June 26, 2008


Reading MeFi doesn't pay all that well...

It has paid me way more than I deserve.
posted by troybob at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


WTF? I could have sworn I wasn't wearing a cardigan and slippers before...
posted by Artw at 4:40 PM on June 26, 2008


woohoo! take it ALL off!
posted by troybob at 4:49 PM on June 26, 2008


Duh.

Crime spree.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:52 PM on June 26, 2008


I’m going to have to do a patronizing know-it-all parental type chuckle at you.

I'm a decade older than you. But have at it if it makes you feel good.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:55 PM on June 26, 2008


/smokes pipe, listens to Perry Como, casts a suspicious glance at the wastrel hippy type.
posted by Artw at 4:59 PM on June 26, 2008


Well, at least you've got the music right.

Can I borrow 50 bucks?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:08 PM on June 26, 2008


My dream as a kid was to work in the gaming industry, and I did just that for 6 years. It was the most soul crushing blahness imaginable, because in video games only 1 or 2 people out of every 100 actually get to create, the others must follow orders. From the Marketing dept.

Later in life I realise that I clearly missed an opportunity, because no one had ever explained to me that smarts isn't enough, it takes effort and a good work ethic to make the most of it. If I had known then what I know now, perhaps I would still be in the gaming industry making good games, my old company certainly has a fantastic reputation now.

However, I am very lucky, in that I was able to go to school, learn a new trade (civil engineering) and get a job in railways, and not work in front of a computer 12 hours a day. I apply what I learned from my previous career and am doing quite well. Work is still work, and often it's hard, but at least I get the statisfaction of a job well done; and my advancement prospects are good. And most likely I'll be safe in retirement.

Then I think of one of my best friends, he has hardly any savings, works a crap job, but has tons of free time now to enjoy life. But what will he do in 10 years? 20? 30?

Anyways, not sure where I'm going with this, except to say good luck to you all, I guess.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:48 PM on June 26, 2008


"I'm just not happy. I'm just not happy. I'm just not happy because my life didn't turn out the way I thought it would." Hey! Join the fucking club, ok!? I thought I was going to be the starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Life sucks, get a fucking helmet, allright?! "I'm not happy. I'm not happy." Nobody's happy, ok!? Happiness comes in small doses folks. It's a cigarette, or a chocolate cookie, or a five second orgasm. That's it, ok! You cum, you eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to fucking work, ok!? That is it! End of fucking list! "I'm just not happy." Shut the fuck up, allright!!" - Denis Leary
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thinking about this, the truly crap jobs are where you have little control over your work environment and the people around you suck in serious ways.

I've been lucky not to have had any longstanding crap jobs. And also lucky that I'm interested in a lot of things, so I've had different jobs and liked them. I wonder if most people are like that too, that given a choice, they could be happy in a whole range of different jobs?

I do think building financial independence is important. It gives you room to breathe and move.

One of the big roadblocks to a fulfilling life, is that we're just not very good (as a species) at figuring out what'll make us happy in the long run.
posted by storybored at 6:08 PM on June 26, 2008


I just faced a major rejection this morning, which has thrown me into a loop because it means I have nothing set for at least the next year.

Yeah, I have ideas, but they all really depend on what won't get me in trouble with Immigration.

Timely post. Just wished I was in the proper mindset to absorb it all.
posted by divabat at 6:54 PM on June 26, 2008


Vindaloo, I hear you. I wanted to be an editor in NYC. I was, and I was good at it, and I loved the work. But living in tiny shitboxes and never being able to afford to leave the city or buy anything but survival stuff really on my shit wages just started to grind me down. I started to feel starved for beauty and fresh air, and no, the awesome museums don't make up for that. I couldn't afford to go to the Met, or hang out drinking 6.00 beers and listening to bands very often if I wanted to eat. I wanted more, but it was never going to happen; any publisher I interviewed with actually wanted to pay me less than the place I was, because they were stuffed to the gills with rich 20 year old kids with lit degrees who could live on family subsidies. My skills were simply not valued and weren't going to be.

My current job is essentially meaningless, is in the suburbs, blah de blah unhipness cakes. But I've mostly lost the feeling of utter panic three days before payday, and I can get outside in my modest yard and have a beer, and my kid will walk to a good school 2 blocks away. And my job isn't evil, and the people I work with aren't evil, both things that I have experienced many times. A lot of us are former "creatives" actually; an ex-journalist, an art history major, and me. We all know why we're here, and we know it isn't where we dreamed. But we also have had worse, much worse, and well, that's the hand we were dealt.

I wonder how long I can do it, but I try to take the historical view; it wasn't many generations ago that I'd have been a serf working someone's field, destined to die in childbed by the time I was 28 or so. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't.
posted by emjaybee at 7:09 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


All this bullshit about following your bliss and using your gifts and all that happy horeshit assumes that people have either. Most people don't (myself included), so filling people with chimerical visions is a recipe for frustration and resentment. Happiness for us is a good Get Smart rerun and a six-pack. Mediocrity is not a crime. Embrace it.
posted by jonmc at 7:11 PM on June 26, 2008


But what those well-publicized happiness studies say is not that money doesn't matter at all. What they do say is that once the basic needs are met, more money beyond that amount doesn't make a noticeable difference to subjects' happiness.

Psych research is at its best when it ignores what people say and concentrates on what people do. When am I "happy"? I can say from experience that I've been perfectly happy washing dishes at a truck stop. I'm not idealizing. I've found some very pleasant moments in there. Would I rather be SCUBA diving off Pulau Weh? Hell yes I would.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:39 PM on June 26, 2008


And jonmc, I'll follow your formatting emphasis there and agree: mediocrity is not a crime. Embracing mediocrity, however, is half the fucking problem of our civilization.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2008


Embracing mediocrity, however, is half the fucking problem of our civilization.

No. Embracing mediocrity and presenting it as something else is the problem. Simply saying "I'm mediocre. I'm a fuckup. I wont change and I don't want to,' is fine. and liberating.
posted by jonmc at 7:47 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Salieri is your King.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:13 PM on June 26, 2008


Salieri who?
posted by jonmc at 8:20 PM on June 26, 2008


Embracing mediocrity and presenting it as something else is the problem.

I'm not sure what you're referring to here, unless you mean holding it up as something virtuous. In which case I fail to see the difference between that and "embracing" it.

Simply saying "I'm mediocre. I'm a fuckup. I wont change and I don't want to,' is fine.

I'm a glutton. I won't change and I don't want to.
I'm a sexist. I won't change and I don't want to.
I'm a racist. I won't change and I don't want to.

mmm... liberating!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:24 PM on June 26, 2008


I'm a glutton. I won't change and I don't want to.
I'm a sexist. I won't change and I don't want to.
I'm a racist. I won't change and I don't want to.


One of these things is not like the other.

First, of all, I'm not talking about moral mediocrity here. I'm talking about this Anthony Robbins-follow-your-dream bullshit that we're all spoon fed in this country. News flash: you will probably not become rich, famous or admired, because you are probably not all that talented, attractive or smart. (I include myself among the royal 'you,' here, just so you know. Your life will probably be tedious and boring and happiness will comein small doses. This is not such a bad thing. facing up to this is actually a sign of maturity rather than carrying on with all the silly I'm-a-special-snowflake and doggone it people like me crap that your guidance counselor fed you. Underachieving is not a crime, but the way people act these days you'd think it is.
posted by jonmc at 8:33 PM on June 26, 2008


If I had a nickel every time someone said they "weren't good" at something (learning languages, balance, math, juggling) and then went on to actually try the motherfucker and possibly even practice a little, and then decide (missing the point equally, IMHO) that they "were good" at it, I'd have... well enough for a decent cup of coffee, anyway.

If I had a nickel every time someone said that and then wallowed in their own mediocrity and refused to step up to the plate, I'd be fucking rich.

News flash: bringing your "gifts" to the table does not mean being gifted. I've met numerous people whose gift was boundless enthusiasm for their work. Easier done when you haven't absorbed the brick in the wall mentality that you seem to have.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:38 PM on June 26, 2008


Tell that shit to the fucking tourists, dude. NTM, why the fuck do you even care what I do? I simply find all this self-helpy Stewart Smalley bullshit to be exactly that, bullshit. If everybody's special than nobody is. Everybody else is merely muddling through, leave us alone.

(what truly amazes me is that I've articulated numerous unpopular opinions online before, but none ever meets with the hostility I get when I say that achievement and 'reaching for the stars is bullshit. shows how much our world is fueled by ego)
posted by jonmc at 8:45 PM on June 26, 2008


Salieri who?

Mozart vs. Salieri.
posted by ericb at 8:46 PM on June 26, 2008


Oh and:

One of these things is not like the other.

Because racism hurts others? (sexism doesn't?) What if I keep it to myself?

What they have in common is an "I'm happy when I'm challenging myself -- intellectually, physically, morally -- not at all, and that's good enough for me" attitude.

Is it liberating? Sure. Does it make you happy? Well here's a well-kept secret: it's pretty easy being happy. Give a kid a stick or a cardboard box and he's happy. Thank goodness the planet isn't quite full up with people who think we're better off if everyone lives in the lowest-common-denominator of their own possible selves.

why the fuck do you even care what I do?
shows how much our world is fueled by ego

Sing with me, jon! You're... so vain. You probably think this song is about you...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:46 PM on June 26, 2008


um, you're the one who went ballistic when I questioned the Sacred Gospel Of Self Actualization.

Thank goodness the planet isn't quite full up with people who think we're better off if everyone lives in the lowest-common-denominator of their own possible selves.

Newsflash: we do. It's the one's who fret endlessly about not reaching their potential or saving a world that dosen't ant to be saved that fill therapists offices and make antidepressant manufacturers rich.
posted by jonmc at 8:49 PM on June 26, 2008


Gnetlemen, stop fighting and drink beer or smoke drugs.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:51 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well lord knows we're better off being happy than trying to change anything. A little unhappiness might do some good.

Ballistic? I think you're hilarious. No song, then?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:52 PM on June 26, 2008


A little unhappiness might do some good.

Not really. The whole 'what I do matters so much!' is merely yuppie narcisiism. Nobody cares what you do.

No song, then?

here's one that says it all (I haven't quoted it in a while.)
posted by jonmc at 8:55 PM on June 26, 2008


The whole 'what I do matters so much!' is merely yuppie narcisiism. Nobody cares what you do.

Wow. Spoken like a man whose never done a day of volunteer work in his life. And hey, if you can't save the world, why try to help 1 or 2 people? They don't count, right? It would be ego to try.

I can't decide if your cynicism has blinded you or you're rationalizing your purely selfish motives. The latter is far more common. Either way, you're right: I don't care. Enjoy your oxygen.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:59 PM on June 26, 2008


How old are you, 12? The world dosen't want to be saved. people don't want to be saved.
posted by jonmc at 9:03 PM on June 26, 2008


(and since your reading comprehension skills seem to be low, I'm not talking about the save-the-world shit really. you wanna engage in that masochism fest, be my guest, maybe you'll help somebody by accident. I'm talking about the whole 'you're commiting a crime agaimst nature if you don't strive endlessly to be the best you can be' bullshit.
posted by jonmc at 9:05 PM on June 26, 2008


Let me make sure I understand you jonmc. It's the Metafilter Olympics and we are striving for.............Bronze?
posted by HappyHippo at 9:11 PM on June 26, 2008


I know a lot of people who, because they were the best dancer, artist, singer, actor in our crappy high school, were encouraged by teachers to view their talent as a viable career option far beyond what would have been in their best interest.

Heh - the guy who got all the lead roles in our school plays & musicals went on to follow his ambition to be an actor. He was even lucky enough to have the right kind of Ken doll look, which is almost a prerequisite for so many TV & movie roles.

The problem is, it turned out that he is actually a fucking dismal actor. He's so bloody wooden that he makes Arnie look like he should be in the Royal shakespeare Company.

He's still plugging away, year after year without anything remotely resembling a big break. I see him from time to time in non-speaking roles in the occasional advertisement, and once he even had a second-string role in a woeful doctor-lawyer-cop drama that debuted at 11pm and was axed after one pathetic season.

He was so full of himself at school, too, that I can't help but piss myself laughing at what a horrible failure he turned out to be on the real stage, and almost wonder if he wasn't cynically set up for a fall by the teachers, who disliked him almost as much as his peers did.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:11 PM on June 26, 2008


It's the Metafilter Olympics and we are striving for.............Bronze?

Tinfoil.
posted by jonmc at 9:15 PM on June 26, 2008


jonmc, what are you advocating in the place of what you see as unwarranted egalitarian egoism? Fight Club-style nihilism?
posted by anifinder at 9:18 PM on June 26, 2008


Tinfoil.

AL--YOU--MIN--E--UM versus A--LOO--MIN--UM.
posted by ericb at 9:19 PM on June 26, 2008


jonmc, what are you advocating in the place of what you see as unwarranted egalitarian egoism?

I'm advocating shutthefuckupism. You want to reach for the stars? Go right ahead. Don't act like not following suit is some kind of capital crime is all I ask.
posted by jonmc at 9:22 PM on June 26, 2008


As long as we're trading personal truths here, one of the lessons it took me the longest time to learn was to stop worrying about "what do you want to do?" or "what do you want to be?". Even for a single person you don't have to have, or even be moving towards, one answer.

The number of people I know -- successful people -- who've actually had "careers" in the guidance-counselor sense is very low. Sure, I know a few; however they're also some of the people I know with the most regrets. Most folks just have a stream of jobs, and then hammer it into something that looks halfassedly logical when they sit down to write their resume, or when they feel the need to justify it to somebody else. I know someone whose "career" went from engineer, to surveyor, to landscape painter, to piano tuner, to small-business owner, to IRS agent. There's no way to predict something like that ahead of time, yet he was one of the most personally fulfilled guys I've ever known.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't plan for the future, but it's important not to get too hung up on some very particular goal. There are a basically-infinite number of ways your career (or life in general) may work out; if you fixate on just one or a small subset of them, you'll make it very hard to ever be happy.

My solution is job-hopping every few years when things start to get too boring, but also having hobbies and outside interests that are really driven by what I'm interested in rather than by what pays the bills. I suppose more than jobs, it's really those hobbies and outside-of-work interests that provide the continuity (and most of the motivation) in my life.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:23 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't get why you come here, jon. The front page is just full of the efforts of people who couldn't be bothered to do nothing more than sit in their basement and whack off to porn. Have you written to them to remind them how much happier they'd be if they'd slack off a bit more?

people don't want to be saved.

The "world" is a bunch of water, rock and air and doesn't want much of anything. People, particularly the desperate ones, want all kinds of things, and don't much care how you feel when you help them, whether it looks like ego (oh no! what will people think!), or anything else on your end. Because... it's not... always... about... you. Get it?

But someday when you move out of your parents' basement, you'll find all this out.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:23 PM on June 26, 2008


I don't get why you come here, jon.

I like smacking the dew out of people's eyes. It's fun.

But someday when you move out of your parents' basement, you'll find all this out.

Actually, it's the basement dwellers who still buy all that reach for the stars crap. Those of us who've been out in the real world know better.
posted by jonmc at 9:26 PM on June 26, 2008


jonmc reminds me of a song. How does it go....
...
And he once told me if he said no ten times
He’d be right at least nine

I said, Hey
If Edison had said no
If Jonas Salk had said no
If Debussy had said no
If Jesus Christ had said no
If Willie Mays had said no
If Shakespeare had said no
If Sigmund Freud had said no
I’ll tell you where we’d be
We’d be sick and in the darkness
With no one to inspire us
And nothing on TV
And even less in the fridge
We’d be blaming dad for everything
And not even have our Sundays off to barbeque
But you can’t be crucified
for the things you don’t do
...
"Five Girls," by Kenny White

Here's the thing. You're obviously welcome to sit back, laze through life, enjoy your beer and your Deal or No Deal. If that's all you want out of life, then enjoy it.

But it's like ordering the macaroni and cheese off of the kids menu at a five-star restaurant. You can enjoy it, but there's so much more out there to discover and enjoy. And there's a lot of good work to do too, a lot of people who do need help and who will be grateful for having received it.

I'm not going to ever be Bill Gates, but I don't have spend my life on the couch either.
posted by JDHarper at 9:26 PM on June 26, 2008


so... let me get this straight...

if you think you have something to offer the world, then it's natural to be by turns enthusiastic and anxious about how exactly you can make this contribution while still being able to make a living. you might even think you owe it to yourself and others to follow your calling.

on the other hand, if you are somebody who believes most people are mediocre by nature or aspiration, then it's also OK to just go through life enjoying the simple pleasures and trying not to make too many waves.

is there supposed to be something worth getting worked up about when comparing these two classes of people, jonmc and Durn Bronzefist? Is it not OK for both self-selected camps to live by two separate credos?
posted by growli at 9:30 PM on June 26, 2008


But it's like ordering the macaroni and cheese off of the kids menu at a five-star restaurant. You can enjoy it, but there's so much more out there to discover and enjoy.

And this shows what it's all about: showing what great taste you have and how swell you are. and I hate Deal Or No Deal. Howie Mandel's main goal seems to be to look like a fucking genie and I think you could put a million dollars in every case and people would still find a way to lose.
posted by jonmc at 9:31 PM on June 26, 2008


Dammit, i think i helped enable jonmc's tactic of being contrarian so that he can inject hints about his idiosyncracies, peeves, and tastes into a thread. Dammit.

i do think he's quite good at it. maybe it's jonmc's calling?
posted by growli at 9:38 PM on June 26, 2008


(what truly amazes me is that I've articulated numerous unpopular opinions online before, but none ever meets with the hostility I get when I say that achievement and 'reaching for the stars is bullshit. shows how much our world is fueled by ego)

Speaking of ego....no. one. cares. what. you. think....or. what. you. do.

Do or do not - no one gives a flying fuck, ok? Just do it quietly.

Thanks.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:40 PM on June 26, 2008


maybe it's jonmc's calling?

I don't have a calling, merely a busy signal. and I'm going to bed. work in the morning.
posted by jonmc at 9:40 PM on June 26, 2008


Do or do not - no one gives a flying fuck, ok? Just do it quietly.

I only ask the same of the doers. the do-notters are much more quiet generally. Now, goodnight.
posted by jonmc at 9:41 PM on June 26, 2008


And this shows what it's all about: showing what great taste you have and how swell you are.

The last time I saw jon's particular brand of "shutthefuckupism" he was telling people how self-absorbed and egotistical they were for exercising. So not so much an ethos as a guideline.
This certainly isn't about enjoying the simple pleasures, growli, unless this simple pleasure is pissing in everyone else's pot, repeatedly. In truth, he does seem to take a lot of pleasure in that.

Anyway. It's hard to feel sorry for yourself no matter how much you want to switch jobs/careers but worry about the consequences, when there are tons of people who by dint of kids/debt simply can't even contemplate that choice. That being said, I sympathize. It's a lot of hours of your life to spend doing something if it isn't meaningful to you at all.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:44 PM on June 26, 2008


But it's like ordering the macaroni and cheese off of the kids menu at a five-star restaurant. You can enjoy it, but there's so much more out there to discover and enjoy.
jonmc:And this shows what it's all about: showing what great taste you have and how swell you are


Wait, what? Are you just trolling now? Cos if not, way to miss the point* there dude.

*Something about there possibly being more than mac&cheese in the world. Class or taste has nothing to do with how awesome steak/tofu/lobster/arsebiscuits/whatever can be -- but if you stick with what you know, what you're used to, what is "good enough", you'll never know if there's something.. more.

Or something like that. Back to your regularly scheduled shouting.

posted by coriolisdave at 9:47 PM on June 26, 2008


Jon does bring up an interesting point sort of. I for one am considered by many people to be reasonably successful. I have a great wife, a great kid, we are self employed, have a couple pieces of property, in addition to our house, two wonderful pets, cars etc etc all while remaining debt free... But most of the time, compared to some of my peers, who appear to be trying to take over the world, I probably look like I am coasting. Even though I have been self employed all but a few years of my adult life, I've never been hell bent on being the biggest baddest most capitalistic guy out there. My happiest company related moments are handing out bonuses and helping out local charities. Making my clients happy ranks a very close second mainly because it helps me sustain the other two. I've always sort of strived for, well, balance. I'd like to add that I have had the same occupation, albeit now on a bigger scale, pretty much since High School, and as I approach the far side of my 40's only recently have I contemplated a possible career shift. Whatever I do choose I'll probably shoot somewhere above tinfoil but below gold.
posted by HappyHippo at 9:51 PM on June 26, 2008


HappyHippo -- eponysterical comment. I like it!
posted by growli at 9:59 PM on June 26, 2008


I decided to decide what's tinfoil and what's gold.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:01 PM on June 26, 2008


Getting back to the topic...

I think a lot of this "follow your dream" stuff approaches the issue from the wrong angle because the dream job is often chosen as something seen to be well paid, or glamorous, or playing to some particular talent or other.

Instead, I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind about the actual role, but to work out what kinds of things would suit your personality, inductively, from a bunch of basic questions.

I don't mean crap like "hm, I like helping people so maybe I'll become a doctor or a charity worker". I'm talking far more basic than that.

Questions like:

- do I prefer the big picture or fine detail?
- how much personal control over my schedule do I want?
- is it important to receive bonuses & incentives, or do I prefer a regular, consistent amount each week?
- how much personal interaction do I want? how much private time do I crave?
- am I a starter or a finisher?
- is it worth taking work home? (literally, or in the sense of losing sleep & stressing)
- indoors, outdoors, or both?
- regular travel or staying put?
- am I more interested in the process or the results?
- how much responsibility do I want?
- would I rather delegate or do the job myself?

While these questions should help narrow down a broad list of possible roles, I think it's more about choosing what role you'd like within whatever general industry, and not about choosing the industry itself.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:03 PM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, part of the problem is the idea that, like a relationship, people seem to think the romance of the job should woo you into your "calling" and you should ignore the practicalities you cite, Ubu. Hell, a major current in this thread is about slamming guidance-counsellor caution for "following your dream". But if you haven't thought it through -- if your dream is to be a vet tech because you like working with animals -- but it isn't your dream to be spending hours of your day cleaning cages, well then you haven't thought your dream through very well.

Seems to me guidance counsellors and uni vocational counsellors are all about questions like Ubu's, now. Of course, you need to weight them according to your needs. If your dream job doesn't give you X, Y, and Z but you absolutely MUST MAKE ART then hell, you have to do what you have to do. It seems to me that your list is about realistically appraising what will make you happy, so no one else's answers will do.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:30 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was already quite a fan of personality quizzes, but had that taken to a whole new level when I was given the services of an outplacement agency once.

Their quiz was outlandishly long, and laid the results out along a whole bunch of axes like those above, and then went into all kinds of levels of detail about what it all entailed - eg what proportion of people in field X shared that trait.

At the broadest level, it concluded that I'm best suited to a relatively autonomous, self-directed (although not solo practitioner) role as a kind of subject matter expert, with plenty of private research & work in between intermittent communication-intensive interactions with others.

Whether that would be a job as a lawyer or some kind of business consultant or a journalist or a dozen other things was left up to me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:56 PM on June 26, 2008


I find it interesting that we haven't heard from many people in this thread who've voluntarily pursued those traditional careers and found happiness.

My grandfather was a lawyer, and he enjoyed his work very much. He achieved quite a lot in his time. My grandfather-in-law worked for the government, and has been awarded medals and such things to celebrate his work in his field, which was pivotal and had far-reaching effects. They both did amazing things - in very traditional fields. They found a lot of personal fufillment in those areas.

I chose a career which my parents were doubtful of - I am a software engineer. In several workplaces, I have been the very first woman employed in a technical position. I aim to follow in the footsteps of my grandfathers and excel, and affect the lives of those around me in a meaningful, positive way. I've got a long way to go yet before I achieve my dream.
posted by ysabet at 11:02 PM on June 26, 2008


Found the report - it was the Birkman Method.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:14 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I did a similar battery, and another that asked me to rank factors similar to those you mentioned above. I did them both twice, ten years apart as it so happened. The inventory came out exactly the same. The values choices (separation of work and life, work environment, ethical work, money, etc.) couldn't have been more different.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:40 PM on June 26, 2008


I'm advocating shutthefuckupism.

he says after making 16 comments in this thread
posted by pyramid termite at 2:54 AM on June 27, 2008


i feel like i'm committing extreme banality by even saying it, but it just seems that people do their damnedest to get, get, get, get and insulate themselves from disaster and then end up with stolid, unfulfilling, but safe lives - all in the name of "security"

The Guardian's George Monbiot does a particularly good job, I think, of turning this potential banality into real, simple, bedrock wisdom. It's a fine read throughout, but here's the real gem of it:

"So my second piece of career advice echoes the political advice offered by Benjamin Franklin: whenever you are faced with a choice between liberty and security, choose liberty. Otherwise you will end up with neither. People who sell their souls for the promise of a secure job and a secure salary are spat out as soon as they become dispensable. The more loyal to an institution you are, the more exploitable, and ultimately expendable, you become."
posted by gompa at 7:25 AM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


I sent this anecdote into Adbusters a while back, where it was allegedly printed, although I never found the issue in question:

About nine years ago I was working for Industry Canada. It was a boring job that paid moderately well and mostly consisted of a) idly surfing the internet and b) putting together (i.e. stuffing envelopes) packages for people who had requested information about starting up a small business in Ontario. The office as a whole wasn't totally disfunctional, but there was definitely a level of dispirited apathy that made it a vaguely unpleasant place.

I had originally been hired as a contract worker, but after a while I was upgraded to permanent employee status, complete with a raise and generous benefits. About a month after the upgrade I was talking with my supervisor, who was a pretty good guy, and he asked me what my plans were. I said I thought I'd stick around for a couple of years, pay down my student debts a bit, and then see about moving on. As I was saying this he started to laugh. I asked him, "What's so funny?" He said, "I remember saying the exact same thing, eighteen years ago."

I quit about a month later, out of the blue and without having another job lined up. When I told my boss (not the same guy as my supervisor) that I was resigning, he leaned back in his chair, spread his hands out and said, "Well, you know, this place, it is what it is..."
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:35 AM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


> And then you have kids...

Personally, the idea of being tied down to any given job because I would have to provide for children is one of the major reasons I've decided to not have kids. My greatest fear is the idea of having kids I live to resent because their existence turns me into a wage slave.
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


Does anyone really advise people to choose a career that they hate and to avoid their passion, other than parents afraid their kids will never support themselves?

I guess you don't have any Korean friends?
posted by Stonewall Jackson at 8:01 AM on June 27, 2008


I find many people seem to have misunderstood Jonmc's comments, or taken them out of context, because what he is saying is something I think we all are saying. Allow me the chance to paraphrase what I think he is saying:

Follow your dream. Be who you want to be. But do not lord your accomplishments over those unable or unwilling to follow the same path. So what if I want to order Mac and Cheese in a 5 star restaurant? So what if my ambition is to smoke weed all day and wait tables at night? Why do we place more value on monetary and career "success" over freedom of choice?

As a successful marketing executive, I fell into my current career while attending grad school for philosophy. I wouldnt spend 2 minutes in a class that doesnt interest me, but I dont mind sucking it up some days at a job that isnt always fun. Heck, no dream job is always fun (I work with musicians and many would claim that being forced to play according to another's schedule isn't always fun...though being a professional musician is a dream job for most). Jonmc seems to be saying that we all are individuals and should all be free to pursue our dreams. That freedom should (but doesn't) extend to not being put down or marginalized or treated as inferior when one's dream isn't to be the best, or the richest, or whatever. Live and let live (a way of saying shutthefuckup).
posted by Dantien at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let me add my personal thought to this interesting topic. I've read ALL Po's books over the years. They are inspirational to guys like me who envies those certain of their desired future career. Even my dream job of philosophy professor leaves me with doubts. But we don't control the world and can't always find the opportunity to make money at what we love (no one has been willing to pay me to play World of Warcraft thusfar).

So the decree to Follow Your Bliss rings hollow to those with a mortgage, children, an elderly parent to care for, lack of available education, lack of emotional support from others, or whatever situation one finds themselves in due to outside influences. Some are lucky to dodge such occurrences. Many are not. To tell the latter that all they have to do is decide to focus on their dream is naive and bordering on the cruel.

Boss is here. Time to stop and get back to work.
posted by Dantien at 10:56 AM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


The more loyal to an institution you are, the more exploitable, and ultimately expendable, you become.

Sadly this only presents half the picture, the negative half. Because loyalty to an institution that reciprocates is worthwhile and can lead to great things....
posted by storybored at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2008


Sometimes I think part of our problem is our cultural mythology of these deathlike states of transcendence. If I get married, I'll be happy ever after, if I get the right car, I'll be happy, if I have the perfect job, I'll be happy, if I'm ever happy, I'll be happy…and so on. It's all tied to this odd notion that you go from unhappy to happy and then you stay there, forever, in some kind of heaven, and it aggravates the other great hope we all have, that there's one perfect person, one perfect place, one perfect career.

I've been blogging for the better part of a decade now, and it's a real cauldron for the kind of transcendence fetishes we all seem to harbor. I've had my own and witnessed countless more, but it's only in the last several years that I've actually found my own career contentment (such that it is) in surrendering to the possibility that I will have a long series of careers over the rest of my life, some of which will be great, some of which will be grim, and many of which will come out of nowhere and surprise the crap out of me with the satisfaction they bring.

I grew up in a family business. I was surrounded by it, drowned in it, kept afloat by it, and it completely pervaded the world in which I lived. In time, I worked in the business, mastered the procedures, skills, and concepts behind it, and was well on my way to really moving up in the field when it…disappeared. Except for a small corner of the market that survives on the museum and archives business, the world of micrographic data storage is just gone, replaced by the pallid digital approximation of what it did, and my ability to thread a Xidex 16/35 diazo film duplicator on the fly without stopping the motor drives while clouds of choking anhydrous ammonia make vision impossible doesn't really translate into the IT world.

I didn't really love that career—it was more what came with my genes and my family—but I loved the detail and mastery of it, and mourned the business when things went "modern." So I dragged on, into a new firm after the family business crashed, and into the new version of "information backfile conversion services," and had eight years of soul-killing fluorescent cubicleland nothingness in which to daydream about my real true calling, which was…music, er, performance art, hrm, sonic installation art, uh, maybe street theater, or writing for a living…or something like that. Made mediocre money, but paid the bills, managed to get out and play and perform when I could, but just lusted for the day when I could reach the green light at the end of Daisy's dock until I got fired for refusing to sign off on work I knew was not in compliance with our contract.

Good enough. I'd been doing technical writing for the company and they insisted I use words like "actionable," and "impactful," and phrases like "remediation and amelioration structures for data center pro-integration projects," which always made me want to hurt my manager's children. Here's that deux ex machina, baby—time to spread my wings and fly like I was meant to (such statements are a permanent, indelible trace on my blog). I'm a terrific handyman, a good plumber, carpenter, and electrician, skills I learned from maintaining my broken-down old microfilm machines in the previous career, so I set out to be a journeyman contractor and writer on the side.

Sounds good, and was, for a stretch.

Only thing is, being a journeyman contractor, and a successful one, isn't really that much about the actual craftsmanship or what you can do. It means a lot to be able to be able to cut gorgeous mortise and tenon joints, and to have the vision and the patience to cut, lay, trim, and polish Corian into something lovely, but you need to be great on the phone, insane with your daytimer, and have to schedule overlapping appointments and manage complaints and then actually charge enough to make a living (which is a problem when you're a lifelong glassy-eyed communist type who thinks, in some roundabout buddhist way, that merely doing great work is its own reward). Blew through my savings, blew through my liquidated 401K, was writing less and less, was working harder for less money and feeling old and creaky from climbing ladders.

By the end, I was just wallowing in a funk, completely disillusioned about the whole idea that we can ever escape the lives we don't like, finding myself on the floor of my kitchen in my underpants, eating Cool-Whip out of the container with a bare hand as "Bittersweet Melody" played on endless repeat on the CD player. That great big amazing leap of wondrousness ain't entirely what the PR tell you.

Didn't even finish my book, in two semi-employed years, with a manuscript already 80% finished, which just made it even funnier.

As it happens, I got an out-of-the-blue job offer from a museum in Baltimore where I'd done a few street theater pieces over the years, because I'd worked and gossiped with the staff enough for them to have an idea that I might have the skills needed for a new project. Started that job, which was to be the construction engineer for a full-scale mosaic project covering half the museum building with broken mirrors and pottery and old bottles. Never did anything like it, was scared to death of the prospect of having to learn to operate a giant diesel lift that weighed thirty thousand pounds and would have me hanging off the side of a building in high winds through a blazing summer and a frigid winter.

I'm very, very lucky to have been at such a low point then, so I couldn't say "no."

I spent a summer as a construction worker, more or less, baked alive outside and on my feet nine hours a day, and loved it. I ended up doing design work with the artist on the project, and was drawn into the classroom environment where kids from drug treatment and juvenile justice programs actually did the work, and by the end, I had another huge set of skills of questionable marketability which probably would have landed me in the kitchen and my underpants again if I hadn't ended up making myself useful enough to the museum that I was asked to come on full-time to replace the retiring director of maintenance at the end of the mosaic project. I worked two full-time jobs for two months, then became a kind of glorified head janitor with a staff of cleaners and maintenance guys, which I'd never, ever have seen myself doing for a career, but it's pretty good work.

It's also a misery sometimes, with insane hours, pay way under private sector wages, and more fussy political administrative bullcrap than you'd expect in a place known for its magical, amazing side, but that's the key thing. It's not the perfect job, and though I love it most of the time, I utterly despise and bewail it at others. That's the thing—there is no perfect job, even when you love your work/your employer/your industry. It's all mitigated and complicated, at the best of times, and that's okay.

I've moved sideways in my job, taken over all the landscape design, doing most of the IT work with my leftover career skills, producing a lot of the public events for the museum, and I'm not paid nearly enough for what I do, which means I'll eventually have to move on to something else. Even though I've done work in exhibition design and construction, I'll probably never be hired by another museum, because of the strict credentialist leanings of the field, but it just means the next career will probably be another shot in the dark, helped along by skills pressed into service in ways I'd never expected.

The big dreams bunch lectures you to stand at the edge of the cliff, spread your wings, and fly, and there's a lot of truth and hope in that, but it's bound to break your heart, too, if you take it too literally. What's more important in that advice is the corollary suggestion to get comfortable without solid ground under your feet, and to deal with change in a more holistic, sensible way, trusting in your ability to catch on when you're falling and pull yourself up to a place that's not so bad. You will have to fight and struggle and keep on your toes from now until the moment of your death, which sounds so awful to most of us (and definitely always did to me), but you can find peace in that, as well, if you adjust your understanding of the world. You will fall and crash, rise and fail, but you'll learn, and everything you come to know is another hook, another chance to say "yes" to some crazy job you'd never imagine loving, and which might just surprise the living crap out of you.

I can't say where I'll go next, but I don't think that's a bad thing, and I'm saying that as the complete opposite of a nomad (I've lived in the same apartment for twenty years). Good things will appear, bad times will descend on me, and still I believe I can make the best of what comes my way. Holding onto that faith in myself is the one thing I should do with my life. Everything else comes down to details.
posted by sonascope at 12:38 PM on June 27, 2008 [10 favorites]


"YOUR DREAMS ARE REAL. YOU SHOULD FOLLOW THEM."

Okay. I'm in a college lecture hall, in my underwear. There's a test going on, and I haven't studied. Now what?

"if you can't give yourself access to people who can move your career along, you can't get far"

I would just like to add that you may be surprised how many of these people are on MeFi. People who are doing what you want to be doing, people who are going through the same soul-searching, people who can and are willing to help you. I'm not saying I know any two MeFites who've formed a business as a result of their participation here, but it never hurts to ask the right question. And it doesn't really hurt to ask questions until you get to the right question, either. Just make sure to give what you take.
posted by Eideteker at 1:05 PM on June 27, 2008


So many comments since I last looked in, but still:

Embracing mediocrity, however, is half the fucking problem of our civilization.

Half of everybody are below average.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:11 PM on June 27, 2008


TRUSTAFARIAN 4 LIFE!
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on June 27, 2008


Well, one thing that's fun is being raised by very conservative parents who think if you don't want to get married to a man who will take care of you, you are SOL and can be written off. Kind of removes the pressure. When I found out that it was, in fact, possible to stay out of the gutter, I was just so grateful not to be dead in the gutter that it took a decade or so (and a helpful friend) before I realized it would okay to like what I was doing for the paycheck.

I get the general idea this is also true for people who come from no money.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2008


Half of everybody are below average.

At what?
posted by Eideteker at 7:59 PM on June 27, 2008


I know this thread is past its expiration date already, but I want to say that if JohnMc wants to be mediocre, good for him! I encourage him to be the absolute best mediocre he can be!
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:44 PM on June 27, 2008


Half of everybody are below average.

At what?


Exactly, at what?
posted by naju at 1:27 AM on June 28, 2008


"YOUR DREAMS ARE REAL. YOU SHOULD FOLLOW THEM."

Okay. I'm in a college lecture hall, in my underwear. There's a test going on, and I haven't studied. Now what?


do you have that dream too? in my case it plays out like "hm, exam hall, oh - advanced physics. i vaguely remember signing up for this but never went to a class. shit. how did this happen? oh, holyshitfuck! why am i only wearing underpants?!??"
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:13 AM on June 28, 2008


> Because loyalty to an institution that reciprocates is worthwhile and can lead to great things...

Institutions never reciprocate. Never. People reciprocate.

People are deserving of loyalty. Institutions are not.

Anyone placing loyalty in an institution is making a grave error. It's one I made, rather seriously, once, and learned some Big Life Lessons as a result of. Institutions don't have the capacity to feel loyalty (or anything else) back towards you. It's like falling in love with a rock; you can love the hell out of that rock, but the rock is never going to love you back. Therefore, anytime you feel loyalty to an institution, you are misdirecting your feelings -- what you should be loyal to is the people involved, who understand and apprceciate what you do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 PM on June 28, 2008


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