To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

As kind of a follow-up to my post of yesterday, I want to talk about goals and what they should be.

Young people going off to college who are trying to decide what to major in, or who are trying to choose a career path, are frequently told, "Do what you love." Well that's fine, if "what you love" will pay the bills: if you are good enough at it, or it is in enough demand, for people to pay you to do it to the extent that you can support the lifestyle to which you would like to become accustomed.

But it doesn't always work that way. F loves to draw and do crafts. She's done some neat stuff, but it's not enough to support her and she's smart enough to know that.

Things that people major in that they "love" include English, esp. literature; history, art, religion, music, philosophy, psychology, and X studies (women's, or whatever), and I'm sure a lot of esoteric things I've never heard of. Now I'm not saying that people can't major in one of those things and do very well in their field. And I'm not saying that people can't major in one of those things and do very well in a different field. What I'm saying is that people major in one of those things and frequently end up teaching, which they may or may not have wanted to do, or working in a different field that they have no interest in and no career path in. The world, or at least this country, is full of twenty-somethings who majored in what they love, and are making $20K working at a bookstore and wondering when they will ever be able to afford a house or a car, or pay off the credit card debt they incurred in college when they were young and stupid. The answer is never, unless they pull up their socks and change course.

The advice that I gave F is this: Whatever you end up doing, it absolutely has to pay enough to put food on the table. Beyond that, it has to pay enough to support whatever lifestyle you will need to have to be happy. Some people are content to live their whole lives in a rented apartment and never have a car* but if that's not you, then you definitely need to take that into account. Or maybe you would like to spend your summers at archeological digs, to which as an amateur you would have to pay your own way - then pick something seasonal that pays a lot, like tax law.

Then, your choice has to be something reasonably honorable. I would not like to tell people you are an exotic dancer, for instance. It would be good if it's something that actually makes a positive difference in the world, although if it's legal and you pay your taxes that's probably really enough.

And finally, it must be something that you like and are suited to. Life is too short to spend 40+ hours a week bored and unhappy or overly stressed.

But - your job is not your true love. You should not look to your job to fulfill you as a person. That's where your love of art, literature, and music, your enjoyment of learning history, and so forth come in. They make you a cultured, interesting, happy, well-rounded person.

*I realize that in some places, like NYC, it may be possible to have a terrific quality of life in a rented apartment with no car, but not around here.


Homer said...

I totally agree. I "did what I loved" and got a good degree in French and Sociology that has been of absolutely no financial benefit to me whatsoever. I ended up in a secretarial job that I could just as easily have got as a 16 year old school-leaver.

To utilise my degree properly I would have needed to move to London and I wasn't prepared to do that.

Someone once said "the purpose of an arts degree is to make your head a more interesting place to be for the rest of your life", and I partially agree, but that doesn't put dinner on the table.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

No, it doesn't; and further, I can think of few things more frustrating than learning enough to really appreciate concerts and operas and art galleries, and never being able to afford to go.

At least in Dullsville, you can still read Colette. ; )

Anonymous said...

Sigh. A bachelor's degree doesn't put dinner on the table. A college education well-lived, coupled with an entrepreneurial attitude to one's own life, does, especially if your college has a good career services center. And, no, it doesn't really matter what your major is. The idea that you should major in something "practical" is an old chestnut that is both wrong and stupid. If you want training, go to a technical school. Homer, you got a good degree, but apparently failed to get an education.

I can think of few things more frustrating than learning enough to really appreciate concerts and operas and art galleries, and never being able to afford to go. Laura, that is as silly a statement as I've ever read.

It's sentiments such as those expressed here that encourage people to blame others for their failures. If you are fluent in another language and aren't using it to develop a career, rather than find a job, then you're at fault, not your choice of major.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Well, anonymous-whoever-you-are, I disagree. Everybody is not an entrepreneur. Perhaps you are, but everybody isn't like you and doesn't have to be. I figured that out a very long time ago.

And I stand by my statement that you characterize as silly. If it's as silly a statement as you've ever read, I'm guessing that you don't read much.