USA Today has a feature that delivers little data mints that occasionally flavor one’s taste for our changing culture. It’s called, “Snapshots”, and features opinion polls and other samplings. In the 9/21/10 edition it was “‘Dream Jobs’ that top our wish list.” Based on a college poll of 1,004 adults last June it provided this result:
- 32% Actor/actress
- 29% Professional athlete
- 13% President of the U.S.
- 13% Rock star
- 13% Unsure
These things are always suspect in that the people queried are probably not given much time to think about their answer. But, most people probably wouldn’t spend much time at it even if they were. But I still find this one interesting. For most people work fills about half our waking lives, and it is my perception that it usually defines who we are. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. When I read obituaries, which I find interesting, I look for occupation. Whatever the person’s interpersonal relationships their occupation tells a lot about the sort of life they led.
The USA Today poll results tell me that despite the importance of one’s occupation, choosing it is not seen as something very selectable, and there’s not a single item there that’s realistic for 99% of us. I see missing from the list: engineering, inventor, artist, house-builder, architect, scientist, doctor, nurse, archeologist, author, accountant,
soldier, sailor, counselor and teacher. And then there is the job I see as one of the most potentially challenging and fulfilling of all: domestic engineer, a.k.a., full-time wife and mother. To do it right requires knowledge and skills at medicine, nutrition, education, accounting and consumerism. Of course, a job is what you make it – it can be done poorly or well.
How do we come to do what we do? I have some experience in counseling young people starting out in college. Very few have any idea what they want to become. In most cases the primary motivation seems to the the attraction of money , and that’s a shame. Beyond providing a minimum base for what behaviorists call “security”, i.e., having enough necessities, there is arguable evidence that money does not buy happiness.
I know a young lady who got her degree in accounting and after working at that for some years decided to be a bee-keeper instead. Most people in the old days ended up stuck in
whatever activity they fell into, often their parent’s job. My father worked for a wage his whole life. He was the head driller on “cable-tool” oil rigs, and a welder too. But, he worked for the money and he found little fulfillment in the work itself.
I count myself among the most fortunate of men. I was a naval officer with a full career
and then had a second career as an electrical engineer specializing in aerospace batteries. In the latter I was fortunate to spend quite a lot of time in design, which I found very fulfilling. But, I kind of fell into it all. I applied to the service academies as the only financial path available for a college education and everything else simply ensued. I am deeply indebted to my country for the opportunities it offered to this poor kid from Kansas.
The eight fastest-growing jobs of 2010, according to CareerCast.com are:
- Advertising Salesperson
- Stenographer/Court Reporter
- Market Research Analyst
Now I’m not too sure about that last one. There can’t be too many historians, can there? Especially in a down economy, as a historian you might find yourself near the top of the “cut the fat” list. But maybe so – things are always changing. And stockbroker? Really? But then, this is the list of fastest-growing professions, not necessarily the most interesting. This reminds me that for some decades now the cream of America’s brainpower has been going to Wall Street. There’s something very wrong about that, in my humble opinion.
After 73 years on this earth I feel able to give some advice to young people on the subject. When my grandkids are ready, this is what they’ll hear from me. Follow your interests. Try a variety of stuff and discover your talents. Don’t be afraid of failure – it is the price of experience, and is well worth it. Money is important, but it shouldn’t be at the top of your list.
And then there’s this, kid. When people at last read your obituary maybe they’ll say, “Man, what a wonderful life!”.