I learned a fun fact today: Even after four years of recession, over 1/3 of all bachelor’s degrees are in fields that are almost unemployable without a graduate degree: social sciences, history, psychology, humanities, visual and performing arts, English. Those fields aren’t even close to a third of the US economy, and they never have been.
So why are we buying all these degrees for jobs that don’t exist?
Some of us heard that a bachelor’s degree was “the new high school diploma”, so we picked squishy majors and staked our bets on graduate school. Some of us are okay with risky fiscal choices–and that’s cool. Somebody has to be. But the people I feel sorry for are the generation of middle-class kids who were raised to believe that they could have the same priorities as rich kids.
If you’ve already pulled the golden ticket, you don’t have to worry about anything so mundane as the employment rate, or whether or not you can find health insurance. You can afford to think of your four years as a voyage of self-discovery or a rite of passage, rather than a serious investment decision. You can even look down your nose at people who sell out and decide to work for a living.
And, since middle-class people tend to emulate the values and priorities of the elites, everybody else raised their kids to view college as that same fetishized extension of adolescence–meant for finding yourself, exploring your sexuality, and reading just enough Nietzche to become a pain in everyone’s ass for a while.
Maybe you go backpacking in Eastern Europe; maybe you dig a well in Uganda; but your career is not the point. In fact, the fact that your career is not the point, is kind of the point.
Anyone could have seen how suicidally unwise it was to apply that doctrine beyond the trust-fund set–but with access to hundreds of thousands of dollars in easy credit, the real cost of that mentality wouldn’t surface until it had become almost an article of faith in American culture.
And the training started decades before college
Basically from birth, we told a whole generation of kids that they could all be lion-tamers, and to ignore anyone who tells them different. And because we were too scared to be honest about it, we let them find out for themselves ($100,000 later) that there are way more kids who want to be lion-tamers than there are lion-taming positions available.
We also gave them permission to disdain subjects that are challenging, on the grounds that they should follow their heart and do what comes naturally. But math and science very rarely come naturally to anyone. What comes naturally to most kids is video games.
Even finding out what you love takes a lot of hard, boring, distasteful work–and we’ve robbed kids of hidden joys by pretending that it doesn’t.
Fortunately, happiness in life is not a one-in-a-million shot.
As I’ve come toward graduation, I’ve had occasion to ask a lot of people about their jobs; and the more I learn, the more I get excited about jobs with boring titles. There are so many different ways to show leadership and creativity, solve important problems, and generally feel good about what you do.
There’s also a lot of drudgery and boredom–but from everyone I’ve talked to, the biggest problems usually have to do with bosses and coworkers, rather than anything intrinsic to the job.
And the big secret is: it’s exactly the same with the folks who are chasing a dream career. Some fulfillment, and a lot of stress and hard work–especially since there’s a thousand people behind you, waiting to do the job if you don’t want it.
The folks who are happy in general are happy on the job, and the people who are unhappy in general are unhappy on the job. (It’s common sense when you think about it, but that’s definitely not the story we grew up with.)
Of course, the world needs graphic designers and anthropologists and writers and artists–and if you’ve got to do that particular thing to be happy, you really should go get it. But too many of us have been raised by the television to think that everybody needs that kind of job, when we’d probably be better (and happier) managers, engineers, and accountants.