All of us have unexamined collection of beliefs, opinions, and points of view about how life works that we trust blindly and completely. We live by a rule book we wrote (or inherited) but never read. We think we know our limits, how far we can travel from the safety of the world we know, and what would happen if we jumped off the edge of the known world. For routine issues, automatically following this internal rule book works just fine, but with regard to choosing one’s life’s work, it pays to rewrite a few of the rules.
Yes, you might have to make some compromises along the way. But don’t start off assuming you have to make them. Just because you didn’t have a stellar history at college doesn’t mean you can’t become a doctor. Just because you are a middle manager with a wife, kids, two cars, and a mortgage doesn’t mean you cannot own your own successful beach bar in Negril. You can decide what compromises you are willing to make, if any. You can choose them consciously, rather than assuming there is no other possibility. In any event, the one way to avoid making unnecessary compromises is to challenge your assumptions and throw away the ones that aren’t useful.
You hear it everywhere: “A college degree is more important than ever.” Everyone knows that college graduates earn more than those who just made it through high school. After World War II, the American job market grew along with the economy, and so did the advantages of a college education. The cost of college was a great investment. Now that is no longer necessarily true.
A few years ago, research firm PayScale calculated that a college degree produced about a 7% return on investment, about the same long-term return as the stock market. A survey they conducted in 2012 for Businessweek showed that graduating from some elite colleges produced a return of more than 10%. However graduating from many colleges produced a negative return. In his new book, “Will College Pay Off?”, Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli writes, “The big news about the payoff from college should be the incredible variation in it across colleges.” “Looking at the actual return on the costs of attending college, careful analysis suggest that the payoff from many college programs–as much as one in four-is actually negative.”
Since the mid-90s, the experts have claimed that liberal arts degrees were a waste of time and money. You needed to major in a STEM specialty (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) to get ahead. But now the equation has changed. Cappelli calculates that only about one fifth of recent STEM graduates will get a job in their field of study.
Given all this, what can you do to have an exceptional career?
- Keep your options open until you can make a clear, informed choice.
- Make a choice that fits your talents, personality and values. This is the best guarantee of success and that you will love your work (and your life). After all, this is probably the only life you have. Don’t waste it.
- Pick a career that will provide intrinsic (inner) satisfaction as well as extrinsic (external rewards). Many years ago, when I regularly visited friends studying at Harvard, I was amazed how broad and deep their passions and interests ran. They sought a wide range of careers. Now I hear that the most Harvard undergraduates hope to become investment bankers. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but still, many are making life choices that will not necessarily lead to fulfillment. Or, as Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do”.
- If you are going to go to college, plan on a graduate degree for most specialties. In 1960 only about 10% of Americans had a college degree. Now seventy percent of high school graduates go to college. You may need a 4-year degree just to get a job that once required only a high school degree.
- Private educational loans have enslaved hundreds of thousands of young people in perpetual debt. If you doubt this, just talk with a few twenty-five-year-olds. Don’t help elect anyone who does not take a strong stand for education finance reform. Public education should be free, the same as it is in most advanced European countries.
- Major technology companies have added to their focus of competing for top engineers and technicians. They are now competing for talented people to lead and manage. They want smart young people with business and liberal arts degrees. The long-maligned liberal arts degree is making a comeback.
- Once again, the bottom-line is: pick a career direction where you will be exceptional.
Some of this blog entry is rewritten from a great article by John Cassidy in the September 7, 2015 issue of The New Yorker. Get it. Read it. It is powerful and important.
We don’t even have a word for it. According to urbandictionary.com, the German word functionslust means: Pleasure taken in doing what one does best. Birds flying, dogs running, dolphins swimming. And you in a job that uses your best talents all day.
- Does your ideal job focus more on people, data or things?
- What kind of problems light you up?
- What work can you do for hours and not get bored or burned out?
- Are you best concentrating or flowing?
- An unique expert or part of a team?
- Outgoing or internal focus?
What gives you the most functionslust?
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and
then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Dr. Howard Thurman.
I have known employees of non-profits with a noble mission who endlessly suffer at work because making a difference doesn’t necessarily translate to an enlightened attitude toward employees.
When you come alive at work you are already making a difference with everyone around you. Nothing is more inspirational than you enjoying what you are doing.