Friday, July 22, 2016

I have not worked for many years now

I have officially become a part of the "old" generation.  I now have become old enough that the children of my undergraduate classmates are writing to me seeking my advice.  And I thought I am still the dashing young man with a whole lot of hair on my head! ;)

Of course, as always, I never did advise them on what they should do.  Whether it is students at my college who make the mistake of coming to me for advice, or the youth from the other side of the planet, my approach is no different: "What do you want to do, if there were no restrictions?" is what I typically ask them.

Almost always, it is a confused, stunned silence as an initial response.  Because, most never think about that.  You--yes, dear reader, you--too perhaps did not think about that when you were young.  When you were 17, or even 22, did you think long and hard about what you wanted to do in life, if there were no restrictions and constraints?  Did you use that as a starting point in order to attempt to define the rest of your life?  Chances are that most people do not.

In the email, after giving one a bunch of ideas on how to proceed, I wrote at the end:
I want to assure you that you will be on the right track as long as you keep thinking.  
It is a long life.  And life is not easy.  For the most part, life gets harder in many ways as we grow out of our childhood.  In that challenging context, imagine doing something that you really, really, really do not want to do, and having to do that day in and day out.  It will be a miserably long life, I would think.

A Cornell University economics professor writes about such matters and more in this piece, where he has a clear bottom-line:
Resist the soul-crushing job’s promise of extra money and savor the more satisfying conditions you’ll find in one that pays a little less.
Before reaching that bottom-line, he writes:
The happiness literature has identified one of the most deeply satisfying human psychological states to be one called “flow.” It occurs when you are so immersed in an activity that you lose track of the passage of time. If you can land a job that enables you to experience substantial periods of flow, you will be among the most fortunate people on the planet.
Have I told you enough times that I am one of the most fortunate people in this regard?  I often comment to students that I would do what I do even if I don't get paid and, thankfully, I get paid as well.  I get paid to read, think, write, and--most importantly--help young people understand the world.  How fantastic, right?  "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life" is true--if we can find that job.

I am behind on a few bills though; wanna help me? ;)


Ramesh said...

I know where you are coming from, and I have though much about it (alas never in the younger days, as you note), but I am very sceptical about the mythical "job you love".

I don't think there is any such job. Every job has a huge component which is grunt work and some that is enjoyable work. It is what we make of the job that can determine whether we are happy or not. Relationship with coworkers, customers, suppliers, students, etc, the opportunity to travel to and/ or deal other cultures (jobs increasingly have a global component), the quiet satisfaction in a job well done, the ability to make a difference to the few people we touch; all of this makes for what we can get out of a job. A job being "soulless" is completely a state of mind - there are many teachers, nurses and the like, professions we view as the exalted professions, who are equally soulless. And I have seen security guards, whose job is usually to sit around and do absolutely nothing, being happy and cheerful - the guy in my building plays ball with every kid that comes down.

Life as you have noted often is a series of accidents. The job is also one of them, although there is a greater degree of choice here than the accident of birth. I submit that it is less about the choice than what anybody makes of it.

Sriram Khé said...

Of course, everything in life depends on what we make of the happenings. However, we ought to recognize that what job/career we want to prepare for involves a whole lot of choice that we rarely find in many other aspects of life. Where, and to whom, we are born is not a choice that we have. Avoiding Alzheimer's is not a choice that we have. But, hey, whether or not I want to work every day as an electrical engineer is a clear choice that I have. The job is not an "accident" like our birth is.
There is, however, tremendous luck (good or bad) involved that affect the outcomes of the choices that we make. To live happily with the consequences of the choices is where your point about "what we make of the job" kicks in.

Anne in Salem said...

When I was young, there was one thing I wanted to be when I grew up, restrictions or not. I wanted to be a mother to several children. Career rarely entered my mind until mid-high school, and then it was as a path to choosing a college.

Now, with no restrictions, I'd bake. I'd own a bakery and bake whatever moves me that day. My sister would join me, and she'd do the fancy pastry stuff. As long as someone else handled the business side of it, I'd be delighted to bake all day.

The Cornell professor is right (of course he is - he's at Cornell). A job one doesn't like is soul-crushing, energy-draining, and unbearable. If one is in the fortunate position to choose between more money that is soul-crushing and less money that is satisfying, I say be happy. There is little worse, personally, than dreading work every single day.

Sriram Khé said...

Alright, yet another post in which Anne the right-wing person agrees with me, who comes mostly from left-of-center, and she also opposes a fellow-right winger. This must be some bizarro world dream sequence ... wake up, sriram, wake up ;)

Yes, the decision-making process you have laid out is what I would like young people to think through, and then consciously work out the needed tradeoffs. Stay away from the baking the next few days--temp will be in the high 90s :(

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