Sometime around age 18, I faced the same daunting question many other college bound students faced, figuring out what I wanted to pursue as a lifelong career.
It is completely absurd to pose such a choice on someone of any age, and yet we toss millions of 18 to 22 year-olds through the “what will you major in?” part of the educating process. It is perfectly fine to choose an area of expertise based on one’s interests, however, we have stepped out of the realm of simply choosing our interests.
We have turned our careers into something that define us as people. We are asked when we are young what we want to BE, not what we want to DO. Why is it that we introduce ourselves as Biologists, Engineers, or Businessmen, not as friends or family? If we are what we do, did we choose who we are when we decided on a major?
It is time to separate our jobs from what it is that defines us. If you really think about it, your paid employment is not your life. Your career takes up 40 hours of your week, and there are 168 hours in each week, what defines you in those other 128 hours? What do you do outside of work that makes you who you are? Surely you have passions that you are not being paid for, things you would dedicate your time and effort to because it adds value to your life?
Masses of people begin the five-day journey every monday to the next weekend, trudging through because they believe they are making more money for the purpose of becoming happier. Most would also believe that their job is the only way they can contribute to society. I must admit I am very lucky, I am not sure why, but early in my college career I began to really visualize myself in this lifestyle, and let me tell you I developed a real fear of it. I began my search for ways to escape the rat race before I was even in it, eventually finding the answer right under my nose.
I have already explained how working to support material cravings is a vicious cycle, one that will never be truly fulfilling and support dependency on a 40+ year career. Many would agree with me that inflated lifestyles with fancy cars and sugar pumped lattes are silly, however would argue that once your working career is over, you will no longer be contributing to society. Not only this, but you will surely lead a boring life now that you can’t do the thing that makes you you.
This is simply not true, and I’ll tell you why.
When we pull our noses away from the grindstone for a bit, our true productivity begins to show itself. Have you ever worked on a jigsaw puzzle and been stuck for hours? Finally you take a break, and when you come back you find you are fitting pieces together again in minutes? We are not wired to spend such immense amounts of time to one thing. We are more productive when we have varied tasks and utilize leisure time.
Because we are so naturally inclined to create, our true productivity comes about AFTER we have financial freedom. This is when we find what is fulfilling to us regardless of the pay. People will pursue work that they truly enjoy and that contributes to the lives of others. Sure, they may lounge around in their pajamas the first month and watch T.V., but human nature will come around and do it’s thing. We have a need to belong to and contribute to something bigger than ourselves, this is hardwired into or brain.
The 40 hour workweek is an outdated system imposed in response to the great depression. With it came increased opportunities to place a consistent paycheck in people’s pockets. This was great for a time when opportunities where sparse for the common man. We do not live in this era anymore. Some of modern society has caught on to this, with companies imposing more flexible and less labor intensive work schedules and seeing INCREASED productivity.
Unfortunately, other aspects of modern society are yet to catch on, such as education. We still pose the “big questions”. What will you major in? What do you want to be? We still actively educate a workforce of individuals who think they are defined by their jobs. They go out into the world and spend decades on one avenue, developing tunnel vision to the rest of the world.
I will say, there are those out there who have managed to avoid this trap. A select few have found paid employment in what is their calling, and they would continue to do what they do even if the pay stopped. To find out if you are in this bunch, simply ask yourself, without the paycheck, would you still participate in your 9 to 5?
For most, the answer will be no, but don’t worry, the future is still bright.
With a little financial smarts, we can take back control over how we spend our lives. With lower needs than others to support a happy and healthy you, your work life is flexible. When you believe it is impossible to live on less that $60,000/year, you are doomed to choose from only careers paying $60,000+. When you realize this is a ridiculously luxurious lifestyle and that there are families of three living happily on $25,000/year, your employment opportunities open up quite a bit.
You are not doomed to one career field for the rest of your life. You are also not doomed to having to work for a living forever. Life becomes much more interesting once you realize all of these things are perfectly within your control.
So maybe right now maybe you want to do this, and later on you will want to do that. Lose the ball and chain. There is no need to ask the question “what do you want to do for the rest of your life?” but rather, “What would you like to do right now?”