Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be

My grandfather worked as a carpenter from the time he was a teenage apprentice until a couple years before his death.  I loved making projects with him, and he taught me a lot about woodworking.  One of the most striking things about him was that he loved going to work.  Whether it was remodeling a kitchen, making a custom bench, or repairing a deck, he loved it.  He told me once that he never woke up and told himself that he didn’t want to go into work.

Sean Johnson wrote an intriguing article, Why You Can’t Be Anything You Want to Be, at his blog this month.  It does fly in the face what my generation has been told about pursuing career happiness.

Reading the article, I feel lucky to be able to purse a career that makes me happy, seems to be in demand, and that I’ll want to wake up and go do.  Sean’s five themes are as follows:

  1. the market doesn’t care what you love
  2. you must create value
  3. you must be adaptable
  4. you must learn how to sell
  5. you must be entrepreneural

Sean’s idea is not new.  One scene from Office Space goes like this:

[Peter, Michael, and Samir are chatting as they hang around the printer]
Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you’d do if you had a million dollars and you didn’t have to work. And invariably what you’d say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you’re supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that’s why I’m working at Initech.
Michael Bolton: No, you’re working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there’d be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.
Samir: You know what I would do if I had a million dollars? I would invest half of it in low risk mutual funds and then take the other half over to my friend Asadulah who works in securities…
Michael Bolton: Samir, you’re missing the point. The point of the exercise is that you’re supposed to figure out what you would want to do if…
[printer starts beeping]
Michael Bolton: “PC Load Letter”? …

Interesting my grandfather’s generation probably looked more to apprenticeships when joining the workforce as that added a valued skill.  My parents generation seemed to value job stability but may have lacked some in adaptability.  My generation is trying to add value through education.  Unfortunately, the more bachelor, graduate, and doctoral degrees produced, the less each is worth (supply and demand again).

Who knows, maybe Rich Dad Poor Dad will soon be required reading before entering college.  Figuring out the best way to find happiness at the bazaar where we all swap time, money, and ideas has never been easy for any generation.  I’d be happy to have a career like my grandfather and wake up ready to go to work each morning.  Medicine has been great at that so far.

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