Opinions, Column

Charting A Path In A Post-Career World

Late last Thursday afternoon, I took a lap around the Career Fair more because I could than because I felt I should. By the time I got there, the representatives from the big, international financial firms seemed visibly tired of the well-dressed undergraduates who were still flocking to their tables disproportionally compared to their less well-known neighbors. There was an eagerness in the air—an obligated eagerness, the kind that sweeps over many students as they begin their last year of college. After talking with some representatives and stealing company pens, I stepped back to admire the view and saw something bizarre. The companies down on the floor and around the perimeter of Conte Forum had formed an enormous crock-pot that had been on slow-cook since 3 p.m. The collective shape was brimming with new flavors of students throwing themselves into the fray every minute, swirling themselves around, and getting a taste of the corporate world. Maybe I was just hungry, but that career crock-pot is what I saw. At their most basic level, these career fairs make many people wonder what they want to do with their lives. Uncertainty was bubbling to the surface as people scoured the concourse in search of their personal recipes for career success. A funny question kept leaping to my mind, though—do careers even exist anymore?

Even the fanciest of business and finance jobs struggle to retain the college wonder-kids they recruit. Talking to friends who have entered this sector, the overwhelmingly consistent narrative goes something along the lines of, “this is a good gig for a few years.” The statistics confirm this sentiment—across the board, over 60 percent of millennials will leave the company at which they work in fewer than three years. Thirty-year career-men are relics from generations past. Younger generations have developed occupational ADD that makes traditional careers an unlikely fit for the labor that they supply. But the issue lies partly in the labor that is demanded, too. Many of the most well-known companies today—such as Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and other Bay Area tech startups—did not even exist 10 years ago, let alone 30. Despite the evanescent nature of current companies and jobs, there is an overwhelming pressure to become career-oriented before even graduating college. While acknowledging that some age-old professions will continue to exist, we must acknowledge that the explosion of information and innovation that we have at our fingertips has changed the world and will continue to do so.

Almost every sector of the economy is in flux. Take a look at education, and you see a boom in online universities and the rise of master teachers, the most inspiring and effective in their subjects, who command audiences of tens of thousands of video viewers, instead of students in the traditional classroom setting. The energy sector is in constant motion toward sustainability, fueled by technological advancements in all sorts of energy sources—in solar energy’s case, the price of panels has dropped almost 70 percent in the last five years due to these advancements. Even money as we know it is changing. Digital money technologies like Google Wallet and Apple Pay are continuing the trend toward the obsolescence of cash that began with credit cards. That doesn’t even take into account actual digital money, like Bitcoin. Globalization has given a whole new meaning to the word “merger” and put national tax policies into an international context. Public transportation is all the rage in cities, and personal cars are even less of a necessity with the rise of companies like Uber and Lyft.

Thinking about a career in the old sense of the word is a futile endeavor because of how quickly many industries are changing. But even in more stable, traditional industries like insurance or finance—the types seen most at career fairs—occupational ADD makes recent graduates move on after a few years. Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” While career fairs are decent representatives of what parts of the world need, they seem to fail in producing these awakened, working souls. They serve as road signs, not a guiding North Star. Few people would argue about the necessity of road signs. There is, however, an overlooked value in checking your compass before hitting the road.

Featured Image by Kemeng Fan / Heights Staff

September 24, 2014