Two little girls are playing on the ground. One of them presents her piggy bank to the other. She says, “I’m saving for when I get a low-paying job doing what I love.”
This scene from a comic by The New Yorker’s cartoonist Amy Hwang, tells a lot about the reality of today’s professional world. For previous generations income and stability were the main guidelines in choosing a career. Today, we are encouraged to find a job that brings us pleasure. Money, it’s argued, will come later. “You’ve got to find what you love,” advised Apple founder Steve Jobs, one of the most successful businessmen in history, during a commencement address for Stanford University graduates in 2005.
Hwang’s cartoon accentuates the fact that there is almost always a trade-off when you do what you love. That trade-off is obvious when considering the jobs people do for no pay at all (ask any 20-something about his or her experiences with internships) and the legion of 9-to-5 workers who spend their free time investing in their music careers in the vain hope of becoming rock stars.
The problem is that there are simply too many people looking for work. As a solution, some economists from the New Economics Foundation have proposed a drastic reduction in the number of working hours per week, to around 20. It sounds appealing at first, but try telling that to an early-career professional who is struggling to show his passion for what he does. If the unfulfilling outcome of the Occupy Wall Street movement is any indication, there’s little doubt about the unrealistically utopian nature of the proposal.
That there aren’t enough jobs being created to keep up with population growth is just part of the sad story. Consider, as an example, a college student who is equally interested in computer science and graphic design. Even if, in theory, there is a job where he can apply both technical and artistic skills, occupations tend to focus on one area or the other. These days, he would have to choose one career path and rely on the hope that he made the right decision.
Devoting your entire professional life to one, and only one, occupation is limiting. In the ideal case, part-time jobs would be more readily available and people could do many of them — not because they have to, but because multiple jobs would provide a more fulfilling life experience.
But until most members of society are educated enough to realize that no economy will support overpopulation, we will continue to see many more generations of young professionals having their 20s ruined by underpaying jobs and severe competition with colleagues who also just love what they do.
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 4 print edition. Marcelo Cicconet is a staff columnist. Email him at email@example.com.
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