When Are We Expected To Learn The Truth About Our Careers?

originally posted on my old host on August 9, 2018

Recently, a tweet from Alexander D. Riddle led me to read his blog post on Medium: 5 Things No One Told Me About Running A Business. I enjoy reading such posts from time to time because there’s usually some little nugget of truth that isn’t being told nearly enough. My favorite nugget from this particular post comes from #3 Hard Work Does Not Equal Growth:

You can’t just be the hardest working, you also have the be the smartest working.

This reminded me of some somewhat misguided advice I got from my mom and stepdad when I was preparing to graduate from college. The advice was something along the lines of: Get your degree, get that first job, and work hard, as if that was all one needed to worry about once he got into the workforce. What they forgot to mention is that working hard is only part of the equation. In addition to working hard and smart as Riddle states, one has to be looking ahead at the ever-changing landscape of his or her career field. In 2018, I think it’s safe to say that if your job can be automated or outsourced, it’s only a matter of time before your gig meets its end. Jumping on this soapbox has me wondering…

When are we expected to learn the truth about our careers?

Furthermore, what responsibility do higher education institutions have in this matter? Before I graduated college, I’d taken a stab at three different majors. For the sake of this exercise, we won’t count that brief period during which my major was “Undecided”. I ultimately graduated with a degree in marketing, and before that I’d tried out computer science, which proved to be a really, really, really bad idea.

When I first set foot on the campus of Louisiana Tech University, I had very little exposure to the jobs of the real world. I knew only that I wasn’t a big fan of physical labor and that I saw a college degree as the gateway to making some real skrilla. Feeling the pressure to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I figured I might as well go with the one thing I knew I didn’t absolutely hate: writing. I just knew deep down that I wasn’t too far away from writing my future bestselling novel, but I also knew I was going to need a job to sustain me long enough to make my dream a reality. So, yeah, journalism made the most sense in my little mind.

So how did that work out?

I’m proud to say that my writing career didn’t make it past journalism 101. Unlike my experience with computer science, I didn’t run away with a broken ego (I got an A in journalism 101, thank you very much). I was fortunate enough to discover early on that journalism wasn’t for me. And for that, I thank Dr. Blick.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about Dr. Blick in the typical sense of teacher or professor. I can’t recall any specific lessons he himself taught. I remember only the lessons that he allowed others to teach in his class. Every so often, Dr. Blick would invite someone from the field of journalism to come and share their experiences with the class. We were fortunate to be exposed to people who’d worked a variety of gigs. The most interesting guest by far was Leesha Faulkner, whose investigative journalism led to the revelation of the existence of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state agency with the aim of hindering civil rights activism and maintaining segregation within the state. The guest with the funniest experience was a fellow Louisiana Tech grad, a former editor of the school paper, The Tech Talk. While working for The Tech Talk, she ran a story about a play adaptation of Lean On Me in which she referred to it as Leon On Me.

She claimed that the typo made its way to the Headlines segment of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. (My own online research was unable to confirm this, but I’m choosing to believe it anyway).

That doesn’t sound so bad so far. So what led you to ditch the field?

Despite their different experiences, the guests’ stories had some common themes. I can’t remember how many times I heard some version of this story:

You work so hard. You’re on call 24/7. You never know when you’ll have to leave a holiday meal because a big story breaks. You hardly ever see your family — your spouse or your kids — because you work such crazy hours, especially when you’ve got a big deadline looming. And you make next to no money, but man, it’s great.

The more I learned the realities about journalism, the less interested I became. I wish more professors followed Dr. Blick’s example because so many who seek higher education do so because they’re pursuing a dream, not because they’re pursuing a reality. They see higher education as the gateway to something better while never really knowing what gates they may be working toward.

Anyone hoping to become a doctor or a nurse because he wants to save lives needs to realize that he’ll be blamed at some point when someone dies under his care. Who knows, he may be sued too. If he’s thinking about helping animals instead, he needs to be aware that working with animals isn’t all roses and rainbows either.

Anyone hoping to start his own business needs to know that it’s about a lot more than “being your own boss” and “setting your own schedule”. Anyone hoping to make it as a real estate agent needs to know that there’s a good chance he’ll be doing something else within two years.

And so it goes with any profession.

We simply need more honest conversation about work.

How do we make this open conversation become the new norm? I suppose it starts with our capitalizing on the opportunity to enlighten others when talking about our careers. So if you ever decide you want to give the landman thing a shot, contact me. I’ll try to give you some points to think about.

#professional