Two little girls are playing on the floor. One of them presents her piggy bank to the other. She goes: “I’m saving for when I get a low-paying job doing what I love.”
The comic, by The New Yorker’s cartoonist Amy Hwang, tells a lot about the reality of work in our times. Differently from previous generations, where income and stability were the main guidelines in choosing a career, ours is encouraged to find a job that brings pleasure. Money, it’s argued, will come as a consequence. “You’ve got to find what you love,” advised Steve Jobs, one of the most successful businessman history has known, in a Commencement address for Stanford graduates in 2005.
Amy’s cartoon drives attention for the fact that, outliers apart, there’s always a trade-off. In fact, things can be a little more extreme if you consider jobs people do for no payment at all (ask any 20-something about his experiences with internships), and the legion of 9-to-5 workers that spend their free time investing in their music careers in the vain hope of becoming rock stars.
The problem, as I pointed out in a previous article about careers in Academia, is that there just are too many people in the market. As a solution, some economists (namely, 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’s struggling to show that he loves what he does more than anyone else. Besides, the sustainability of the idea is based on the redistribution of the GDP. If the outcome of the Occupy Wall Street movement is of any guideline, there’s little doubt about the utopian nature of the proposal.
The fact that there aren’t jobs enough being created to keep up with population growth is just part of the sad story. Consider, as an example, an early college student who’s equally attracted by topics in computer science and graphic design. Even if, in theory, there possibly is a job where he can apply both technical and artistic skills, in great part occupations focus in one area or the other. These days, he’d have to choose one career path, and rely on good luck to have made the right decision.
That is, devoting your entire professional life to one, and only one occupation, already is a limiting perspective. In the ideal case, part-time jobs would be more easily available, and people would optionally work on many of them, doing so not because they have to, but because that would give them a more fulfilling life experience.
But I digress. Until society in general don’t get educated enough to realize that no economy will support over-population, we’ll see many more generations of young professionals having their 20’s ruined by underpaying jobs and severe competition with colleagues that just happen to love doing the same thing.
(A version of this article appeared in Washington Square News.)