There are some studies underway in America concerning the causes of our unrest and dissatisfaction. We often blame the news media for airing too many disastrous events while suggesting that it spawns a shocking amount of copycat crimes. When we get through bashing the news media, we blame Hollywood, the economy, the educational system, and the rest of our social institutions. There is enough blame to go around, but if we want to dig down to the root of our problems, we must take some personal responsibility and realize that the answer lies inside each of us. In order to promote any product or service, you must contend with hundreds of competitors who are offering something similar. The main selling point for any product is dissatisfaction with the way we look, our station in life, our future, or the state of the world. Buying their product will solve everything, we are told.
When I was a teen, there were fewer spokesmen giving us an excuse to be miserable. The dream of every high school graduate was threefold: We wanted a job, a set of wheels, and a place of our own where we could live beyond the reach of our parent’s supervision. Today, the dream has expanded to astronomical proportions with very little substance to fuel it. Every girl is pressured to look like Selena Gomez or Vanessa Hudgens. The boys are presented with a host of idols to emulate. Many of them are sports stars, or young men who formed their own company and became multimillionaires by the time they were twenty-five. We are told that we can do it, we have what it takes, we should go the extra mile, get up an hour early─ you have heard all of it and more. Maybe we do have what it takes, but everyone can’t possibly reach the top. There isn’t enough room for everyone to stand on top of the mountain.
Personal happiness can come from being the best as many Olympians have demonstrated. As Walter Hagen pointed out to the rest of us, “No one remembers who came in second.” Excellence in sports, or any other endeavor, is wonderful, but success can be measured best with another yardstick, and that involves realizing that few of have what it takes to be an Olympian. In gymnastics, for example, many parents have become impoverished while keeping their daughter in a prestigious gymnastics training camp. Only one girl gets the gold every four years, but the debts have to be paid. Society needs to supply the necessary help in squeezin down the dreams of our youth to a manageable size. Some of the happiest people I know are the ones who have found their niche in a factory, a business, or become self employed in some service where they can live well, if not extravagant. School counselors fail to tell high school seniors that there might not be any jobs in their chosen field, and the disillusioned students don’t find this out until their senior year in college. A few years back, the career de jour for young women was fashion merchandising. One student I knew was told rather late that there were probably no more than three jobs available in the whole state. Today, students are flocking toward the careers that are made to look glamorous on television. Our schools are turning out lawyers and health care workers in droves, with few job opportunities for employment. Small towns that used to have five or six lawyers now have many dozens of them, jockeying for enough work to pay their rent. There are enough doctors and nurses in any small town to form a small army.
So what is wrong, we might ask, with being ordinary? Having an ordinary career is not synonymous with failure. I have suggested to many young people that it is much easier to find some field of work where they will be happier than their career specialists have lead them to believe. The first question any career seeker should ask is ‘do I prefer to work indoors or outdoors.’ Outdoor jobs have become less desirable in the eyes of the general public in recent years, but there are many of them that can provide a happy and worthwhile livelihood. Civil engineers, landscape designers, and building trade jobs are a few of the ones that offer opportunities. If you like to travel, there are careers in computer engineering that require the employee to stay on the move to service equipment worldwide. Many workers find this exciting and fulfilling while others would be crushed to wake up in a different country every week.
The second question should be, ‘do you prefer to work alone, or do you like being part of a close knit team.’ Students that didn’t go out for team sports in high school aren’t likely to be satisfied with many occupations that require ‘group’ coordination.
The third question is ‘do you like being totally absorbed in your job, or do you want to invest no more than forty hours per week and be home each afternoon to enjoy doing things with your neighbors and family?’ There are many jobs where you can leave the problems at work, and many others where you are immersed 24/7.
So how do you find the ideal career that will still be satisfying after the first year? The right place to start is to discuss your uncertainties with people who are already in the field, and don’t forget the senior citizens who have retired after forty years on the job. They might not open up to you at first, but once you become friends with them, you will get some valuable information that will help you make your decision. Internships are available in some fields, and if not an internship, there are often entry-level jobs available that will give you the opportunity to observe. Take a careful look before you commit yourself to a path that you might not want to take, and don’t get lost in a self-delusional dream spun from bits and pieces gleaned from television programs. Most career specialists have never worked the job they are steering you toward, so do some of your own research.
Good luck and happy planning, and remember that you can have a wonderful life with a lot less that the laurel wreath or the gold metal.