I was angry yesterday, angry at a post I saw on LinkedIn. I am still angry. Let me tell you why.
The person who posted on Linkedin had come across a young lady in the supermarket he was shopping. She was the cashier. He asked her if she was still a student or she graduated already. She said she was a university graduate. “What did you study?” asked the man. “Philosophy” said the young lady. “Are you happy with your decision to study philosophy?” asked the man. “Yes” said the young lady. “Even though you knew you would be jobless?”, “Yes” said the young lady, “I would do it so again”. Having recited this story, our narrator wrote “I have come across security guards who had studied computer engineering, cake chefs who had studied art history, people selling olive genetic engineering. And I think of the society losing values, the aggression, the destruction of the nature, smart machines, robot – like humans – loss of depth and virtue… and this young lady. Dear young lady, tell us – what went wrong?”
I was furious.
First of all, how can we make up a complete story around seeing only a little part of this person’s life? What we know is there is a young lady, she works as a cashier, she had studied philosophy and is very happy having done so. How can we deduct from this that something is wrong here? How can we deduct that this lady should have been somewhere else, doing something else?
What if this lady was actually enjoying this job because it gave her pleasure to see new faces every day? Maybe she enjoyed the calculations, the sounds the scanning machine makes, the time it takes when the first client arrives to her desk when she opens her check out lane? We don’t know. What if she enjoyed working there because her other friend is working there and they could meet and gossip in the breaks? What if she liked the steady pay check and not so tiring working day? What if this work gave her enough financial security so that she could go and experiment with new work, create art, make something new, create new business after work hours and in the weekends? How do we know where she invests her energy and her art? What do we know about her vision? Maybe she has a philosophy group she is running? Maybe she teaches to children who don’t have means to pay for it? Maybe she writes books which she hopes to get published some day? Maybe all of it, maybe none of it. We don’t know. How come we make a story out of it and use it to prove a point where we think we are right? Is that kind?
Second of all – what is the underlying assumption here? Is it “You should do the work that directly relates to your studies”? Or is it “A university graduate can only work in a certain level and less than that is a misery”? Who says? Who decides? This way of thinking have created prisons for lots of people – millions of people do work that they don’t like and feel trapped in this system. What would their family said if they changed? What would other people say? The beliefs are so ingrained in people’s mind that they find it nearly impossible to create alternative work options for themselves. “I’ve studied this and all my work experience is in this. I don’t know what else I could do?” I kept hearing this again and again from the people I interviewed and people I worked with. These two assumptions strengthen the limiting beliefs the people have and stops them from taking action to change for a better direction.
There are very few lucky people who knew exactly what work they wanted to do, who studied to become the person who can do this work and continued their lives doing the work after graduating from the university. But for many of us the story was different. We chose our studies mostly with the direction that was given to us from our parents, from our schools and we also decided based on what we knew. While studying some of us figured out that it was not what they wanted and changed direction. Some of us continued, graduated and looked for jobs that matched our studies. While working some of us understood how dreadful it was actually doing the work. There was no way we could have known the things we learned while doing the work. Studies were fine, work was completely different. Thanks to this work we learned something new about ourselves, what we liked and what we did not. Now we could do a better second choice, a much better third choice and much much better fourth choice. Every choice was a result of a more educated decision and we keep on improving with every new one. Where we end up can be completely a different place from where we started. And it is good like that. It is the process.
The process above was something that was guided by us, by every individual and it was optional. You could choose to iterate or keep unhappy staying at the same place doing the same thing. Now the world is changing in an exponential rate. The jobs that we have will probably not exist as they are right now or not exist at all. We have no choice but change. We cannot stick to these beliefs of “do work that you studied for” and “Do the work that is in your level”. We need to change with the change. We need to stay with the question when everything changes: “What value can I create while enjoying the process?” The titles, the positions, the name of the work. the studies are just details. Let’s focus on what matters.
Let’s open up spaces where people can explore different ways of being and doing so they can create value for humanity and for the world while enjoying the process. Let’s create new beliefs that nurture discovery, experimentation, curiosity. Let’s share more examples of people who have taken this path and made a difference.