Allegorical Nonsense

An allegory. Nonsense. Put them together. Okay, not really.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wanted: Career Advice

I think I'm in need of some good career advice. And I'll tell you why. If you were to ask me what I'm looking for in a job, I think the answer would be: "To really connect with people. To bring some kind of happiness, or maybe peace, to people's lives, including mine." This is not to say that I don't want to earn money. I want to feel that I'm independent and not living off other people's charity. I don't want to be poor. I'm even not shy to say that money can buy stuff which can contribute to my happiness. But it turns out that money is a pretty relative thing – there is always someone with more, and there is always someone with less. Lots of people on either side, in fact. And money doesn't seem to be the consistently critical factor determining the level of satisfaction, or happiness, or peace, or lack of restlessness in the lives of the people on either side.

Given that, I have a problem. I see everybody around me, and their dreams. They seem to want to do the GMAT, to study an MBA, or maybe a Masters of Law or something that will make them money. They seem to want to work in high-powered fields where large amounts of money are paid to you in return for sacrificing your every waking second to working and/or thinking/talking/breathing work. [Note: Even as I write this, I note that "everybody" is an absolute misnomer. The vast majority of my friends are not doing the above. Many of them are actually following where their dreams (i.e. not money) are taking them. But the fact that at times like these I seem to blot them out of my thoughts is part of the problem].

To delve a little deeper, I see those people wanting those things, in some cases succeeding, in some cases failing, and I think: "I can do that. I'm smart. I can do the brain stuff that you've got to do to do that." And it's true. I can do the brain stuff. That thing behind my nose (to quote a really good movie I just saw – La science des rêves) works really well with lots of things. And then the guilt kicks in. It derives from the dreaded word "potential". The word appeared many times on my school report card. And it's a scary word. Because having "potential" means that you're not doing the "actual". And not only that, it sets up a presumption that you should be doing the actual, but aren't. And when you don't even know what the actual is, or how you should be doing it, or why, it all turns into a bad feeling.

It's because of this bad feeling that I found myself wasting my day today making an application for a job which I probably (I say probably because, as usual, I don't even have enough information to make an informed decision – but my emotions say probably) don't even want, for a position that I wouldn't know what to do with it if I were to get it, purely because it seems to be the kind of job that I feel like I should want. And then I did sample questions for the GMAT exams, which is all well and good, until you take into account that the sole purpose of those exams is to winnow away inappropriate candidates for studying an MBA program; put that together with the fact that if I ended up doing an MBA, it would contribute absolutely nothing to being anyplace that I actually want or will want to be, and you see how the problem arises yet again. Oh, and I checked out a Masters of Law at Stanford University – it is almost certainly true that Stanford University has a good teaching reputation, but the main reason I'm attracted to studying there is that there are squirrels there (I visited once in my youth, and was amazed to find that squirrels not only genuinely exist, but roam freely on the lawns).

So this is where you, my studio audience comes in. Taking into account that you are a select few, who have made somewhat select life choices, I don't expect objectivity, so fire away. But don't even try to tempt me into academia – I was frightened away from that (along with politics, its not-so-distant cousin) a long time ago.



At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

Are you telling me that academia and politics are related? Never! Why, I'm of the school of thought (as is my insightful supervisor) that... oh. Crap.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Simon Holloway said...

But seriously, I do actually understand where you're coming from, and can think of examples within my own life as well where I've entered into a commitment half-heartedly, simply because I would like to be the sort of person who wants to do that sort of thing. I say, do what you want to do. If you want to study with squirrels, nobody will think the worse of you (weirdo). And Stanford University really does have an excellent reputation. I'd be tempted to go there just for that. But that's me. You can have the squirrels.

At 3:45 PM, Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

Oh, and congratulations on updating to what I assume is Blogger Beta! Very nice.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Thank you for your thought (and the more thoughtful afterthought, and the complimentary afterafterthought).

I still don't know, though, whether it's better to take the risk on trying to find an area which I can work in, enjoy, and live off, or to take the safer option of working in something tolerable and reasonably stimulating which earns money, and then use the money and free time for the enjoying part. The risk of the latter is being stuck with so much tolerable work and money, that there is no free time left, and therefore no enjoying.

On a brighter note, I was enticed by a comment made once by Conrad (every time I see the unearthly well-readness of people such as Conrad and Gawain, I feel like the smallest frog in the blog-bog - but this time I turned embarrassment into action) to find a book on Spinoza, a philosopher I know absolutely nothing about (except that there's a street named after him not far from where I live). I thought I would start with a biography for some historical context, although as a rule I don't read biographies and I don't read history. And to my shock and dismay, it's actually a bloody good read! It's so far not even primarily about Spinoza but about the Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam, which is a remarkable story. If you're interested, it's "Spinoza: A Life" by Steven Nadler.

Just a thought.

At 3:26 AM, Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks, that's very kind of you. What was the comment? Gawain once recommended a different Spinoza book on my blog...

A question of the vernacular--Do Israelis really say "bloody good" too?

"whether it's better to take the risk on trying to find an area which I can work in, enjoy, and live off, or to take the safer option of working in something tolerable and reasonably stimulating which earns money, and then use the money and free time for the enjoying part."

I know hardly anyone who doesn't face this problem, or else who's sure that they made the right decision in retrospect. Well, Eliot worked in a bank, and Einstein in a patent office, to give two flawed examples--and Spinoza, as you now know, was a lens-grinder--so it can be done.

Perhaps you could marry wealth, or else find a patron of some sort...?

At 4:15 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

To the commenting world: Please excuse my long delay.

Conrad: I've already forgotten the comment, but it made an impression at the time. Since I'm a slow reader, I'm still in the middle of the Nadler book, but it's really very interesting. I was talking about it to a relative of my fiancee last night who leads historical tours of Israelis to various places in Europe (particularly Italy), and it's inspiring to hear that there are people who take their extensive knowledge built up over years, systematise it, and turn it into a livelihood.

It's a courageous choice. Perhaps that could be me, one day.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Oh, and "bloody good" is a leftover of my Australian upbringing. As they say, you can take the something out of the something, but you can't take the other thing out of the first thing.


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