Seeing What Others Don't

The remarkable ways we gain insights

Are You Pursuing A Pipedream?

Should we be advising young people to follow their dreams? The advice encourages self-indulgence, and may direct many graduates into unrealistic career paths that are poorly compensated. And the advice ignores the importance of luck. It may be better to learn to make the best of situations, although one-line slogans are too simplistic to guide career choices. Read More

Suggested alternatives?

What are the alternatives?

"Work all your life in a series of jobs that don't inspire you and look back when you're fifty wondering where your dreams went";

"Forget passion, or doing what you want, go for the throat: money power influence. Grab it and devil take the hindmost."

"Most of you will never amount to anything. Get used to it. Be grateful you've got this far, this is the high point of your life. From here on in you are a cog in the money machine and there are two choices: like it or lump it"

Nobody wants a speaker to tell them unpalatable truths at their graduation, do they?

A rant that has a point...

It is lovely hearing yet another science guy rain on everyone else's parade, but there's a few problems with it:

I once knew a Biology graduate whose first job was preparing and washing test tubes at £13,000 a year. She hated it. I mentioned that I had heard Science was supposed to be where all the jobs and the money were at, but she groaned 'No!'. Apparently that only applies to Physics, which needs you to be a Maths whizz.

What do you do if you're just not a Maths whizz?

I have also met the Dr of Genetics who was working as an office administrator (and had been struggling with depression); the Dr of Computational Biology who was not serving Science but a small IT department; then there was the Maths grad who was a part time admin; the chemistry grad who loved Science so much he became a landlord; the chemistry undergrad whose parents gave him advice about the promise of a career in science, but who dropped out after failing his first year twice because he was unsuited to it. I also knew someone who was top in every subject at school, but who chose to become a tree surgeon. He also hated it, and the job was slowly disabling him while brutalising his outlook on life.

Goading everyone with the advice to do something practical, but then butting out at the last minute behind the cloak of "it's too complicated for a one liner" is another form of safely sounding daring. (Even if couched in a disclaimer, it is a risk to focus on pure practicality as it could suit you to doing something you hate). During secondary school, what would really help the kids is:

1. telling them how many openings there are in each industry and job type in a year,

2. telling them how many other people are likely to apply for the same job,

3. telling them how good they have to be at certain skills to get the job and thrive,

4. telling them just how hard it is to get, do, and hold onto,

5. telling them what they can do if that doesn't work out, and encouraging them to have a plan D if necessary (in case of recession),

6. giving them work experience in a whole range of areas so they know what they can and can't stand,

7. doing as much as possible to undermine nepotism, old boys clubs, class privilege, sexism, heterosexism, racism, ageism, and to promote meritocratic social mobility.

At the start of secondary school, I had every belief that I would enter an office or a laboratory, do standard office/lab work, and live happily as an office/lab guy. Then I did a week's work experience in beaurocratic department. I was so horrified and despairing that people could waste their whole lives doing something so meaningless after I'd been taught about Science, Art, English etc. that I resolved to do something meaningful.

In other words - sure don't tell them to follow a dream (e.g. be an astronaut) or just do something practical. Instead tell them to make a meaningful contribution. That involves getting them to decide what is meaningful for them, in combination with showing them how they can serve.

And we ought to be showing them how to do that with the Arts, and Philosophy. ;)

Not so sure

Well. Certainly there is a balance to all this and being realistic is crucial.

On the other hand, I cannot disagree with you more when you equate following your passions with self indulgence. That in fact, sounds like a very immature definition to me. What if my passion is is horses. I spend all my time with horses. Then I decide I want to share my passion with handicap kids so I start an organization that matches handicap kids with horses they can ride. Does that sound self indulgent. After all. I selfishly followed my passion.

Not sure I follow the harshness of this article. Again, balance and mentoring are the key for any gong person.

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Gary Klein is Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC; his most recent book is Seeing What Others Don't: The remarkable ways we gain insights.

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