Career and the Illusion of Choice

One of the biggest lies that have been perpetrated in our modern culture is the idea that with more progress we end up having more choice. We see it in nearly every aspect of our lives, from clothing to food to entertainment and everything else. If you’re talking about the sheer number of individual options available to you, then this is certainly a true statement. However, the reality is that out of the myriad options that might be available to us for one specific need, only two or three of them are actually reasonable and within what we would. This means that the illusion of a vast amount of choice isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

Where a lot of people have some disillusionment, myself included, is when we try to apply the concept of choice to our career. We get on job boards and we look at all the thousands and thousands of available positions out there, and it seems like it should be a breeze to just apply to several jobs that look interesting and get hired shortly thereafter. Progress and technology has brought us to the point where we see a long list of seemingly available options at our fingertips, and it seems like it should be so easy to just find something that is worth our time.

The reality is, though, that like everything else in life, your career has some hard limits placed on it. It would certainly be nice to be able to go around trying various different things to see what fits you, but unless you have enough money to support yourself while you’re doing this, you’re going to struggle to live more than just a bare bones, survival driven life. An endless succession of entry level work is not a pathway toward a successful career, and your pay is going to reflect this.

It is this unfortunate truth that cements the primary requirement that if you want to become successful in life, you must focus in on one skill set and begin honing it over time until you have mastered it. In the real world, no one is interested in your personal journey of “discovering yourself”. Regardless of the system you prefer, socialist or libertarian, authoritarianism or democracy, if you’re in the business of getting things done, you likely don’t have a lot of time for people who aren’t focused on work. It is because of this that regardless of your political or economic opinions, trying out different ideas is usually not the most productive way to go.

While I have personally railed against unrealistic expectations by employers regarding the experience they want their applicants to have prior to signing them on, the same idea applies to the applicants themselves. It’s great that you want to switch from working as a cashier at Walmart to try out computer programming because it sounds cool, but if you don’t have at least a reasonable amount of education it’s pretty unrealistic to expect an employer to take a gamble on you. I don’t personally agree with the requirement for a four year college degree for most things, but at least a basic knowledge of whatever the work is going to be is a reasonable requirement for just about any entry to mid-level position.

But focusing back on career as a whole, you can’t really move past this entry level of work unless you actually pick something and stick with it for long enough to become truly good at it. As unfortunate as it is for any of us to have to hear, you just aren’t worth a lot of money if you don’t have anything of significant value to provide your employer. Your winning personality might be the envy of many, but unless you work in public relations or sales it isn’t really productive in any meaningful way. In most jobs, you have specific tasks that need to get done in a specific way, and it usually requires training and experience to know how to do that.

As someone who has spent a significant part of my life sort of meandering around looking for something I like as a job, I can tell you that it’s a terrible thing to have to continually start over every time you move on to a new position. I yearn for the days when you could have the kind of job security where you could work for thirty years and then have a nice retirement. This new gig economy we live in really makes finding value in your work difficult to do, and it is only exacerbated when you aren’t able to focus your efforts in one place and develop a skill set that makes you worth more and more money.

In today’s economy, it is becoming more and more important to have an entrepreneurial mindset, because not only do you have to develop skills and experiences that make you valuable, but you also have to be able to continually sell yourself if you want to make any money. It used to be that people who wanted safe, easy work could just find a decent paying job and let the employer worry about all the risks, but it just isn’t like that anymore. Everyone is having to play the “look for business” game.

So the point for today is to impress upon you, dear reader, that if you are unsure of what you want to do with your life, try not to take too long to pick something to stick to or you’ll end up in your forties wondering why you’re still making peanuts and struggling to find a decent job. It’s great if you can find that “awesome job” that makes you feel special, but in the end perhaps financial stability is much more important than job satisfaction.

Of course, that depends on you.


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