What kind of life do you want?

If your favorite thing in life is to write stories, can you convince yourself to be an accountant?

If nothing gives you more pleasure than studying animals, can you dismiss your passion and become a computer scientist?

And even if you can, should you?

Thoreau said,  ”Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” and I believe that the reason for this is that too many writers have become accountants.   Too many people deny their passions in favor of pursuing a “stable job”, or of fulfilling others’ expectations.

In today’s world, there is no greater expectation than the college degree & its’ mythical promise of a stable job.   Or perhaps I should say there WAS no greater expectation than the college degree, but that expectation has recently begun to show some cracks.  Today, thousands of college graduates find that their degrees are not the golden ticket to success, and – bonus! – come with a hefty amount of debt.    While the government debates what to do about all this student debt, people like Michael Ellsberg, Blake Boles, Peter Thiel & Dale Stephens are putting forth viable, debt-free alternatives to traditional college.   People like Matthew Crawford (Shop Class as Soulcraft) and Mark Frauenfelder (Made by Hand) re-examine the merits, both physical and ‘spiritual’ of manual skilled labor.

These days it’s vital to realize that there are other options; to shift our expectations and conclude that college, while necessary for a few, is not the key for everybody.  Not by a long shot.   That undoubtedly being the case, when I read Frank Bruni’s Op-Ed piece in today’s Times titled, “The Imperiled Promise of College” I was appalled.   Bruni is apparently a fan of quiet desperation.

…Philosophy & anthropology…are the two fields –along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press.  But how many college students are fully aware of that?  How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find?  Not nearly enough, judging from the angry, dispossessed troops of Occupy Wall Street.

See, I think Bruni and those like him have it all backwards.  The reason the OWS crowd is so angry is that many of them not only bought into the myth of college but also bought into the myth of “reliable courses of study”.   Graphic design?  Computer programming?  These were the “hot jobs” a few years ago, but now there is a massive glut of people with degrees in those fields.   Even a law degree ‘ain’t what it used to be’ because there are just so many freaking people out there with them.    So if you are contemplating what to do with your life, for god’s sake DON’T study something just because someone tells you it’s a sure ticket to a “good job” or a “stable career”.   Chances are they’re telling everyone else the same thing, and by the time you graduate all those jobs will be taken and there will be other can’t miss majors taking their place.

Instead, take some time to find your passion.  Travel, volunteer, find an internship or apprenticeship.   Work at Starbucks, maybe, but not because you have a useless college degree.   Work there while you are discovering what you really want to do.

In the end, it’s not about the money.  Not really.  Unless you are an unemployed college grad with 25K in debt.  Then it is about the money.  The money you owe that not even bankruptcy will discharge.

What it’s about is the kind of life you want to lead.   The happiest people I know are not those with the most money, but those whose work is their passion; those who love what they do so much they’d do it for free.   No quiet desperation for them.

In his article Bruni said, “No good can come from letting college…slip away.”   I believe that for many people, exactly the opposite is true.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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