I Graduated, Now What?
For many, this thought has been approaching like an unavoidable speeding train. WHAM! Now it’s here. It’s been two years since my own graduation, but I thought I’d share some thoughts for those who might be graduating this week.
"Jobs" Aren’t Real
The news is full of banter about “job creation” and cutting jobs. There are websites full of job listings. Colleges prepare students to find jobs. So it might seem controversial for me to write, “jobs aren’t real.” Well 400 years ago, jobs weren’t really a thing. The world consisted primarily of people practicing a craft. Most “jobs” took the form of apprenticeships in which it was possible to learn a trade, but predominantly, the job as we know it today didn’t exist.
At the turn of 20th century, Henry Ford needed crops of unskilled labor for his assembly line. Workers didn’t have to know how to make an entire automobile, just one part. This quantum leap meant that labor became interchangeable. If someone didn’t show up for work, no problem, plenty more where that came from.
Corporations turned craftwork into giant machines with replaceable parts (jobs). So, what graduates are really competing for is the privilege to be an interchangeable cog in somebody else’s machine. WHAM!
Perks Won’t Make You Happy
I have a friend who works for a top tech company in San Francisco. He has every perk imaginable—free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, unlimited vacation, gym memberships, complete health benefits, stock options, you name it. He’s quitting. Why? Why not “suck it up”?
There’s an interesting concept called the “hedonic treadmill”, which describes how people return to a neutral state of happiness. A new perk at work is a shot of dopamine to the system, it’s new, exciting, cool, but then something happens. The novelty wears off. The shiny new toy no longer looks so shiny. It loses it's magic and becomes a convenience.
I thought about this for a long time. It’s hard to imagine from an outsiders perspective (easier to say, "You've got it all!") but if you understand what drives lasting happiness, it makes perfect sense. People feel most satisfied when they're able to see progress in their performance. When you’re not learning, growing, being challenged, you’re at risk of feeling like my friend. Essentially his company has abandoned him. They’ve made him into a cog and they’re not invested in his long-term success.
Breadth vs. Depth
College exposes you to the world. My college in particular, a small liberal arts school, emphasized the importance of "well-rounded individuals". That said, upon graduation I quickly realized the advantages of specialization. Much like Mr. Ford's assembly line, you don't need to know how to build the entire car.
Adam Smith's theory on the "specialization of labor" articulates the overall benefits of focusing on your profession. As you continue to improve (driving lasting happiness) you increase your value to society. Personally, I've always tried to be a "jack of all trades" but more recently it's becoming increasingly clear that there's more enjoyment in finding my own niche.
Your Own Path
You must make your own path. Look to others for ideas, but at the end of the day, you're living your own life. Everyone's circumstances are different, so following someone else's moves is a huge risk. Is it scary? Yes. But not seeking your own path to happiness is by far the riskier option.
I'm still figuring things out, and by figuring things out, I don't think there's a "right" or "wrong" way of living--just what works for you. Some of my friends are already married. Some have babies. We all move at our own pace. If you've just graduated, congratulations. Hopefully you find this helpful, if you do, please share with your friends.
If you've graduated in the past several years, what advice would you give recent grads about the "real world"? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments below.
This was one of the first books I read following graduation. It's had a profound impact on my career thus far.