Do you remember how you used to dream about being an astronaut, actor or engineer when you grew up? You might have believed that if you just worked hard enough and ate your vegetables, you could be just like Neil Armstrong. I sincerely hope that you haven’t given up on your dream, but what if something happens to make your childhood dream impossible? In some countries, your career might be chosen for you. People who dream of becoming engineers end up becoming farmers. It would be kinder to have a comprehensive aptitude test first, but that’s the way those countries operate. In others, children have to work in factories just to survive instead of going to school and that isn’t very conducive to actually choosing a career. You might not believe it here in America, but slavery still exists in some parts of the world.
It is a problem. If nobody has the right to practice the profession of their choice, it means a heck of a lot of wasted potential as potential Einsteins get shoved into jobs they aren’t very well suited for. On the surface, the Soviet Union’s old law that unemployment is illegal seems like a decent one in theory. If nothing else, you should find work as a janitor so that you aren’t sitting around as one of the many lazy bums who leech off of the welfare state and spend the time you aren’t using to scrub floors and clean toilets to take advantage of whatever educational system is available to someone in your situation so you can find something better. However, the law was too often used to force people to find employment that should have been just a temporary measure until they could find something better and then the position became a permanent one for them. That’s not good for the employee and it sure isn’t good for the employer who is then stuck with an unhappy employee who probably isn’t the best fit for the job.
The American education system isn’t much help. Most people graduate from high school thinking about which college they are going to attend so they can actually get a decent job. All those lists of the best and worst degrees you see on Yahoo exist because sometimes people make the wrong choice and then they’re stuck with a lot of student loans with no way to pay for them, because either they can’t find a job in their field or it’s a career that doesn’t pay very well. Some of those degrees are even for fields that are being phased out or shouldn’t require that much of an education in the first place. You want to become a musician, it shouldn’t be that hard to find some private music lessons and learn how to play violin without so much as touching one of the Berkeley Academy of Music’s brochures. (Live in the New York City area? Look up my brother who gives some good violin lessons for people who want to improve their skills when he isn’t on tour.) With the rise of free video lessons on Youtube and Vimeo along with free classes on a wide range of topics on Coursera and similar sites, and places like Freelancer that link up (obviously) freelancers with anybody who wants some work done without wanting to hire on another employee, maybe eventually the big universities will notice that they have competition – and hopefully that’ll be a good thing for bringing tuition costs down.
As they say, you shouldn’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree and you shouldn’t laugh at the people who think they can actually become the first gardener in space. By the time your eager little six-year-old grows up, there might well be a need for hydroponics experts who can be trained to become space gardeners on Mars. In fact, a lot of us aspiring Martians who probably never, ever thought we could keep a potted plant alive are going to go through that with Mars One and learn what we were doing wrong in the process. (Says the person who so far has a year-old avocado tree growing on my dresser but can’t seem to keep my Chia herb kit alive for anything.) For good or ill, we could at least choose to be part of Mars One and that’s more than way too many people get.
We would certainly all be happy productive people if we could only choose exactly the careers we want. Like most opportunities in life, the chance to choose exactly which career field you want to go into can be pretty obscure and it’s up to you to take it when it comes your way. And, as that 77-year-old senator who caught a space shuttle ride can tell you, you’re never too old to pursue your goals even when a NASA administrator looks at you edgewise when you suggest it. Really, it’s up to you. If somebody is trying to dictate which career field you want to go into – and it might not be the government; it might be your parents or whoever is holding the moneybags – just tell them exactly what you think of that idea and go to where the opportunities are even if it means they don’t want you around for about twenty years. It’s their loss and it’s better to be a good engineer than a mediocre farmer. So make sure your resume is up to snuff and go where you can be exactly the kind of professional you want to be.
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