Finding Meaningful Work in a Complex World

This post isn’t for everyone.  My target is mostly college students, and parents with children who are getting close to adulthood.  Others may benefit from it, because we all have younger friends that we want to help.

What to study in college?  Do I even need college? What sort of job should I work for, or what kind of business should I create?  These are big questions, but I want you to view them through a different lens: where are there needs?  What can I do to solve the needs of others, that people/institutions would be willing to pay for?  Then: which of those things would I enjoy doing?

The last question is the least important.  Yes, we all want to do something we think is cool.  “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”  That’s nice work if you can get it, but often there is no one to pay for what you love.  Some will be creative and create their own gig.  That’s rare for most people, but is worth pursuing if you are finding paid demand for the human needs that you meet.

Some needs are simple, like public order.  I have one child who wants to be a policeman, and is presently a favorite of his advisors in the local police explorer post.  He has a well-defined path to a career he will like; an associates’ degree will help him, and later a bachelor’s degree if needed.

Other needs are more complex, like education.  Kids will always need to be educated.  I have one child who can take a room full of small children and make them behave; she has the “knack.”  You can’t teach the “knack.”  Maybe you can develop it if you are the oldest of eight kids.  Even with lesser intellectual gifts, she will be a more effective teacher because education with young kids requires classroom control more than brilliance.  (As an aside, if we want to reform the schools, my solution is to end teacher credentialing.  What teachers get taught in college positively harms their ability to educate.  After that, we need to move back to a basic curriculum and avoid fads.  Where I live, parents are pulling their kids out of the public schools for private and home schooling, because of fads that try to impose a pedagogy that does not work.  As I sometimes say, “It is dangerous to have unaccountable idealists in important positions.”)

I have another child pursuing biochemistry.  Seems to be a real growth area, with a lot of applications.  Bright kid, will go far.

Then I have two ninth graders.  One is interested in industrial work using computers; that’s promising growth area.  The other wants to be my assistant one day and is reading basic books on investing, and asks me questions.

Enough about my family — I think it is wise for young people to consider the needs/desires of others first when they are looking at their life’s work.  Perhaps the summary question should be: “What do other people need that I would like to do?”  “Do I need more training to do that?”  And for parents, spend time with your kids describing occupations, telling them what other people do.

It’s a complex world, and it is likely to get more complex — the division of labor is widening, not shrinking across nations.  On the bright side, this reduces the probability of war.  As business interests get spread over multiple nations, the politics of war get messy.

Let me summarize it this way: the concept of “follow your bliss” is inherently selfish, and there is no reason why it should be rewarded.  But the idea of meeting the needs of others is significant and good.  It is humble, and would that more of us brought humility to our callings.

Value comes through serving others. That is a humble route to prosperity.