Monday, September 20, 2010

Alumni Perspective: The Job Market

by Evan Sprague

My being on the cusp of twenty-five makes me “sage old” about as much as almost making minimum wage makes one rich. I don’t profess to have copious amounts of life experience, and I have yet to finish my first lap around the proverbial “block”. That said, I have traversed grades K-12 and weathered the squall of the ferocious undergraduate program. When a budding young teenager is preparing their triumphant foyer into the collegiate realm, I am a Jedi Master (especially considering the journey I took to finally reach my BA).

I know a certain teenager at the point in her life that we all dread; a senior in high school trying to figure out what exactly she wants to do with her future. It can be a daunting task, especially with all the adult figures in your life telling you that the choices you make now will forever seal the inevitable fate of your remaining years on this earth, as if life is the ancient temple in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a single bad step can bestow a murderous onslaught of pain and turmoil upon you.

I asked said young person what she wanted to do. She’s not quite sure, but has taken an interest in photography as a creative hobby. Of course I made the humble suggestion of pursuing it as both a major and a career. Her response was straight from the horse’s mouth, like she was quoting from a stock article in the NY Times. She said - and I quote - “Video is a fluctuating job market.”

Wow. You don’t say…

What I’m about to say isn’t necessarily directed at this person, so if you’re reading this - and you know who you are - I know you’ll make the right decisions for you. My point in this post isn’t that this girl should go into photography; I’m not the boss of her life and I don’t claim to always know what’s best for her. However, the comment that she made got me thinking about a more general concept.

This really struck a chord with me. When you’re 17 you’re supposed to have limitless inspiration and imagination. You’re supposed to be brimming with spirit, life, and creativity. You’re supposed to be an allegory for hope and innocence. One thing you’re not supposed to be is tossing your passions and dreams to the wayside because of the “fluctuating job market”. That phrase should not exist in your vernacular.

That said, it does. And this teenager is one of many out there right now who are repeating that same thing to themselves, dodging a shot at greatness to ensure that the paychecks come rolling in steadily. Even many college students in creative programs are switching majors, sometimes even entire universities to pursue a field that yields higher financial promise – all in a blind panic and fear that in ten years they’ll be in a dusty shack with no power or water, sucking beans out of a can.

Our society is dumbing itself down in the hopes of economic reconciliation. Parents are telling their children to search for jobs in high demand, forgetting that creativity and imagination are what breathe life into a dying job market.

I say to hell with what’s in high demand. I say to hell with what’s stable or financially secure. It’s important to find something you’re truly passionate about, research it’s job market and demographic, practice at it until you’re awesome, then make it so.

The biggest problem with our economy is that everything is becoming solely about money. Money is good, it pays our bills, but not at the cost of our humanity. Businesses in the 1800’s were more typically owned and operated by the craftsmen himself. He did the work, he used his skills to put food on his table and a roof over his head, and it didn’t matter if it was painting or making shoes. Then entrepreneurs came along and figured out methods of pushing out as much product as possible and removing the passion and craftsmanship from the business.

Our economy was thriving much more when people were doing things themselves instead of dropping pistons onto engines moving down the assembly line.

Take, for example, a person who aspires to become a musician. If you want a fluctuating job market, professional musician is about as a fluctuating as it gets. If you want it bad enough you might practice your instrument constantly, network, and look at a marketable means of getting your foot in the door. Maybe you can’t pay your bills by straight up playing your music, but what if you got your degree in sound engineering and worked in a recording studio? You’d be close to musicians, you’d get to network, and you might even pull down a decent salary. And who knows, maybe you can get into a band and moonlight playing gigs at jazz or rock clubs. Doesn’t that sound like a more attractive job than simply giving up and getting your degree in accounting or business?

An experienced and talented writer/actor in Phoenix once told me to wake up every morning and make a list of the five things you want most in life. Constantly repeating these things to yourself will breed motivation, discourage stagnation, and the universe will eventually align itself to provide. There’s a job out there for everyone and everything, you just have to find it. That’s one of the trials of life. No job is in such high demand that you can get your bachelor’s in it, march down to the nearest office and hop into a cubical without so much as an application; especially not in this economy. Every job takes work, every job takes countless hours on the phone or on the internet, submitting resumes and applications, weathering interviews (if you’re lucky enough to get that far), and writing cover letters. You’re more likely to excel in something that you’re in love with as opposed to the semi-decent-paying field you got into because it was a stable job market.

Life is about taking risks, and most of the time you’ll come out on top. There are twenty-four hours in a day. If you wake up at 7:00 AM every morning and go to bed at 11:00 PM, you’re waking life has only sixteen-hour days. Your job will work you eight hours a day, plus an hour lunch break, so you’re gone for nine hours a day, leaving only seven hours each day at maximum that you’ll be able to do anything not work related. Other than sleep, we spend more than half our lives at work. And that’s just factoring a standard 9-5 job; most jobs that pay a decent salary require you to put in ten or eleven hours a day, some even more. It’s critical that we spend this precious time doing something we’re passionate about.

I guess what I’m trying to say with all this is do what you love, and encourage your children to do what they love. Accept nothing less, and you’ll receive nothing less. When we get to the end of our lives, the accomplishments that we leave in our wake will be the only tangible things we’ll have to show for ourselves. An economy with no passion will surely wither and die, and no accounting or business job is going to save anyone.


  1. Wow, well said Evan. I couldnt agree more and couldnt be more pleased that I was one of the lucky ones to have parents that told me to pursue my dreams and what I'm passionate about.

    I had to relive these feelings recently when someone close to me made a comment that they really wanted to take a job because the pay was good but not at all in the field they had pursued for many years in school. I said to them to really think about it. They way you put it is perfect, you spend over half your life doing your profession, some more hours then most, you want to be doing something your passionate about, something that makes you actually want to get out of bed in the morning instead of hitting that snooze button 10 times.

    All in all, this is a fabulous post for all high school seniors to read and take in.

  2. This applies to people of all ages, not just high school kids. Nowadays, it is common to change "careers" at least a few times.