Here’s why

Michael Lewis has referred to a job as a 9-5 gig that offers security and a chance to pursue a life outside of work. He referred to a calling as something that so excites you that your life becomes completely wrapped up in that work. Each involves trade-offs. He said that many yearning for the benefits of a calling are not willing to bear the associated costs.

Here’s today’s question: Why do so many young people, upon graduating college, have such a hard time finding a rewarding job or a calling?

One explanation: Because to find a job or calling you need to know what you like to do, and by the time you graduate from college formal schooling has eroded your natural radar for detecting things which genuinely excite you.

Think about it…You’ve just graduated from college. You have just spent the last 17 years of your life in a formal schooling environment non-stop. As a young child, through to adolescence, into your early adult years, an authority figure has been telling you what to read, study, and write, and then judging it good or bad.

Take learning how to write. 99% of the writing you do in school involves offering answers not questions. A teacher gives you an essay topic, and you write about it. Over and over again. Yet, the real word rewards those who themselves can ask the right question. Coming up with an essay topic is 99% of the work — yet teachers rarely make you do this. One reason I encourage folks to don pajamas and start a blog is it forces you to create not just respond. Each blog post starts with you, a bottle of Scotch, and a black cursor blinking menacingly on an empty white screen.

Then there’s the formal school philosophy promoting breadth not depth, weaknesses not strengths. If in school you found yourself unusually interested in a particular topic area, you couldn’t really pursue it seriously since you had all your other classes to manage. I.e., if you found yourself a math whiz, it’s the rare school that will seek to nurture this precocity. Instead, they said if you finish math early, get on with your English, biology and basket-weaving homework.

When parents reviewed your report card, did they ever say, “Wow – an A+! Why don’t you continue to focus on that and maybe you can become really good at it?” No. They probably stroked their hairless chin, nodded solemnly at the A, and then pounced on you about the C. Whereas the real word rewards those who can discover and build upon a couple core natural strengths and interests, in school you’re taught to pursue a broad balancing act and shore up weaknesses.

So there are two intertwined dynamics in school that I think contribute to the aimlessness of new college grads: an entrenched habit of rule-following (the real world has no clear rules and no clear authority articulating them) and the promoted philosophy of “be pretty good at lots of things as opposed to extraordinarily good at one thing.”

Bottom Line: Formal schooling dulls one’s exploration of natural interests. To ask yourself what you naturally enjoy and excel at, and then pursue it vigorously, would detract from the balancing act and contradict the authority structure. Unfortunately, asking yourself this very question is the key to a rewarding real-world career!