A Perfect Future

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Metaphor or pretty picture? More on this later. Like, soon. Don’t worry

As I approach the end of my – dare I say it – second post-graduation holiday, it’s becoming clear that the patience of everyone around me is wearing thin. Like a balding thirty-something in a club, it’s probably time to stop kidding myself. I’m not just enjoying summer anymore. I’m actively ignoring the job search.

Before you say it, I completely appreciate how lucky I am to not have to jump into a paying job straight away. A close friend of mine did amazingly well throughout his three year degree, and deservedly moved into a well paying and cushy career path, but was forced to do so in order to pay for his rent, food, and even his sister’s upcoming university fees. Had his desired future not materialised, he would have been forced to take any job that could have satisfied the above requirements. I – on the other hand – do not have the same concerns. I am permitted the luxury of milling around in a picturesque thatched cottage, munching my way through a smorgasbord of continental cheeses, thinking only of myself. Heck, my sister is selflessly planning to go to uni in Ireland, where she might not even have to pay fees. Aren’t I just the luckiest.

All of this privilege points me towards a set of questions that few have the luxury grappling with without pressure:

What should I do with my life? Where should I work? Who should I be?

I was doing as I normally do when faced with such questions (avoiding answering them by flicking through the internet instead – did you know, for example, that there is an entire island populated by pigs?! Apparently you can visit it, but you really shouldn’t because they are incredibly violent. Pic above), when I came across this TED talk by some dude called Mike Rowe.

Apparently he’s the host of a popular Discovery channel show called Dirty Jobs, in which he goes and tries out a series of blue-collar professions for a day. On paper it’s about a 360 view of a disgusting, or ‘dirty’ profession – but what it’s really about is rehabilitating the image of the people who do these jobs. He talks about this in the TED talk, doing a much better job than I could in a few words here. He’s a great story-teller too. Check it.

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His point is that we in the modern world have developed a really unhealthy attitude towards our careers. We flat-out refuse to consider manual labour as an acceptable field of work. We scoff at the thought of shovelling manure for a living, or separating garbage day-in-day-out, or removing road-kill from our roads, because those jobs conflict with our misguided ideals. As a generation, we graduates have consistently been advised to ‘follow our passions’, ‘get a desk job’, and ‘work in theatre’ (one of those may be a little specific). But what if this is not the best way forward?

Instead, Mike Rowe says ‘to hell with your passions’. Passions don’t create success. Repetition, rigour, graft – these are the building blocks of financial security and happiness. And isn’t that what we search for in life? This is not to say that everyone should ditch university and pick up a shovel, of course. Rather, it is to accept that pipe fitters – and others engulfed in what we would dismissively label a ‘dirty job’ – are the happiest, most grounded, and successful people in the world, because they realise that life is about outcomes, not processes.

What does that mean for me then?

Well, looking at the questions I’ve asked myself, I guess it means that I’m concentrating on the wrong things. Don’t ask who you should be – ask what you should be. Mike Rowe’s talk asks what you want from life, rather than how you should get there. It is fundamentally consequentialist. Don’t you want money, happiness, security? Isn’t that A Perfect Future?

So, Christy. Take a £16k a year job in London and have done with it. You’ll be in the city you love, financially independent, surrounded by the people you just enjoyed spending three years with. It may not be the most interesting work you could ever do, but it will give you everything you really want from life. Maybe, if you work hard, you could rise through the ranks and sit on a six-figure salary. That’s success. Accept it.

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