The Telegraph ran a piece today in their Education section about a group of 20 – 30 somethings preaching about the value of giving away their money to charities, ‘earning to give’ is how they phrase it. A noble ambition and certainly a number of careers can be both socially fulfilling and financially rewarding. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/0/dont-follow-passion-think-twice-medicine-new-rules-choosing/
A few very pleased with themselves Oxford graduates claim to have helped revolutionise how we approach careers advice. They have set up a think-tank/careers advisory service that is preaching not to pursue your passions or look for ‘fulfilling careers’ but rather, in broad terms, pursuing careers where you can do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people by giving away all but the basic amount you need from your salary. Indeed they have a book coming out offering advice on how to choose your career based on these tenets.
Without having read the book it’s entirely possible I may be missing some subtlety or nuance that doesn’t immediately leap out at me, but from the article my first instinct is to call bullshit. This is terrible advice. Not giving money to charity or pursuing work in areas where you can make a tangible impact on people’s lives – that is all very worthy if that’s what rocks your world. However these Oxford graduates appear to be very well- heeled in the photos with conference rooms and well appointed offices, hard to achieve if you’re giving away half of what you earn and for many start ups far beyond reach. It all smacks of Marxist rhetoric, it’s condescension on a eye wateringly naive level, it shows such little understanding of the real issues that people in this country face, the hard choices facing every school leaver as they try and plot a course in the world. As per the eponymous name of the book, we spend 80,000 hours on average ploughing a furrow in the work place and in order to thrive across that length of time people should absolutely pursue careers that excite them and that they’re passionate about. Most people don’t have the luxury of thinking so magnanimously at the start of their careers and frankly nor should they. In the increasingly competitive job market a single minded and selfish pursuit of one’s goals is the only way to succeed, at which point you may be able to afford to be more egalitarian.
The second point that irks me is that these people all seem to be breathtakingly young, I wouldn’t take career advice from someone at this age for the simple fact they don’t know dick. Ideas and hopes are not the same as actually having done things. They frankly lack the experience required to expound anything but theories. These are real people’s lives and poor advice can have a massive and lasting impact. Intellectual and political ideologies are their guiding principles but that doesn’t amount to any real world understanding of how to access careers, they talk about work in finance, advocacy and medicine as being ideal – as they are well paid and therefore people can afford to give more money away. They talk about these careers as if they were open to everyone but the elite few. The struggle that many people have to endure, the deprivation that exists across our society, people want to pull themselves out of it and if they are lucky enough to do so they are likely to be heavily burdened by debt and loans – why the hell shouldn’t they try and carve out some happiness and enjoy the fruits of their labour? It’s naive and sanctimonious, they are tacitly preaching the idea that self-interest and an ambition to better your own circumstances is slightly tawdry. The whole ethos reeks of privileged intelligentsia living in an utopian paradise that is heavily subsidised by venture capitalists, espousing the same hare brained nonsense they would have done around the dining table after several bottles of red.
I’d like to revisit this company and see how they feel about those principles once they have families and mortgages and need to contemplate future pension provision and university fees for their children and see quite how prepared they are to give their money away then. As life kicks the idealism out of you what you are left with is being stuck in a career based on a false promise, doing a job that you don’t enjoy to benefit others. Until you have had a career you are in no position to tell other people how to order theirs. I’ve railed several times in the blog and the book about how teachers are unqualified to offer careers advice and a careers advisory service set up by kids with lofty ideas is just as irresponsible.