23 October 2006

Universities Punt, Part 1

Our best and brightest are being failed by our universities.

For an 18 year-old clear about career goals, our university system generally does a great job of preparation. But for that poor and interesting kid - the vast majority - for whom such a thing is unclear, universities largely walk away.

Starting in high school, students should be coached in reaching the conclusion about two things. One, drawing from Stephen Covey's work, they should be taught the distinction between the four elements of work (or life, for that matter): the physical / economic, the social / emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual / meaning. For most people, happiness at work depends on all four of these. If you are making good money, but hate your co-workers or hate yourself for what you do, you'll never make it 40 years. If you make good money, love your co-workers but are simply not learning anything, are rarely or never stimulated, you'll eventually walk away from the job. Finally, if you make good money, love your co-workers, and are mentally stimulated yet feel like what you do makes no difference to anyone (even your boss yawns at your efforts, much less customers or the world at large), you may last 40 years but only with a diminished vigor.

Physical / Economic: In a job, do you want to play with ideas or big pieces of wood? Working inside of an office or outside in the fresh air? What kind of physical environment do you want to be in? What are your financial goals and what is realistic given your skills and the demands for them?

Social / Emotional: How willing are you for risk? Do you have the emotional perseverance to take the risk of starting a business? Do you need a nurturing environment that encourages you or do you have the ability to withstand the rejection of, say, a sales job that might lead to more income? What kind of co-workers is it important for you to be with all day?

Intellectual / Mental: What kind of intellectual problems do you want to face? What questions would you love to answer or regularly confront?

Spiritual / Meaning: Finally, what kind of difference do you want to make in your work? If everyone made the same wage, what would you do because you think it matters? How do you measure what is fulfilling or meaningful?

If students become conversant at these elements, they can better filter through the myriad possibilities for majors or careers. That would be no panacea, but it would be a start.

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