On the heels of my last post, some additional observations about finding a job that will make a difference. . . .
What’s Right for You
Finding fulfillment in our lives and in our work requires deliberate choices. It includes looking critically at the easy choices that often present themselves so we are reasonably confident that the choices we make are determined by our priorities, not someone else’s.
We often pursue the path somebody else lays out for us after convincing ourselves that it will improve our options, make it more likely that right doors will open for us down the road. But too often this is just putting off a hard decision in the misguided hope that somehow we will manage to find the right door on the wrong road. Figure out what you need and what your world needs today, and then pursue whatever lifetime of work lies ahead of you because of who you are and the factors that make your life worth living.
In her Yale Daily News article, Marina Keegan correctly notes that finding your vocation is “not exactly a field with an application form”—and certainly not one that someone else will be handing you. It is an opportunity that you have to give yourself. Deciding to pursue the job of your life includes being level-headed about the choices you do have—even when those choices are limited—and learning how to say “no” to work that can never provide you with the right kinds of returns.
Some thoughtful students at Stanford felt strongly enough about resisting the “siren call” of certain kinds of high-paying work that they started Stop the Brain Drain, a national organization with the following mission statement:
Three years after the Great Recession, we are still experiencing a jobless recovery and need our most innovative and creative minds to build new companies, technologies, and industries.
Every year, however, up to 25% of graduates from top universities are hired to work for financial institutions – reducing our nation’s supply of job-creating entrepreneurs, scientists, and public servants, and weakening America’s economic dynamism.
Enough is enough: it’s time for America to stop the Wall Street brain drain.
Of course, it is not just about financial institutions recruiting on elite campuses. It is about the work that needs to be done today, and that you need to be doing—whatever it is.
Envisioning What Your Work Will Look Like
In my last post, when Philadelphia’s newest Rhodes scholars talked about realizing their ideals through politics, what both wanted to learn was how to make a difference through public service. To do so, they will (among other things) be studying the lives of individuals who have broken through the political log-jams of their own times in an effort to give their principles staying power.
Politics isn’t for everybody. But there is wisdom we can all gain from the lives of extraordinary public servants whose values were in creative tension with the decisions and compromises they were called upon to make every working day.
Whether you are trying to find the right job after years of work or are just starting out, other’s life stories can often provide “both shape and form” to what your own working life might look like. Two such working-life stories, involving principled engagement in political worlds very much like our own, are told by Marcus Tullius Cicero and Edmund Burke.
Cicero and Burke each wrote extensively about how their ideals served as both catalysts for change and constant reminders of how little they had actually achieved after the political dust had settled. What this kind of “push and pull” might look like as a career is suggested in Mary Ann Glendon’s “Cicero and Burke on Politics as Vocation.”
In her essay, Glendon’s most telling observation is that while Cicero and Burke both saw themselves primarily as political actors, neither of them could have achieved nearly as much if they had not also been men of ideas. In fact, their ideas were like a compass that kept them on track. Her quote from one of Burke’s biographers applies with equal force to both of them:
No one has ever come so close to the details of practical politics, and at the same time remembered that these can only be understood and only dealt with by the aid of the broad conceptions of political philosophy.
We learn from the lives of Cicero and Burke that while the public person must be engaged today, the private person needs to be thoughtful about his actions tomorrow.
None of us has to be either a politician or a philosopher, but if you want to make a genuine difference in your world, it is probably not enough to simply be engaged. Those committed to changing the world also bring their ideas to their engagement.
Best wishes for the New Year.