mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Youth is wasted on the young, or, can we expect 14 year olds to know what they want to be when they grow up?

I did a lot of dumb things in high school, including wearing a lot of flannel and canvas Vans with my favorite grunge band names written in pen on the soles, and equipping my hand me down 10 year old Chrysler sedan with a host of JC Whitney accessories, including GTO blackouts, fog lights, and a giant white vinyl. CHRYSLER banner over the windshield.

I also made some questionable academic choices - taking some honors classes I shouldn't have that pulled down my GPA, not really prepping for the SAT's, half-assing my college application essays.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk on the internets about the plight of young, unemployed recent college grads - the most recent being this McCardle piece. People on the left grumble about evil banks suckering people into loans they can't repay, while people on the right are more apt to blame squishy low-demand majors like gender studies and colleges that do a questionable job of teaching.

Not surprisingly, I put more weight on the latter. But I think a big part of it is that we expect children, starting around 14, to set into motion events that will determine where they are when they are 30. They are expected to have enough of an idea about what they want to be doing for the rest of their life around age 16, when they need to decide what college to go to - and much of choosing a college is choosing one that has a good program in what they want to do.

When I look back at my life, I can see a number of things I could have done differently in high school or college that probably would have made me much better off - and some things that I did that were good moves in retrospect, but didn't seem like a big deal at the time.

Obviously, part of the role of a parent is to push kids into the right decision - but teenagers tend not to listen to the 'rents, and parents who haven't been to college often have a hard time realizing how important some of these things are themselves.

And colleges often promote those squishy but not lucrative career paths - one thing that sticks in my memory from my first college orientation is a speech about how you should "find something that you love to do, and then you will never work a day in your life". To an 18 year old, that sounds great, and I suspect a lot of the OWS crowd took similar advice. But the reality is that there are a lot of people who work jobs that they don't love, but that they tollerate because it lets them do things that are important to them outside of work. Recent college grads may be happy to have a job that utilizes their art-history degree even if it means living in a basement apartment with 4 of their closest friends. But when people get into their late 20's and early 30's, they start to want things like home ownershhip and fammilies, and often being a cube monkey for 40 hours a week becomes tolerable to get those things. I doubt that too many accounting majors were passionate about determining if they should use FIFO, LIFO, or averaging to value inventory, but they made a decision that getting a decent job was important.

I don't know what the answer is. As someone who has no problem delaying gratification, who lives frugally, who has long supplemented his income through overtime when it was available and through a side business when it wasn't, who has taken a job that provides stability and benefits but not necessarily the opportunities for advancement or to do things that interest me, I want to tell the OWS protester types to take a shower and get a job. But even if I'm not particularly sympathetic to them, I also can understand how some of them made choices at 16 or 18 or 20 that they probably wouldn't have if they had a few more years knowledge and experience.


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