The costs package

I came across an interesting pair of articles this weekend on a website called Career Cast.  The articles list the most overrated and most underrated careers this year.

I didn’t find their choices all that surprising; the site based their ratings on factors beyond how impressive the title sounds, or how traditionally esteemed a given profession may be.  They looked not only at salary but at work hours, stress on the employee and the employee’s family, and hiring trends in the profession.

For me it’s a good reminder that while earnings obviously have a huge impact on quality of life, it’s not the prestige or salary that makes a job a good fit for a person.  It’s whether what the job yields for the person – in professional fulfillment, community contribution, salary, creative freedom/expression, work hours – is worth what it costs (in each of those categories and others).  I don’t think there’s actually any such thing as a good job or a not good job.  There are only good matches between a person’s needs, preferences, and other specific circumstances and the yields and demands of a job.

It also occurs to me that it might be helpful if along with benefits packages, candidates were encouraged upon hiring to consider the costs package associated with a job.  I bet we’d have much less turnover in all professions if job candidates confronted the realities of a given profession before agreeing to employment.  Better yet, instead of teaching young people that there are good jobs and not good jobs, and making them wait to find out what the work is actually like until they’ve endured the lengthy training and education spans that many highly esteemed professions require, we’d give them opportunities to see various types of work up close, early in their lives.

Then we’d have more of those people who are truly suited to it – for whom the reward available in a specific profession outweighs the stressors and costs – in a given line of work.  And we’d have fewer just going into those fields on faith, trusting that “good job” meant “good for anyone.”  Many people could avoid spending years and thousands of dollars preparing for careers to which they ultimately find themselves ill-suited.  Because it’s not that the years and money are never worth it for these careers, only that they might be better spent with more clarity about what is and isn’t available on the other end.

Of course, we’d also have to come to terms with the pride, in ourselves and/or our children, for which we’re often willing to pay a great price.  To be able to say you’re an attorney, or that your child just finished medical school, holds great appeal.  I remember watching several friends in my graduating class hurrying off to faraway lands on fellowships and into graduate programs in business, law, and medicine.  Many of them were well-suited to these ventures, and I was certainly not, but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing about how nice it might be to return for a reunion with an advanced degree or a vice presidentship to talk about.

Maybe it would help if we had a tool… an app… that keeps track of the actual enjoyment and satisfaction we get from what we can say about ourselves and our kids, compared with what we get from the reality of the life associated with those things we get to say.  That way we’d have a better idea of whether these things that we take on faith, and value for the esteem they garner, are really worth what they cost.

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