Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Economics of choice

I don't need to tell you that the economies of the world are not doing so well right now. While a recent report has said that the U.S. economy is the only developed economy still showing growth, that's a poor indicator of the economy as a whole when people are losing their houses now even more often than they were 2 years ago, and jobs are difficult or impossible to find. You can read articles like this one, which do a fairly concise explanation of why we're in this mess. And this one, about why things are going to either stay bad or get worse.
There are lots of articles about how to fix the economy and get growth going again. But this is the article to read, even if you don't glance at the others. (And really, the others all just say the same thing and are pretty depressing to read, so I don't recommend it.) I like this article because it points out seven reasons why we really don't want the old economy back anyway. Wage stagnation is closely followed by "disemployment", the fact that we might be adding jobs but they're horrible jobs like those at McDonald's. Not only is McDonald's bad for the eater and the food system as a whole, but their workers get paid about the same as those at Walmart. Are those really the jobs we want to add? Of course not.
I think my favorite idea in the article was about the pointlessness of most jobs. We're not doing anything creative or interesting with our days, just going to a job that pays us because we need the income. (And really, if you're at a "Mcjob", can you really care about it?) Take my job. In honest, real terms, if I only worked as much as there is work for me to do, most of the time I'd only work about 4-8 hours for the week. (This is also assuming that I wouldn't draw out my tasks because there aren't 8 hours ahead of me that I need to fill somehow.) And I actually kind of like my work. Sometimes. It has drawbacks, but it feels good when I stop and reflect on the fact that I'm helping people to learn, to spread knowledge, and assisting in a small way with the research that goes on at the University. How many people get to say that their boring job has even that much purpose?
But it's not quite enough for me. When I think about what I really want to do with my life, I sort of draw a blank. As I discussed with my brother a while ago, I think part of the problem is actually in the choice. I have so many interests that it's hard to settle on just one of them. Nursing, wildlife, ecology, veterinary sciences, even farming or botany, are all some of the paths I've toyed with. (Which is sort of amusing, since I got my undergrad degree in English!) Conversely, I could go into non-profit management, or become a counselor for underprivileged kids, a teacher, etc. The idea of settling on just one (or even 2) has sort of left me paralyzed.
I don't think I'm alone in wanting to make a difference in the world with my career. Instead of choosing degrees based on what will pay the most, a lot of the people I know are choosing their degrees based on what interests them AND what will make the most impact. After all, when you love what you do it seems like less of a job.
So what does one do when you love lots of things?
Or do you do "nothing at all"? (I do mean that facetiously--being a homemaker is a completely undervalued path.)
The best job I ever had was when I was working as a nanny. I got paid to play with wonderful children, how much better could things be? But I'm not sure if "just" being a mom is what I want to do with my life, either. (And we're going to wait a bit before having kids. We both want time to enjoy being newlyweds!)
I'm very lucky because with my job I get free credits with the university. I think what I really need to do is to jump right into school, start taking classes again, and figure it out as I go along. That being said, I'll go look at the course catalog for fall semester.

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