Monthly Archives: March 2009

Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?

Last September, I started this blog with a post about why young people hated their jobs.  I argued that most of our job hating resulted from at least one of the following reasons:

  • The College Hangover: missing the good ol’ days of school
  • Bottom of the Totem Pole: you’re not really a big deal anymore
  • Lofty Expectations: ambition can sometimes lead to indecision/regret/paralyzation
  • Too Much Freedom: there’s no set path anymore
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: sometimes it just does

Now, seven months later, I’ve found that some of my job-hating friends have made peace with their chosen professions.  I’m not sure if it’s because (a) they have more responsibilities now, (b) they have lower (or different) expectations, or (c) it’s a recession, so it’s nice to have a job.  I’m guessing that all three have some influence on why previously intolerable jobs are now slightly less intolerable.

Personally, I struggle with expectations (b) quite often: it’s hard for me to justify shelving ambition and settling for a job you don’t really want.  At the same time, perhaps it’s a case of reality settling in and kicking out your idealism.  It’s tough to convince yourself that your gradiose ambitions will definitely lead to something that can make you happy and pay the bills.

skyscraperFor example, I have a friend “Zach” who works in corporate finance for a media company.  Zach joined the company mostly because he was interested in broadcast journalism, which he had dabbled in during college.  But like many other pragmatically-minded folks, he studied finance at school instead.  Now, two years into his role, Zach has established a strong network and a stellar reputation as a future finance leader.  He has an offer to work directly with senior members of the finance team.  Even though he’d be working long days and many weekends, he’d have job security, good compensation, and tremendous exposure within the company.

He’d also hate it.  “There’s a good chance I would jump out of a tall building after a year,” he says.  He’s only half kidding.

Zach’s real dream is to become an on-air journalist.  He has spent time in front of a camera, he has produced shows in college, and he is relatively familiar with the industry.  Yet, he also knows that most on-air talent start out as gofers or low-level researchers in podunk towns.  He knows that it takes years for people to make it on air, and most won’t.  He knows that a starting salary in the industry won’t be able to support his current lifestyle, and that getting a job will be almost as hard as keeping a job, especially in this economic environment.

newsHe also knows that if he were ever to do it, he’s got to do it now.  After all, he’s young, smart, and hard-working.  Even if he fails, he’ll have a background in finance to fall back on.  So, two years out of college, he has to make a decision:  Settle for a job he thinks he’ll hate and most likely end up in that career forever… or take a risk, sacrifice a bit now, and start anew in a job he thinks he’ll love, even if it might take years to get there.

Zach’s not sure if he’s willing to give up the security and lifestyle that his current job offer (and future jobs in finance) would bring.  He also doesn’t want to completely give up on finance–even though he may never love it, at least he could end up tolerating it.  But then again, there will always be that gnawing feeling that he never tried, never took the risk, never gave his dream a chance.

So what should Zach do?  What would you do?  Take the secure, stable job that sucks, or take a few years to pursue the profession that you want?  More generally, should we even aspire to have a job that we truly, madly, deeply love?  Or is tolerating our job the most we can ever expect?



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Semi-Serious Ideas for the Betterment of Society

1. LICENSE TO BREED: You need a license to drive, to carry a gun, and to practice medicine, so why don’t you need a license to have a child? octomomDrivers’ licenses encourage safety on the road, gun permits allow us to keep track of our WMD, and medical licenses keep witch doctors away from the unsuspecting public. Along with safe streets, (arguably) less violence, and healthy people, shouldn’t we also strive for having better educated parents? Thus, let’s make people apply for licenses to breed before they start popping out devil bobbarkerdogchildren. Instead of swerving around cones in driver’s ed, applicants will learn to change diapers in parent’s ed. Of course, we can’t control the fact that some unlicensed deviants will still churn out babies under our nose. But to counter that, we could offer substantial tax relief only to licensed parents. With such a plan in place, perhaps this will discourage the Octo Mom from adding to her litter.

2. GET YOUR IRRESPONSIBLE FRIENDS SPADED AND NEUTERED: This would be Plan B, just in case the child license law fails to pass the Senate.

3. LOJACK YOUR CHILDREN: With modern technology, there has to be an easier way to keep track of your children. lojack2Imagine going to Wal-Mart and buying a Stolen Child Recovery System for $695 (about the same retail price of a LoJack for your car). With this system, you would get a tiny, non-invasive tracking device that you can stick on your child’s body. To them, it would seem like a bumpy freckle. To you, it would be peace of mind. With all the kooks and the baby-crazed unlicensed parents out there, you’d know that your children are safe. You’d also know if your daughter was sneaking over to Bobby’s house instead of going to the library, like she said. So, for the sake of protecting the privacy of the wild youth, perhaps we’d have to limit the LoJack tracking device to kids under the age of 10.

taxes4. VICE TAXES: Vice taxes are not new, as the success of cigarette and alcohol taxes have led the Pigou crew to lobby for pollution and gasoline taxes as well. But if taxes really do impact behavior as much as economists like to believe, then why not tax vice in general? Anytime someone commits a crime, they’ll still have to go to jail or pay a fine, but we can also increase their effective tax rate for a specified period of time. (Just call me Dr. Seuss.) Get caught with a high-end prostitute? Pay a lump sum $500 fine, and then watch your tax rate jump from 35% to 38% for a year. Simple assault? Do your time in jail, then get released to +5% in your tax bracket over two years. Hey, if taxes really are the cure-all, then such a policy could have enough positive deterrent effects to justify its failings in rehabilitation.

5. GET RID OF HIGHWAY PATROL: One of the most costly and inefficient functions of law enforcement is highway patrol. highwaypatrolHere’s an alternative solution: all registered vehicles must now get a small barcode stamped on each side of the car. Law enforcement will place discreet barcode scanners along the road, which will act sort of like the scanner at the grocery store checkout. When you’re speeding along the highway at 120, the scanner flags your car as “speeding”, and your registration information is automatically transferred to the police. Given that there might be several thousand people caught speeding a day, there will be some limits on how punishment is applied — perhaps out of every 1,000 vehicles caught speeding, 100 will be randomly chosen and ticketed. Or, perhaps every vehicle registrant will be notified that they were speeding, and everyone will get one black mark on their record… Ten black marks, and your license will be suspended. The possibilities are endless. And with the money we save on highway patrol, we can allocate more funds to worthy government ventures, like teaching our children… or bailing out AIG.

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Semi-Serious Ideas in Entertainment

singled-out1. MTV FOR OLD PEOPLE: With a rapidly aging population and a surplus of baby boomers who still want to stay hip, I propose the creation of a new TV network for the older demographic. Like its teenage counterpart MTV, FOP (“For Old People”) could feature variations on popular shows. There could be FOP versions of classic MTV hits, like Singled Out: Octogenarians, My Super Sweet One Hundred (Esther gets a new motorized scooter!), or True Life: I’m a Denture Capitalist. Some other ideas for FOP programming: Survivor: Nursing Home, Are You Smarter Than a Senile Old Coot, and The Amazing Race to Heaven.


madoffd2. RENAME PUNK’D: In our new recessionary era, Madoff’d is the new Punk’d. The pilot episode could feature a $65 billion bonfire, with Bernie lighting up dollar bills while Alan Greenspan roasts marshmallows over the flames. Then Kutcher’s lackeys can go around to all of Madoff’s former investors and give them their pile of ash, along with a S’more. You just got Madoff’d! This can be followed by a new Publishers Clearinghouse show, where we watch Ed McMahon as he goes into people’s houses with a big camera crew and, “Surprise!” — forecloses their homes.


3. MODERNIZE SESAME STREET: With these hard new times, let’s see the effect of unemployment on the Street. Are Bert and Ernie worried about paying bills? Does Big Bird look extra-frazzled? Is there a surplus of unemployed day laborers in the neighborhood? This is a great opportunity to get toddlers thinking about the impact of credit default swaps on their cookie jar. “A is for AIG, B is for bankruptcy, C is for collateralized debt obligations… and F is for failure.” And speaking of cookies, maybe we can also encourage the Cookie Monster to watch his waistline. Yogurt Monster might not be as fun, but he’ll probably live longer.


4. AMERICAN GLADIATORS MEETS C-SPAN: Every few years, we deal with the same drama in House, Senate, and Presidential elections. There are counts and recounts, hanging chads and run-off votes. There are promises and lies, hacks and phonies, Joe the Plumbers and Sarah Palins. (No wonder there’s political apathy in this country.) What if there was an easier way to decide it all? Why can’t we just run all our politicians through the Eliminator? (Junior Senators and House reps can opt for the easier Aggro Crag on GUTS instead.) The real decisionmakers, though, must perform Gladiator-style. They must face ‘roided up men and manly women. They’ll joust with Justice and try to deport Helga. The Eliminator will test their physical strength and mettle, and all of it will be shown on national TV. Then after the competition, Ryan Seacrest will announce the winner: “America, you voted… The new President of the United States is… Find out after the commercial break!”


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Semi-Serious Ideas for your Personal Life

ukulele11. GET AN OBSCURE HOBBY: Do you ever feel that you’ve become a boring, mundane person? Do you get riled up about bad grammar? Do you get excited about the potential of alien takeovers? If any of these apply to you, then maybe you should think about getting an obscure hobby. An obscure hobby is like adding a suffix to your name, without the actual hassle. Explanation: Anyone named John Smith the VII is interesting, because he automatically has a story to tell (naturally, what happened to Johns I to VI). Similarly, anyone who plays the oboe is interesting, because he has to explain what an oboe is. Suffixes and obscure hobbies can help both when you’re interviewing for a job, and when you’re picking up men/women at the bar. The following are some obscure hobbies to make you seem far more unique than you really are: practicing the ukulele, designing ships in a bottle, breeding sea lions, collecting sweatbands, knitting do-rags, reading Proust, wicker basket weaving, mastering backgammon, and blacksmithing.

botswana2. PLAY THE FAKE NAME GAME OFTEN: It’s always fun to play the fake name game when you’re out at the bar. But don’t just stop there: the fake name game is like a gateway drug to bigger and better lies. Fake identities require fake jobs, fake hometowns, and fake family stories. Thus, if you’re ever out and you hear this kind of story, you either met someone really interesting… or you’ve been had: “Hi, nice to meet you. My name’s Botswana. Yes… like the country. My parents were actually missionaries living in Zimbabwe, and I was born near the Zimbabwe-Botswana border. Why did they name me Botswana? Well, my dad wanted to name me Zimbwana, but my mom didn’t like how that sounded, so they settled on Botswana. My friends call me Botty for short. Oh, and I’m also a cardiothoracic surgeon, just in case you were wondering.”

happiness3. DEVELOP AN ADDICTION: This may seem like bad advice, but hear me out. Most people think that addictions are a bad thing, and most of the time, they are. No one wants to get hooked on smoking, drinking, or crystal meth. But what if you could develop an addiction for success? What if you could get addicted to happiness? I propose that we all just work our hardest to get addicted to happiness. Think about blue skies, green meadows, rainbows, balloons, and smiling, singing dwarves. I just can’t get enough of this happiness! ^_^ Isn’t life swell?!!?!

theview4. JOIN A FIGHT CLUB: Everyone needs an outlet for their bad days now and then. While a true-to-life fight club may not be suitable for those with weak knees, why not start a psychological fight club? Sticks and stones can break bones, but words can really kick the crap out of you. Get two people with a lot of aggression, and have them yell unintelligibly at each other in an ultimate deathmatch. It’ll be like watching The View, except more therapeutic for all participants involved.

5. TAKE A WORKCATION: If you’ve used up all your vacation days already and there are no Monday holidays in sight, then schedule yourself a workcation. Get in late, take a long coffee break, and give yourself a scenic tour of the office. Set yourself up in a conference room, take out your ukulele, and start bringing some sweet music to the workplace. If anyone asks what the hell you’re doing, just blame it on your addiction to happiness. See what they say to that.

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Semi-Serious Ideas For the Workplace

1. BRING BACK HIGH SCHOOL SUPERLATIVES: In high school, we used superlatives to recognize those who were popular (“Best Looking”), and those who were not (“Most Likely to Succeed”). So, why not introduce a version of high school superlatives to the workplace? We can use the power of the populist vote to shame slackers into working for something other than their guaranteed salary. Plus, it could be a useful management tool when considering the next round of promotions…or layoffs. Some proposed categories: “Best Performer”, “Best All-Around”, “Biggest A-Hole”, “Most Likely to Become CEO”, “Most Likely to Swindle the Company Out of Thousands”, “Most Likely to Lose Their Job Because of Pure Incompetence”.

duncecap2. IMPLEMENT THE DUNCE CAP: Similar to the idea above, let’s use public humiliation to maximize work in the workplace. The dunce cap can be a great deterrent to employees who engage in productivity-thwarting exercises like surfing the Internet, arriving late to meetings, and taking long bathroom naps. Caught on Facebook? An hour with the dunce cap. Checking out A day with the dunce cap (and blocked Internet access). Ideally, employers should take a log of dunce cap offenders… At the end of the year, the employee with the most dunce cap-worthy transgressions should be forced to do something mildly embarrassing in front of the whole office (eg. belly dancing). Then, their picture should be taken, framed, and placed on a wall in the company bathroom, for all of eternity.

3. ENCOURAGE WORKPLACE BETTING: One of the most difficult challenges in the workplace is to maintain a high level of employee morale. By fostering friendly competition, workplace betting is the cure to individual apathy towards work. But work pools shouldn’t be limited to football season and March Madness; weekly betting can be tailored to groups of employees, and may even keep them better informed. Finance folks can bet on the closing price of their company’s stock each week. HR can bet on how many employees will resign. The winner should get their picture taken, framed, and placed on a wall in the company boardroom, for all of eternity.walkstation

4. KEEP A STASH OF DRUGS HANDY: To keep employees sharp, many companies have built nap rooms in the office. Others encourage exercise, and sometimes even make their employees work without a chair (see the treadmill workstation on the right). So what’s the right approach to keeping your employees fresh throughout the day? Make them nap, or make them sweat? It’s tough to find a universal solution that will work for iveverybody, but here’s one: keep intravenous bags on hand to inject energy into tiring laborers. The incremental cost should easily be covered by the stark increase in productivity.

5. INSTITUTE COMPANY MARRIAGE VOWS: It’s become harder and harder to find people who have lived a monogamous life, having only worked for one company. Job loyalty is rare, and employees are always looking for better positions and bigger salaries. But in the rare instance when the company falls in love with an employee–and vice versa–well, we should celebrate such an occasion. Marriage vows and fancy rings aren’t only for heterosexual couples, you know. “I take you, General Motors, to be my employer for life. I vow to serve you, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for (much) poorer, in financial sickness or in government-aided health, to love and to cherish, until death or imminent bankruptcy do us part.” There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

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Why Red Sox Nation Loves A-Rod

They say that when you grow up in Boston, it’s in your blood. It seeps into your mind, your heart, and your soul. There is no denying it, and there is no cure. In life, you may change jobs, political affiliations, or even genders, but you will always, always be a Boston Red Sox fan.

The Red Sox are an institution in Boston. This is a city that bleeds red in October. It is a city that jams thirty-thousand-plus people into a green concrete box on game days. It is a city that goes crazy when the Sox win, and self-immolates when the Sox lose. If you were walking the streets of Boston today, and asked a stranger about the three happiest moments of his life, the first two would be some variation of the typical answer: when my children were born, owning my first home, the day of my wedding, the day of my divorce, etc. However, the third happiest moment would likely be repeated by most everyone you meet: the “Sawx” winning the 2004 World Series. Seriously: everyone. Or at least 90%.

But even though us Boston fans are undoubtedly consumed by our sports teams, this fanaticism isn’t limited to Massholes. In fact, there are some places that may even be worse. After all, grown men wear dresses and pig snouts to support the Redskins in Washington. Detroit fans help out their basketball team by sucker punching opposing players. And infamous Cubs fan Steve Bartman received death threats before he was forced into hiding… all because he interfered with a foul ball.

Some might think that our country’s infatuation with sports is strange: you have millions of people on the edge of their seats, fixating over an event they can’t control, with participants they don’t really know, in a game they’ve probably never played. Even though we may give ourselves credit for our team’s victory (“during the whole game, I didn’t move my right arm, because the last time I did, Favre threw an interception”)… really, telekinesis has yet to hit NFL playbooks.

So why are we so obsessed? Why do we set aside our Sundays, neglect our work, and force our arms to go numb? Why do we let two-point conversions and last-second threes and outcomes (over which we have no control) impact our mood?

Why do we allow the fate of a foul ball decide how homicidal we want to be today?

Well, what else is there to do? I’d rather watch a baseball game than turn on the news to another bank bailout. I’d prefer to fill out my brackets than pore over my shrinking 401(k). The country needs a diversion right about now, however minor or fleeting it may be. We need sports now more than ever before.

a-rodFortunately, there are some among us who recognize this, and have stepped up to go above and beyond their vocation. To Alex Rodriguez: your recent revelations (of steroid use, of infidelity, of loving yourself a little too much) have not only distracted us from the dire financial crisis, but they have also reinforced all of New England’s fervor for baseball. For as it is with the symbiotic nature of sports, loving the Sox is also about inherently hating the Yankees. And it’s pretty easy to hate on the Yanks these days… I mean, come on: just look in the mirror.

Part of this post was excerpted from a previous post by the same author, from September 17, 2008: “I’m Voting for the Candidate Who Agrees That the Yankees Suck”

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What I Learned at Harvard

Two years ago, during my senior year in college, a relative asked me: “So, now that you’re almost graduating, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from Harvard?”

It seemed like an innocuous question, but I knew that there was an already-implied $150,000 answer, thanks to Good Will Hunting (“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library”). goodwillhuntingThe best response to this kind of inquiry would involve something uber-academic and arcane, like “vector spaces” or the neurobiology of whales, with some Plato thrown in for good measure. Given my studies in Economics, Psychology, and Government, I tried to recall the most exotic facets of the social sciences. But at that moment, just a few months away from graduation, I could barely remember what I learned about convergence theorems, double-blind studies, or legal proceedings in the United States. I may have read Plato in my “Issues in Ethics” class freshman year, but I’d forgotten all of his issues. I certainly couldn’t talk about whale brains, and I had no idea what vector spaces were… I just thought they sounded cool.

I dutifully recited some boring tenets of basic economic theory, and my relatives seemed satisfied.

This past weekend, I went back to Harvard for a visit. Just walking around the Yard brought back memories from the streets of the Cambridge. As a freshman, I once walked into the Crate and Barrel on Mass Ave and asked for directions… to Mass Ave. On Saturday, as an elderly alum, I expertly weaved through the crowds and reminisced about the days when the campus was mine, when the memories were happening. And now that I’m a few years older, ostensibly wiser, and wholly entrenched in the “real world”, I can finally admit to what I learned (and retained) at Harvard:

princeton-v-harvard-2I learned that Harvard students are the best and the brightest in the world at avoiding solicitors outside the Science Center. I learned how to make the perfect spiral on my fro-yo cone after years of trial-and-error (and a couple spills). I learned to dodge tourists like a running back, and not to rub the foot of the John Harvard statue. I learned that one develops a sixth sense for popcorn chicken and Sundae Sundays. I learned that Toastie-O’s are the generic (and far inferior) version of Cheerios.

With my $150,000 education, I know now that a naked run in the brisk midnight air is the key to surviving ensuing exams. I know that one shouldn’t venture into the Sanskrit section of Widener unless she want to see that same nudeness in full light. I know that it’s “ec”, not “econ,” and “gov,” not “political science.” autumn20yard202I know that if you remove the “i” from “assistance” you have the labels on our blue light emergency phone stations. I know that Felipe’s will always be popular, because it’s always nice to get hit on, even when you’re wearing a parka and shoveling a burrito into your mouth.

So, what’s the most interesting thing I’ve learned from Harvard? It’s that these insights came far more rapidly than my recall of the Solow model. It’s that these learnings have taken priority in the annals of my tiny whale brain. It’s that these memories–from the dorms, from the tailgates, from the Kong–have replaced Adam Smith. It may not sound like the typical Harvard admissions pitch, but it’s definitely something you can’t get for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.

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