You meet someone for the first time, smiles are being frequently exchanged and the
conversation is flowing like a river on a summer’s day. You’ve talked about interests, life and even those banal, but oddly addictive sitcoms that we often spend time watching in guilt because we promised ourselves, we’d be in the gym this weekend.
This conversation makes you feel human which is easy to forget in a world dominated by machines and turtleneck wearing app founders. It’s all going great and then it happens. The dreaded question, “So what do you do?” For those of you who want the question translated candidly, “How much money do you make so I can decide if we can have more conversations like this?”
You are tempted to make this the grand finale of your conversation but if you did that every time someone asked that question, you’d be that weird person who walks past the corner store with a different animal on a leash every day. So, let’s try to understand where that question stems from.
We are resident in a society powered by commercialism and fuelled by a mix of ambition and competition which only comes in super unleaded. From the very moment we are born, we are placed in a system moulding us like prized racehorses. Your very first memory of education to wherever you left off – whether it be Secondary School, College or University. It was all done to prepare you for this race to accumulate as many resources as you can. How do you get these resources? Money. And how do you get money? A career. Yes, every experience you had in your years of education when pulled apart, ultimately fizzles down to career prep work. Hope you didn’t think your secondary school friends liked you? They were in on the
training programme to.
The structure of the education system rewards the highest achievers. The students with the best grades are rewarded with the best Universities. Those students are trained or educated by the better-quality teachers and they then go on to have the better careers, make more money and accumulate the most resources. While those that didn’t do as well in school take on careers lower down the pay scale. So now you see why “what do you do?” is such a commonplace question. Our system has programmed us to link success with better careers and failure with the opposite and no one wants to talk to a loser right? So what are you going to do? You’re going to work until your hair falls out and get that 100,000 per year gross salary in the city, that’s what! Go get em!
But before you go diving headfirst into the Wall Street Journal, a thought. And I just want you to hear me out. Maybe the education system is wrong? It gets even more outrageous, maybe all the things you love doing in your spare time don’t have to be things you do in just your spare time? What if those things were your job, regardless of how much money it made you? Now I’m not disputing the importance of being in education what I am disputing is how we are educated.
We are taught to always aim high but the problem with aiming high in the era of hyper-consumerism is that aiming high is always near enough linked to things that have an instrumental value not the things of intrinsic value. Which is highlighted by the fact that amongst millennials there are some worrying mental health statistics. According to the Business Insider “since 2013, millennials have seen a 47% increase in major depression diagnoses. The overall rate increased from 3% to 4.4% among 18- to 34-year-olds.”
The year on year increase in mental health cases shows that as a society, there is a priority placed on the wrong things and questions such as “what do you do?” inconspicuously accentuate this. Until there is a societal change on how we measure the value of a job or better yet value in general, I see no change in the upward trend in mental health figures. In the words of U.K. employment agency REED, “Love Mondays?” Maybe not.
Founder of HQ On Demand LTD