By day, I spend my time helping college students to plan for and execute their career plans. It is a job that I am impassioned to do and yet, I genuinely worry that we are a nation of job-seekers rather than careerists. What's the difference, don't jobs make careers? A career by definition is "life's work" and the summing of jobs that add up to something greater than the sum of the parts. It is something that we plan for, strive toward, and readjust as we understand ourselves, our talents, and the needs that we can fulfill for others, as well as ourselves.
This morning I ran into a letter by Jim Martin of Boulder, Colorado and I truly liked the premise it. Mr. Martin's letter asked why don't politicians talk about investing in career creation rather than job creation? The problem is that I don't believe that politicians can help us to do it, if they are driven in investing solely in job creation.
Martin says, "It used to be that work was more than just a way to pay bills; it was also about following your life's passions, finding your calling or developing a vocation. It was a tangible way to complete us as people.
This country was built by people with passion, vision and determination, by people pursing [sic] dreams, noble causes and some trying to actually live out their uniqueness in their work and play. They did this by pursuing careers not in just finding a job!"
I agree that careers are created by personal initiative and supported by education systems that educate us fully, an economy that is looking for better solutions, and social and private entrepreneurship. If government were to invest into people's dream careers, we might have a more robust economy, but there is no guarantee--same as is true of the private sector jobs. Careers are often trial and error affairs where we fail and succeed to understand ourselves, our talents, and our value to others in the world.
Careers are deeply personal visions and whether it is a James Audubon painting the birds of America or Henry Ford making the car that would someday drive us to the brink of an energy crisis for our personal freedom, we have seen the upside and downside to people living their dreams.
Governments and economies thrive on us doing jobs that make stuff. To fuel the systems that require public dollars, taxes must flow and rely on industry to do it. The counterpoint to this is that we need to protect those systems that make all this industry happen and hence regulations that are non-medical Hippocratic oaths to cause no harm. Careers are more than jobs, they are personal expressions of self and the self has many complexities to it. We may cause harm to understand that we shouldn't cause it, but it is always in the interest in becoming better and doing better.
Politics does not value the ebb and flow of success and failure and governments are replaced if there is a general consensus that they are failing us. Offering people the opportunity to work is a way to stabilize them until they find their career path or to support them when their career path is on the downswing is a role that government should play (and we can argue whether Pres. Obama or Gov. romney has the better plan for that), but it is up to the rest of us to encourage people to find their passion, develop their skills, and support their endeavors.
This is where the government can really shine. Helping to build a foundation of education and supports self-discovery that creates the next Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Dr. Martin Luther King is a great investment. But irrespective of what we do, it will still take the moxy of those individuals to step up. Because even the greatest society relies on the individual to create their own career.