Finding Purpose Outside of Work

From Derek Thompson’s short article on the ten fastest-growing jobs and the odds that robots and software eat them:

1) Personal care aides: 74%
2) Registered nurses: 0.9%
3) Retail salespersons: 92%
4) Combined food prep & serving workers: 92%
5) Home health aides: 39%
6) Physician assistant: 9%
7) Secretaries and admin assistants: 96%
8) Customer service representatives: 55%
9) Janitors and cleaners: 66%
10) Construction workers: 71%

So if you want dependable employment, become a registered nurse or physician’s assistant. Demographics will be on your side too with the “graying of America”, but most significantly to me, helping others live as healthily as possible is especially purposeful work.

Once one’s basic needs are met, creating lasting and meaningful purpose in life is people’s single greatest challenge. Those who fail to create purpose don’t contribute much to other people’s lives, they just piece together daily routines that enable them to mindlessly pass time. Ask them how they’re doing and the honest reply would be “existing”.

I’d love to be proven wrong, but Thompson’s list makes me think that jobs of the future may be less meaningful and more monotonous, creating a fork in the road between people’s paychecks and purpose. People will find purpose within their families, their outside-of-work interests, and their civic associations. They’ll come home from work and care for others in and around their own homes; they’ll be photographers, bloggers, and others types of artists; they’ll coach youth sports and volunteer at non-profits to improve their communities; they’ll grow and cook healthy food; and they’ll travel to do similar things further away.

 

Job Prospects in the New Economy

Last Sunday the family and I woke up at 3:45a to drive the college junior to the Portland airport to catch an early flight. The airport was the midway point of our ultimate destination, a vacation spot in central Oregon. Like a couple of comatose puppies, the high school senior was curled up with her older sissy in the back seat of the car. Picture overlapping blonde hair everywhere. While they dozed the GalPal and I listened to a BBC segment about job prospects in the new economy.

The participants were Oxford or MIT professors. Cut me some slack, at 4:30a.m. the world’s best universities all kind of blur together. They made two points, the first which I’ve been making for awhile. The more my daughters (and their friends) develop sophisticated data processing knowledge and skills, the more job opportunities they’ll have. Quantitative analysis is probably a better term since data processing might conjure up mindless keypadding. This turn towards numbers is not a fad, the Quantitative Era is here to stay. Nearly every organization is analyzing more data than ever before—hospitals, schools, businesses, prisons, college and pro athletic teams, churches, you name it. People steeped in statistics and adept at using SPSS will be able to write their own tickets.

Which doesn’t help the sound asleep sisters. They did well in math, but didn’t embrace it, and have and will stop as soon as they’re able. According to the egghead professors, all is not lost, there’s another strand in the economy that holds promise for secure employment. Work that requires empathy.

They highlighted the work of preschool teachers. I was surprised by the choice, but clearly, unlike most jobs today, skilled preschool teaching can’t be automated because it requires nonstop empathy. The problem of course is unlike most quantitative analysis jobs, preschool teaching doesn’t pay a livable wage.

This excellent BBC dialogue made me think about our empathetic daughters who may end up leveraging their empathy as teachers or counselors. Other empathy-dependent jobs include pastor, social worker, nursing home worker, and nurse.

Had the BBC invited me to participate in the dialogue I would have posed some questions.

• Given the breadth of probable work in the future, why do we emphasize STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) at the expense of the humanities and related disciplines?

• Certainly, empathy is part nature, but also part nurture. How do parents nurture empathy?

• How do primary and secondary teachers encourage it—without usurping parents’ rights?

• More specifically, how do we help young males be more empathetic?

As always it seems more questions than answers, for me, for you, for the sleeping sisters and their friends.

Personal Economic Balance

First Born (FB) likes her Starbucks and thinks nothing of dropping 4 bills at Schultz’s stores. Last summer she capitalized on her selective private liberal arts education to secure a part-time job weeding a neighbor’s yard. Late summer, on the way to a concert in Portland, I asked, “Would you keep drinking Starbucks if each time after your last sip you had to immediately walk outside the store and weed for thirty minutes?”

The “probably not” look on her face was a thing of beauty. Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope she’s learning the value of a dollar, or more specifically, four dollars.

Gears spinning in her head, and captive in the Japanese compact, I decided to launch into my “economic balance” talk which was so brilliant it deserves this larger audience.

The economic balance equation is a simple, three-parter: One’s hourly wage + one’s hours spent working – one’s purchases also known as expenses, overhead, or standard of living.

If a person make’s $10/hour and chooses to spend $4 for a Starbucks drink, then the cost was 30 minutes of work time (rounding and after taxes). For a therapist, plumber, or attorney making $100/hour, the same Starbucks costs 3 minutes of work time. I would not weed for 30 minutes for a extra hot, nonfat, grande green tea latte, but I would for three.

Let’s zoom in on each part.

1) Hourly wage. The challenge here is that in the U.S. in the last ten to twenty years the average person’s wages have fallen relative to (very low) inflation mostly as a result of amped up global economic competition. U.S. consumers buy inexpensive goods from China; to try to stay competitive, companies shift their manufacturing operations to distant places where their labor costs are greatly reduced; a lot of workers lose their jobs; margins shrink; and then new workers are offered some of the previous jobs at much less than their predecessors made.

Or the domestic version. States experience massive budget debts as a result of recession, increased unemployment outlays, accelerating health care and higher education inflation, and unsustainable pension promises to public employees. Educators in Washington State get their pay reduced and the state is still $2b in the hole. Few people make $100/hour, most are much closer to $10.

2) Hours spent working. Unemployment is high as is underemployment and economists expect that to remain the case for the foreseeable future. Record numbers of unemployed have quit looking for work and don’t show up in the 9.1%, and for 20-24 year olds, unemployment is 15+%. The double whammy income challenge—how to increase one’s average hourly wage and hour’s spent working in a sputtering economy? Add in the 2007-2008 bursting of the housing bubble and it’s a triple whammy since many people owe tens of thousands more on their homes than they’re now worth.

Which leads to, 3) take your pick—expenses, overhead, or standard of living—the key variable in many, many people falling even further out of economic balance. Workers can’t throw a switch and increase their pay or their opportunities to work additional hours because the changes in the global and national economy are beyond their individual control. Those changes are not temporal either, they’re long-term and systemic. We live in a new economic reality of intensified competition from all over the globe. Don’t listen to politicians who want you to believe we’re special. We’re not.

Often there’s a debilitating time lag between workers’ lower wages, reduced hours, and accustomed standard of living.

Seneca said, “. . . the man who adapts himself to his slender means and makes himself wealthy on a little sum, is the truly rich man.” My 21st Century adaptation, “The person who adapts to making less money and learns to enjoy a less materialistic life, is the truly rich person.” Our expenses are the part of the equation we have the most control over. Worth repeating. Our expenses are the part of the equation we have the most control over. That means we have to do a better job of distinguishing between the few things we need and the neverending number of things we want.

One example. While it’s increasingly vogue to argue otherwise, many contend a college education is a necessity, but attending one that charges $50k+/year is obviously not. Due to a mix of factors—including off-the-charts economic anxiety, age-old social status concerns, and slick higher education marketing campaigns—too many high school seniors enroll in colleges that are more expensive than their families can realistically afford. As a result, many twenty-two year olds, whether they make it to graduation or not, end up deeply in debt. Some authors, comparing them to indentured slaves, are referring to them as “indentured students”.

If a young person’s scholarships, merit aid, personal and family savings, and part-time work can’t cover the cost of their preferred college, they should choose a more affordable path. If you’re a parent being asked to extend yourself beyond what’s possible, it’s okay to say, “Can’t afford it.” The double economic whammy will be challenging enough, why make it a debt-ridden triple one?