This young fellow shows up in my office the other day, all bright-eyed and bushy-haired. Is about to graduate from a fine and sufficiently prestigious college and is in the full flush of panic that afflicts kids these days when they actually attain the freedom they have dreamed of for so long. I guess the days when guys honked around for a couple of years after graduation are gone. Everybody's got to get on a career track right away. I suppose that's okay. But I do find it a little dispiriting to look at the shiny, squeaky face of some 22-year-old aspirant as they tell me, "I want to go into Marketing!"
The truth is, great careers don't always result just because people have hit the rails from the get-go. Bill Gates started in a garage. Howard Hughes flew planes. Musicians and physicists start young at their chosen profession, but that's because, frankly, they probably could no't do anything else. I'd like to think that a person should have some time to figure out what they want to do in life, and while they do that they should endure a succession of demeaning jobs. But I could be wrong. I can't say that I got much out of driving that cab in Boston for a year, except for a bunch of weird stories.
Anyhow, there's this hopeful individual sitting in front of me and he's looking for career advice. He majored in one of the fine arts and plans to abandon that immediately and go into a career of some kind. The question is, what? And what the hell am I supposed to tell him? Let's look at the options:
- Financial: Ha! One day, there may be jobs again. But now? Private equity has dried up. The banks are bleeding profusely from virtually every orifice. Would you advise an ambitious, thoughtful person to go anywhere near a bank of any sort at this time?
- Automotive: Nope.
- Advertising: It's a dogs game to begin with. You're old at 35. Everybody's consolidated up the wazoo. Perhaps there are small, creative firms looking for a bright and inexperienced young face, but most people I know in this field are pressurized, desperate and very, very tired of the hamster wheel.
- Public Relations: Would you tell a person on the brink of all the excitement life has to offer to go into public relations?
- Business School: Would you tell a person on the brink of all the excitement life has to offer to go to business school?
- Journalism: Possibly. The money is bad and it saps your spirit, writing incessantly about things that are assigned to you, rather than stuff you dream up yourself. Also, many newspapers are folding and news is being commoditized to the point where papers are 90% wire stories. Not to mention that something is rotten in the state of Journalism, as it veers more closely every day to the brink of entertainment reporting and gossip.
- Media: Yeah, but as what? An entry-level droid taking some guy his coffee? Actually, that job is now taken by a 32-year-old manager whos been around for six years and does 12 other functions. There is now not only NO free lunch, there may not be time for lunch at all.
Here's my view. God created youth for people to do what they wanted to do. When you get a little bit older, life closes in on you and, caught in a variety of strictures produced by our ambitions, desires and needs, we each take on responsibilities that require us to do a bunch of stuff we don't wanna. By so doing, we get cars and kids and spouses and computer hardware (AAPL). But if we don't blow it out for the first five or six years of our tenure as adults, we never get those years back, we crave them later, and we end up stupid and crazy, trying to grab back the amorphous dreams and feeling of freedom that we possessed all too briefly when we were 22. Enter Stan O'Neal golfing while Rome burned. And of course there's always Eliot Spitzer.
I told the kid to go into Internet content, particularly short-form video. I figure there's enough crazy smoke around that discipline to keep him young for a good long time. Just ask the folks who work on this site! You guys are having a ton of fun, right?