Two Kinds of People

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One old colleague of mine used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. (This was followed by Beker’s corollary: there are 10 kinds of people in the world–those who get binary and those who don’t.)

Timothy Burke, an associate professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore, wrote an interesting post yesterday in which he divides the world of work (all 20,000 titles in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles) into two types of jobs–Cool Jobs and Everything Else. In writing about the job prospects for new liberal arts graduates, he touches on the unpleasant reality that plagued my conscience during my years as a career counselor:

Right around September, a lot of last year’s graduates from liberal arts colleges are discovering that they appear to be qualified for approximately none of the jobs that they might actually want to have.

As Tim notes, few colleges are very forthright about acknowledging the fact that most postgraduate jobs aren’t very glamorous. The alumni review articles tend to focus on the folks that become Assistant Travel Editor for the Bride Magazine Honeymoon issue rather than on those who become an assistant terminal manager at the local Rodeway Express hub.

One of the ways we fail students is to let them spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars without helping them spend at least some time thinking and writing about where they might fit into the world when they graduate. It wouldn’t corrupt our liberal arts curriculum too much to require that students apply some of their critical thinking skills to identifying and articulating their passions, strengths, values and then trying to understand sorts of jobs in the economy that match as as closely as possible. Ideally process of matching their interests with jobs in the real world would happen while they were still in school and could do something about it if there were a mismatch.

There are a few cool jobs, and obviously there are lots that suck big time. But there are lots of jobs that fall clearly in between those poles. Some parts are cool, so aren’t, but they need to be done and someone is going to get paid to do them. There’s something missing from our educational process when 21 year old graduates aren’t more knowledgeable and realistic about their own economy.

2 thoughts on “Two Kinds of People”

  1. I think this is absolutely right, up to a point. A variation on if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with–many jobs aren’t ideal because to some extent there is no such thing as an ideal job. They all come with frustrations, and to a very significant extent, we *make* our own frustrations once we’re in a job, even a Cool Job.

    What I don’t want to lose sight of, though, is that by any standard, a lot of the jobs that newly minted liberal arts graduates get are really terrible. You don’t want to have to try and get people to feign enthusiasm for jobs which have no virtues at all, particularlly when those jobs *could* be better. (e.g., when small viable organizations are led by burned-out incompetents, or when organizations deliberately mistreat recently graduate employees knowing that there’s more where they came from.)

  2. “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t” – Robert Benchley

    Robert Charles Benchley (1889 – 1945) was an American humorist best known for his work as a newspaper columnist and film actor. From his beginnings at the Harvard Lampoon through his many years writing essays and articles for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and his acclaimed short films, Benchley’s style of humor brought him respect and success.

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