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Eureka: A fireside chat on careers
by Jay Gutman
2018-04-07 04:17:53
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I'm not one of those gurus who promise people they'll find happiness in their careers. This is more of a chat on an overview of the career options that are available, and what factors to consider when choosing a career. I hope this will give you a well-rounded overview of what to expect when choosing a career, what's available out there and what you have to consider when choosing a career.


Training for a job is something I have mixed feelings about. You do need training for a career, but you need good training. This is where the education question comes into being. Good training means you have all the intellectual tools to be able to perform the job. Of course your first few months on the job will be rough because you need experience, but not as rough as for someone with zero training.

career1_400What do I mean by training, and where can you get training? Some schools overprepare you for a job, other schools underprepare you for a job. Let's say you want to be a chef. Some schools, which charge a lot of money, will teach you so much cooking that you will be bored at any job in the kitchen, because you will feel you are no “fulfilling your potential.” Other schools will teach you nothing about cooking and you will go to the kitchen completely unprepared. Some schools will fail you or barely pass you and make you doubt your abilities as a chef. Others will give you stellar grades and make you feel overconfindent about your ability to cook.

How do you strke the right balance? I don't buy into this internship nonesense. They say internships help you get practical experience, but they're really using your labor in most cases. If you're a chef and need experience on what goes on in the kitchen, you may want to visit as many restaurants as you can and peek into their kitchen and ask if you can spend a day or two observing what gets done in the kitchen.

Now the problem with training is that no two kitchens work the same way, and the same could be said about any job really. The other reality on the ground is that some chefs are better than others at explaining to you what it is that you're supposed to be doing on the job. Some will just give you the recipe, others will show you a picture, others will just name the dish and expect you to come up with something. The same could be said about every job. Some will be rude and make you work under intense psychological pressure, others will tend to be cool and tolerate your mistakes.

Let's move away from the kitchen for a second. The problem with jobs is that you don't just learn by getting trained, you also learn through experience. Something I saw on television struck me today. In Algeria, there was a summit meeting between Spain and Algeria, and the news program showed how the interpreter got the interpreting wrong, irritating the Algerian Prime Minister. To take the interpreter's defense, his Spanish looked OK, his mastery of French was good, but you need to know that interpreting events are so rare in Algeria and rosters change so frequently that no one really has the kind of experience and habit when it comes to interpreting. Interpreting is something you need to do every day to become good at. In my case I write almost everyday. If I stopped writing my writing would rust and writer's block would be back in the game. I teach every now and then, but when I lose the habit of teaching, my classes can drag on. So it's not just the training, it's getting the job done every day.

I trained in school as a language teacher, then in politics. The first classes I taught were for high school students, and I made a few students cry and a lot of students were confused. This was 15 years ago. 15 years on my students are comfrotable with me. In school I took several writing classes. My first 100 articles, save a few exceptions, were disasters. 13 years after my first article was published, I can say my writing flows naturally. But in both teaching and writing, they get better everyday. So in my experience, don't expect too much from school, you'll get distractions. You will fall in love, you will miss your family at times. But had I not been to school, I think writing would have been off the table, so would teaching.

Final word. Regarding teaching, writing, and most jobs today, you need all kinds of degrees and credentials that I believe say nothing about your ability to teach, write, cook, code or fix cars or machines. If you can fix a car, you can fix a car. No amount of degrees and references will make you better at fixing cars. Actually people hire the wrong people all the time because they want to save their breath by looking at credentials rather than chatting about your ability to fix cars.

What kind of job

If you're in high school and you're looking at a job or career prospect, you only have one guarantee: when you retire from that job 45 years or so on, your job will look nothing like the way it was when you started working.

Now in general you have three types of jobs. Dead-end jobs, generalist jobs and specialist jobs. Dead-end jobs are not the worst jobs, generalist jobs are. In dead-end jobs, you perform a task over and over with no change or promotion in sight. The only way out of a dead-end job is another dead-end job performing a different task. Dead-end jobs don't pay well, which is why eventually you want to train foro a dead-end job that pays well. Dead-end jobs that don't pay well include cashiers, fast-food chefs and the rest. You want to hang out with a plumber or a mechanic and watch him or her over a year or two before you master the high-payinig dead-end job. There's nothing wrong with dead-end jobs, you don't get the stress of having to perform and don't feel the need to outperform your colleagues. In dead-end jobs the important thing is not what you do, it's who you work with. At some jobs you'll have predators who will constantly harass you, at others you'll have people with good social skills and high life satisfaction. You want to opt for the latter.

Generalist jobs are the worst jobs. You pretty much have to do what your boss tells you to do, and that means constantly learning new skills. Every day is like your first day at work, because a lot of times the tasks you will perform will be new. And with technology that's a lot of tasks you have to learn every day. You'll find a lot of generalist jobs in business and administration, they tend to be prized jobs because they tend to pay well, but after a few years on the job, you'll find it hard to be able to walk on both feet. This was not the case 10, perhaps 20 years ago, but is increasingly the case. So burned out generalists are a relatively new breed.

Specialist jobs. Doctors and lawyers need lots of training, but not all specialist jobs need that kind of training. Teaching is a form of specialist job, and so is driving a taxi or even some types of construction work jobs. Unlike generalist jobs where a lot of times you get promotions and other psychological satisfaction from performing your job, specialist jobs tend to be thankless, as you rarely get promoted. And if you do get promoted, it rarely has anything to do with your speciality.

Pay and working hours

There are basically three types of jobs: jobs that pay by the hour, jobs that pay monthly and jobs that pay by the task. All have their perks and quirks.

In jobs that pay by the hour, the advantage is you only get paid for the hours you're putting in. If you're lucky, you can get breaks whenever you want and ask for whatever amount of hours you want. That's if you're lucky. A lot of times you don't really choose the amount of hours you work, your boss does that for you. And a lot of times you can't choose when you have your breaks. Conflicts because of choice of hours are frequent, and I had to quit my last teaching job because of a hours I was imposed that I did not want to teach.

Monthly pay. If you're lucky the hours are set in stone, if you're not lucky your boss will decide how many hours of work you'll have to put in each day. That makes your days pretty unpredictable and makes personal plans very difficult. If you're lucky you get paid vacation, but then a lot of times your boss will think your taking vacations is being lazy, and a lot of people feel under pressure because they feel like if they take a vacation, they might not have their job when they come back.

Pay by the task. The advantage is you do a task, you complete it, you get paid. The disadvantage is a lot of employers don't feel the obligation to pay their employees, and those with task-based pay will be at the bottom of their list when it comes to paying on time. Plus your task has to be perfect, and employers will love humiliating you for mistakes done in your task.

Work for an employer or start a business?

Either way you will have to look at four factors: location, capital, human resources and clients. It's hard to figure out which priority is the most significant but when looking for a job you want a job that's not too far from where you live, that pays well, where you can work well with other people and that has a steady flow of income through clients or taxes. When starting a business you want to set up a business not too far from where you live, you want to find the money to start a business, you want to find capable employees and you want to build a solid base of clients.

Note that I did not mention training here. When you work for an employer, the advantage is that you have no significant capital investment to make. Your employer pays you. The other advantage is that you can get training on the job. If you start a business, not only to you have to find the money, but you also have to be trained and ready to go.

Either way, flow of information will be the key factor when starting a business or when looking for a job. You need a circle of friends who are well-informed people. You also need a good flow of information on the job. So you want to work with good communicators, otherwise on the long run you won't go very far. Good communication is a lot of good conversation, and a little bit of expert analysis. Some businesses rely too much on expert analysis and too little on conversation.

Keeping your job

You may or may not experience three stages in your career: a survival stage, a solidarity stage and an altruistic stage. The survival job is when you will need your job for survival. You won't be able to survive without a job. Solidarity stage is when you can survive without your job, your dependents can survive without your job, but you are helping your dependents get better lives as in paying for their university tuitions for example. In altruistic mode, you can technically leave your job and live well, but you want to help other people live better lives. You want to plan your career and your life to be able to reach those three stages.

What can destroy you

Gambling, lifestyle and investment. Gambling can make you lose everything you won. If you have expensive tastes, you could go broke. As for investment, you want to start with the cheapest investment and then move on the more expensive investments. If you have the money, you want to start with one bakery, one building or one house for rental property. You don't want to own the kind of stuff to impress people you don't really like.

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