“When you decide what to do with your life, choose something where your deepest passions meet the world’s deepest desires.” This is what my favorite teacher told our class on the last day of high school. I think it is an interesting quote. Yes, it seems obvious, and yes, it reflects what kids seem to know intuitively while growing up. You want to pick a career where you are doing something you love, and, usually, you love it because it is doing something valuable for other people.
But does this actually happen? It is my view that as we get older, our perception of the “world’s deepest desires” somewhat fades. The first example that comes to my mind is my brother. A math and science whiz, he went to the University of Illinois to study engineering with the dream of one day becoming an alternative energy researcher. I was so proud of him. I have always been an avid environmentalist, but no matter how great my desire to develop green technology has been, I couldn’t help it that I got a B- in calculus. I knew that the world would be facing a crisis in a few years, and that we needed strong minds like my brothers to help find a solution. So of course I was more than a little disappointed when he came home last Christmas and said that he had decided to go into business or finance. “It’s too bad,” he said, “that engineering is so much work because I won’t be using it at all. It would be cool to do the energy stuff, but an engineering degree can get you makng a lot of money right out of college.”
I knew that my brother is not the only one of this generation’s youth, or for that matter, any generation, who thinks in this way. It is a natural human desire that we want to feel secure and stable. It is scary to try to go out and do something that may not have payoffs. Why take the risk? Although I understand, however, it still deeply saddens me.
It is a shame to me that every day talented minds that could be used to better all of society go to work for Wall Street or corporate America because they know it will bring them security. It is a shame to me that in the last few years computers have gone from being gargantuan, unfamiliar devices to the ubiquitous tool they are today, small enough to carry everywhere and run so much of what we do, while we have been unable to build levies good enough to protect New Orleans. It is a shame to me that we now have phones and GPS’s installed in our cars, but many of them still get less than 20 miles to the gallon. The electric car, in fact, was invented in the 1950‘s. If energy technology had come as far in the last 50 years as computer technology has in the last twenty, we would be in a very different place today. Clearly, smart minds have seen the benefits of entering the computer industry and gone to work where there would be payoffs. What I wonder is, shoudn’t we be creating payoffs for industries that really matter?
Many may not agree with me. Most people would probably say that it is perfectly fine for a smart young person to go into any career they want, regardless of the “world’s deepest desires.” John Stuart Mill would probably agree, as he essentially argued for ultimate freedom. Mill desired a society where everyone had a right to their opinion and to live the life they wanted, as long as it was not harming others. And although I agree that people need freedom (after all, it would be a sad world if government found talented people and forced them to work for what they deemed an important cause) I still must ask a question. Does society have a responsibility to provide incentives to make people use their freedom of choice for the benefit of others? How do we define “common good?” And how do we make people want to work for it?