Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
CAREER COUNSELING FROM AN EXPERT
I had a long talk with my teenage children the other day about work careers. They’re at the age where it’s important to start considering what they want to do for a living.
I gave them the typical words-of-wisdom baloney line: “Enjoying your work is more important than making a lot of money.” No sense discouraging them at this point by revealing the fact that all jobs are tedious. Even the most glamorous, enjoyable activities become oppressive chores the moment a person is required to do it everyday. Which is why Tiger Woods is often overheard saying, “Oh no, I’ve got to fly to another exotic resort and play another four rounds of golf and earn another 700-thousand dollars?! I’m so sick of this! I just want to stay home and work in an anonymous office job!”
But I did give my kids a words-of-wisdom line which is absolutely true: “The more people who can do a particular task, the less you’ll be paid—and the fewer people who can do a particular task, the more you’ll be paid.” This is why unskilled manual labor jobs, like pushing a broom or flipping burgers, will always be minimum wage occupations. Millions of people already possess the skills needed to do these tasks.
On the other hand, some tasks can be performed only by a select few: brain surgery, throwing a baseball 90 mph, playing “The Star Spangled Banner” by cupping your hand to your armpit and flapping your arm, and knowing exactly where in the supply cabinet the Post-It notes are stored. People who possess skills such as these will always command astronomical wages.
I explained to my kids there are only two ways to possess these rare and valuable skills. People can either be born with a particular talent (like throwing a baseball or the armpit symphony thing) or they can acquire special skills through education and experience.
It’s hard to tell right now, but my kids will probably take after me: no extraordinary natural talent (unless you include the precious gift of sarcasm, which unfortunately does nothing to improve one’s marketability and can actually reduce earnings if uttered within hearing distance of the boss). Just to be safe, I told them to acquire some valuable skills by staying in school and working hard. You should’ve seen the eye-rolling and heard the moans at this point.
I don’t expect my teenage kids to make firm commitments about their future occupations at this stage in their lives. But they do need to start thinking about it. Of course, being teenagers, thinking about something a few years down the road is the last thing they’re interested in. (“You want me to think about what I’m gonna do when I’m 22 years old?! That’s like a million years away!”)
I can vaguely remember being a teenager and also thinking that age 22 was a million years away. (Now, age 22 is a million years away, only in the wrong direction.) To convince my kids that it’s never too early to start planning for the future, I had to break out the secret weapon: me.
In many different aspects of life, I have become a very good bad example. When I started yet another new job a few months ago, one of my daughters asked, “Dad, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “I’m not sure,” I replied, “but I’m finally narrowing it down. I’d like to be either a professional baseball player, an astronaut, or the guy who drives the Zamboni at hockey games.” (Yes, I realize it’s wishful thinking—the waiting list for the Zamboni job is a mile long.)
My kids once again rolled their eyes in that classic “Dad, can’t you ever be serious?” style. The problem is, I am being serious. I’m still not sure what I want to do for a living when I grow up…which is why I’m such a good bad example. When I finally declared, “Do you want to end up like me?!” they answered by racing to their rooms and doing extra homework.
For a while I thought my daughters finally got the message. But now I’m not so sure. I was surprised to run into both of them earlier this morning: waiting in line to fill out employment applications at the local hockey rink.
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