Time was, people chose careers based on potential employability. Anxious mothers urged their sons and daughters to become doctors, engineers, accountants, and teachers “because there’ll always be a need for that kind of work.”
In the go-go nineties and until recently, people worried less about need. The economy felt strong and people had money—or thought they did—for the extras. Making your living as, say, a closet organizer or personal concierge seemed perfectly doable. Few likely paused to reflect that these were needs a very wealthy, comfortable society demands and that if the market stopped heading up, up up, their income could go down, down, down.
Nowadays, many of us have gone back to organizing our own closets and running our own errands. Job hunters are looking to the fields still hiring (or at least the ones not bleeding jobs): education, healthcare, IT, engineering.
Is there anything to learn here?
Only this: The most secure, and in many ways the most satisfying, jobs are those that fill a vital and enduring societal need. Not that closet organizing and the like are unimportant--and certainly some people may still have the cash to pay for a professional. It’s just that, especially in down times, some tasks are more expendable than others.
You can make a success of any career if you are competent and work hard. But when choosing your life work, consider asking yourself how it fits into the larger economy and whether it meets some basic human need. Your mom will be relieved.
Karen Burns, Working Girl, is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, to be released by Running Press in April 2009. She blogs at karenburnsworkinggirl.com .