October 30, 2011

How to Beat a Dead Horse

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Actually I think the horse is still alive. The responses I’ve received and the letters to the editor prove that –– thank you, by the way, to those who have shared your thoughts publicly.“Thoughts about what?” you might ask. Well, in my last article I accused many in my class of being “spineless.” Harsh, perhaps, but a word that summarizes the way many seniors decide their futures.  I can’t help but think, though, that the argument has been oversimplified. So, just to clarify:My point is not that students are taking corporate jobs instead of non-profit “do good” positions — as many responses have seemed to suggest. It is that we choose careers for all the wrong reasons: our motives for pursuing our careers are based on what others do and think and not on genuine personal interest. We do things because it is what “they” tell us to do.        Now perhaps I was guilty of heaping it on the poor, old, tax-avoiding, barely–better–than–criminal corporations. After all, corporations are by their very nature evil money-grubbers, aren’t they? The reason for such criticism, though, is that nearly a third of Cornell’s graduating class decides to take jobs broadly described as “corporate.”There is, then, a massive herd effect: A critical mass of people decides to do something and, simply by being so numerous, attracts others who may otherwise have made decided to do something else. Such decision-making (or rather lack of it) is spineless.Now, it is possible to imagine that there are those taking corporate jobs for other reasons. Perhaps, as one letter put it, students want to affect change on a different level than working at an NGO might allow. Perhaps, alternatively, they genuinely feel passionate about the mission of the company they are to work for. Only on my worst day could I still call these decisions spineless.It is also possible to imagine students taking positions at NGOs for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps their families have always expected that of them. Perhaps they are doing so because everybody else isn’t –– contrarianism is no more inspiring or less pathetic than herd-following.The crux of the issue, then, is not that I choose J.P. Morgan (just to give Goldman Sachs a break) over Teach for America but that I choose either without asking myself what I am really passionate about. Given that there are thousands of things that people do for their careers, the odds are pretty good that my passion is neither iBanking nor education reform.Which is where my criticism of Cornell Career Services comes in. While I must admit to having used their services myself and while it may have been a little radical to suggest their disbanding, I still think we should be wary of seeing them as just a service. Service implies passive distribution of career information and advice. But that simplifies the relationship that students have with a place like CCS. By putting on corporate (and non-profit) career fairs, offering interview prep sessions and inviting successful Cornell alums to come and tell us their stories, Career Services implicitly tells us what sort of opportunities we can and should pursue.In other words, by its very nature, an organization like Career Services encourages students to do what others expect or have previously done. So, while Career Services admittedly offers more than “corporate schmooze sessions,” any events they sponsor will have difficulty walking the line between offering different opportunities and telling students what to do.You might ask what it is that I am advocating. You might think that it’s easy to criticize the way things are done but hard to offer an alternative. And criticism does, after all, only get us so far.Well, to put it in a word, I’m looking for space. It has surely occurred to many of us at some point that we do not really know what we are passionate about. Perhaps we have several interests but no real idea of whether they are sustainable or whether we can make careers out of them.We often don’t do more, though, than fleetingly acknowledge those thoughts before continuing to do what is expected of us –– what “they” expect of us. We don’t really know what we want to do for a career and so we are given a million opportunities to look through. The implied message is that we should pick one. It should be the other way around. We should try to create an environment where seniors can first think about what they are really interested in and what potential passions they might have and then (and only then) consult the opportunities that might be out there.Or not. Some of the most inspiring people, after all, mold their careers to their passions. We should aspire to that.

Harry DiFrancesco is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at hdifrancesco@cornell-sun.com. Stirring the Pot appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Harry DiFrancesco