I met with one of my young people today to talk about a business idea he had and to design business cards. When the words “network marketing” came out of his mouth, however, I admit to having to restrain myself from reacting strongly. He said a lot of people had already advised him to be wary of scams and pyramid schemes, but he had friends and family members who were making a tidy amount of residual income through a certain program. I asked him what the root of his interest was, and he said that he wanted a fulfilling career. He didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for forty years in a job he hated. Whenever this phrase comes up (and it often does) it’s really important to dig into what a person means by “desk job.” As a child I hadn’t the foggiest idea what my parents actually did in the office, and that honestly didn’t change much when I was a college student and still had a very limited notion of the range of work that people did in the world. Sure enough, what my youth had in mind were clerical jobs—”being someone’s secretary.” When I asked him where he got his ideas about work, he said it was mostly from movies and TV, where people push paper around in tiny cubicles. Who wouldn’t be despirited by such a vision of work life? 

We were having this conversation at AlleyNYC, so I took the opportunity to point out that everyone here pretty much has a “desk job,” but that most of us were working for ourselves. That gave him pause. I took the opportunity to return to the word “fulfillment” and asked him what exactly he meant by that. He said to him it meant not having to wake up and go to a job that he disliked. So I gave him a scenario: What would you do if money were not a concern? What if all of us, regardless of our job, got paid the same amount, and it was enough to live well. What kind of work would get you out of bed in the morning? This is when he really lit up. He would love to be a movie critic, travel the world and produce video logs reviewing the places he visited, be a smartphone reviewer for a tech blog, and review and create his own anime. He insightfully noticed the pattern that he was interested in writing reviews. That he has a creative spirit is not surprising, since he is both a reader and a writer.

His favorite idea was definitely the anime one. Apparently over the past two years he’s watched a ton of anime. He is especially drawn to action-packed, emotion-laden series, and he has very strong opinions on what makes anime good. He’s also spent hours dreaming up his own characters and imagining every aspect of their personality and appearance. I asked him if he shared any of this, and he said only his brother and cousin knew about it. “It’s just a dream job.” Here is where I had to take a firm stance. Don’t dismiss your passion as a pipe dream. I pointed out that that feeling he was having—and at this point he was nearly jumping off the couch and getting fired up about series that were “almost good” but ended up disappointing him—is what he should strive to preserve throughout his working life.

So here is the game plan: He will try to figure out one small way to start working on his career dreams right now. He might try and find an online forum to connect to anime/cosplay communities, he might make an effort to write regularly and try to find an outlet to publish his work, or he might try to partner with an artist who can bring his anime characters and stories to life. He wants to create a series where the male hero deserves the female attention he gets because he has winning qualities (charisma, courage, reliability), rather than just being good-looking. (If you know anyone who can help him in his pursuits, do let me know!) Because of all the technology available at his fingertips and the magic of the Internet, he can start connecting to people and building a body of work that can serve as a portfolio that he can show to potential employers.

We ended the meeting both very excited about his future. “I feel like I just made a breakthrough!” This is exactly what I’m in this work for.


Dee · November 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Just had a similar breakthrough moment with a student, obviously on a much smaller scale, but it provided a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal group of final papers. A student, one who clearly is not enjoying the class too much, submitted a vague, thesis-free abstract for a paper on Larra for his final project. I returned it pushing him for a thesis and he basically turned in the same thing, but mentioned at the end that Stephen Colbert seemed like a modern-day Larra. When I told him he could write a comparison of Larra and Colbert and the role of satire, the creation of fictitious personalities etc etc. he got excited and for the first time looks like he is not taking this class under penalty of death. Now if I could only figure out a way to interest the other 18…

    Ysette Guevara · November 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Very nice! Sigh…the 19th century is always such a tough sell to students.

      Dee · November 25, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      oh god no, this was the only text he found interesting out of the whole syllabus, which is 75% medieval and early modern. Larra was the only writer who didn’t cause him physical pain!

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