I do a lot of career counseling, even though I’m technically a social studies teacher. Students ask what they should do with their lives. They seek validation and a good plan. Many come to me far too late. I’ve been trying to have this personalized conversation for anywhere from four to six years.
“What’re you doing next year?” I ask.
“I’m going to RISD.” Rhode Island School of Design–the Yale of Art Schools. I ask more questions.
“Did you apply?”
“I’m going to apply.” Well, it’s May. If the app isn’t in yet, you’re not going. I follow up with, “Can I see your portfolio?”
“What?” Never a good sign. It indicates the student doesn’t know what a portfolio is. Game over. No RISD. It makes me sad. Someone needs to prepare students for short and long-term planning--to navigate the system.
Sometimes it’s not their fault. There’s a lot of red tape, expense, and logistics involved in getting into school. This is one of the reasons to hit this message hard freshman year. “What do you want to do?” becomes a four-year goal check in. For students who are ready to listen, this is critical. For the ones that think they’ll deal with this in June, the results are often heartbreaking.
Even those of us who understood “the system” make these mistakes. Heck, I back-doored my way onto one of the nation’s best music schools, and I can barely read a note. It was a disaster. I’m empathetic. Today, I offer options. Careers where anyone can succeed, whether you’re the top 20% or the bottom 80%. Better yet–careers where, even if you’re terrible, you have a great chance at success.
Writing The best writers are famous. You’ve read them. But there’s a job for the worst writers, too. At Hallmark.
Photography Good photographers get hired by National Geographic and Discovery. Bad ones by the DMV. Or you can do “abstract” work in a New York gallery, say your blur is “a representation of the contrast between dark and light–a lesson in how we should see the universe.” Sell it for six figures. If working at the DMV, your only responsibility will be to take the worst possible photo of your subjects so they can be grateful those holiday pictures on Facebook look pretty good after all.
Acting Good actors win Oscars. They get rich, develop drug habits, go to rehab, and get free publicity. Bad actors get hired for reenactments on cable TV shows and for medical commercials. “Hey, that’s the Viagra guy!” Instant fame either way.
Weather forecaster It’s harder to fake this and succeed due to accurate computer models, but don’t be discouraged. You can always throw out a “30% chance” “el nino,” “Polar ice caps” “Al Gore came out of hibernation early,” “cataclysmic jet stream” or some other global disaster. If you’re not sure, simply tell people to go shopping for emergency supplies. It helps the economy.
Teaching If you’re a bad teacher you’ve got it made as long as you can make lots of charts and graphs and administer super long tests using acronyms people don’t understand. Because tests are going digital, you can actually use UStream to proctor while you go out for coffee. Don’t dismay–there are still jobs out there for good teachers–waitressing and bartending. It’s just like the classroom, you get to serve a lot of kool-aide, and there is still math involved when you add up the bill. But you need fewer graphs and don’t take ten hours of work home.
Economists–These guys never, ever have to be right–a beautiful thing. Imagine your day–wake up, drink coffee, turn on CNN, roll dice, and make up stock predictions. Maybe you prefer dart boards instead. Either way, say something no one understands, insert charts and graphs stolen from the teacher who served your last beer, say “billion” three times in the conversation, and you’re golden. Ruin a sector or two of the economy, and you might even get an award.
Politicians This is a career where being good gets you put out of a job. Just go to Washington, check out your new office, and ask people for money for the rest of your term. That’s not too hard, especially if you have experience selling Girl Scout Cookies outside of stores.
Foodies We love celebrity chefs, but if you can’t cook or blog you can do Vitamix demos in Whole Foods or serve side-orders of fried potatoes next to quarter pounds burgers.
It may be a tough economy, but there are indeed jobs for everyone. I hope my students reach the stars, but even if they’re fabricating predictions about when the next one will crash to Earth, as long as someone eventually pays them, I’ll be proud.