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Idea Seeds #13 – Passion and choosing a career

Updated on January 19, 2017
Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan | Source

To Live Is to Choose

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are, what you stand for, where you want to go, and why you want to get there.” (Kofi Annan)

Solutions Below

If the solution to the bicycle problem introduced in Idea Seeds #11 and expanded on in Idea Seeds #12 is still eluding you, a more detailed explanation is given at the end of this article.

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A Workable Solution

Doom and gloom forecasters are not my favourite people. I find the despair they peddle contagious unless they provide a rider on what can be done to counter it. The following quotation is full of doom and gloom but not despair as it comes with a workable solution.

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Crack, Crime and Casual Sex

“An appalling number of schools in (‘What do you think the name of country deleted here was?’) are atrocious. Study after depressing study confirms what has been painfully obvious to millions of parents, teachers, prospective employers and students. Every year our schools turn out young adults who cannot keep up with the intellectual demands of an increasing technological economy …. Despite twelve years of what passes for formal education, large numbers have such poor reading skills that they cannot digest a newspaper or fill out a job application. …. Far too many schools are less centres of learning than custodial institutions complete with wardens (principals) and guards (teachers) striving to control a mob of prisoners (students), some so preoccupied with the three C’s – crack, crime and casual sex – that they have no time for the three R’s …. Each new revelation of the flunking performance provokes a loud outcry for tougher standards, better instruction, ..... So far, all the noise has had shockingly limited impact on what actually goes on in the schools. …. Seldom has there been such a clear-cut case for presidential leadership ….”

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The Need for Better Teachers

The deleted words are ‘the United States of America’ but I am sure you will agree that Jack White’s article could equally apply to South Africa and any number of other first world countries. Suffice it to say at this stage, there are no quick fixes and the fixes are not going to come cheap either in South Africa or in the USA. Jack White suggests the best way forward is for the government to pay off the loans for graduates that go into teaching. Not all graduates, only those who have achieved high grades in subjects that are most in need of able teachers. As he says: “No program for reviving public education can succeed until better-qualified students are willing to become teachers. Academic underachievers need not apply.” Good old plain common sense and very doable. If you agree please spread the word.

Meaningful Intergenerational Communication

Many articles back I told you my reason for writing these articles was to try to address the widespread ‘lack of meaningful communication’ between the older and younger generations in particular in the family situation. Give some thought to the following email, titled: ‘A stunning senior moment.’ It is one of those that, from time to time, finds its way into your email inbox as it does the rounds on the internet.

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Television, Jet Planes and Space travel,

“A very self-important yuppie attending a recent football game, took it upon himself to explain to a senior citizen sitting next to him why it was impossible for the older generation to understand his generation. "You grew up in a different world, actually an almost primitive one," he said, loud enough for many of those nearby to hear. "The young people of today grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, man walking on the moon, our spaceships have visited Mars. We have nuclear energy, electric and hydrogen cars, and computers with light-speed processing"

When the yuppie paused to take another drink of beer, the senior citizen took advantage of the break in his litany and said, "You're right, son. We didn't have those things when we were young, so we invented them. Now tell me you arrogant little smart ass, what are you doing for the next generation?" The applause echoed round the ground.”

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A Lack of Understanding

Had I been there, I would probably have spontaneously applauded along with the others but after reflecting on the story, it’s just another very sad example of a young man who has been deprived of the wonderful stories associated with our evolution because of a ‘lack of meaningful communication’. Ask around and you will find most young people are as ignorant as he is about these things. Slapping the young man down in such a public way also reflects a lack of understanding on the part of the senior citizen. He should have known better and has, in my book, breached a cardinal rule ‘First do no harm.’ The young man walked away as ill informed as before but now more convinced in his mind that it is impossible for the older generation to understand his generation

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Passion and Purpose

How do we help young people make career choices, in particular those who are ill informed, have little understanding of the ‘real world of work’ and who have been told to dream and follow their passions if they want to find happiness?

Addressing the latter first; following dreams and passions blindly in today’s very different world, is no longer appropriate advice says Oliver Segovia, an MBA-with-Distinction graduate from Harvard School of Business and co-author of Passion & Purpose: Stories from the best and brightest young business leaders.

“As the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? ‘Forget about finding your passion.’ Instead, ‘focus on finding big problems and putting them at the centre of your decision-making.’ .… It's not about the self anymore. ‘It's about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor.’ People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don't mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. ….You become less self-absorbed with yourself. Ironically, you will become happier if you worry less about what makes you happy. ‘It is the balance between being content in yourself and being part of the world that creates true and lasting happiness.

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Connect with Wise People Working on Big Problems

‘Big problems’ include: climate change and all the environmental stuff that goes with it; sustainability issues involving food production, clean water, energy needs; poverty; education; health care; security, technology in all its guises; transport; infra-structure; urbanization; emerging markets etc etc.

Oliver Segovia believes that: “Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, and what you are contributing to the worlds needs. You’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Your school helped developing the second. Now it's time you put more thought into the third.” These wise words resonate with my own observations and experiences. You are more likely to be motivated by problems you can relate to on a personal level so seek out and connect with wise people working on big problems. In a world where today’s problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know wise people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. It’s an excellent way to make progress down your own ‘road to wisdom’ that I hope you have embarked on.

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Needs of The Real World

Another good place to learn about what the ‘real needs of the world’ are is by studying what the good Business Schools are promoting. Oliver Segovia says: “Business Schools are finally instituting changes that put the ‘needs of the real world’ at the centre of their programs.” In a recent newspaper article Walter Baets, Professor and Head of UCT’s Graduate School of Business, said they were making changes in this direction. He believes that the world is going to be dominated by the emerging economies. It will be worth your while to do some research on what these changes in direction are and what they hope to achieve by making them.

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The paradox of Choice

But back to ‘Career Choices’ to learn what Barry Schwartz, a Professor of Psychology, has to say about ‘choice’: “The more options we have, the more information and effort we have to put into evaluating them, the more likely we are to be dissatisfied with the outcome.” Put into my language: When the perceived ‘Return On Investment’ (ROI) on the time spent ‘analysing’ the differences between choices does not live up to our expectations and the outcome of our choice is not as perfect as we had expected, this makes us miserable and unhappy. When you have a free moment watch, his video, Google “The paradox of choice”, and learn more about this counter intuitive phenomenon before you next have to make an important choice, in particular if it involves a career choice.

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Deciding my Career Choice

If you still have to decide on a career there is much to think about before you start making up your mind about what you are going to do for the next forty odd years you are going to spend making a living. I suggest you make a category slip ‘Deciding my career choice’ and write this quotation by Oliver Segovia on the first slip. ”It is the balance between being content in yourself and being part of the world that creates true and lasting happiness.” On the next slip write: ‘This is me and what makes me happy and contented in myself’. On the next slip write another heading: ‘These are the big things in the world that I would like to be part of.’ Then get to work and make slips to fill in the details. Remember, only one idea or thought or wish per slip. The ‘ROI’ if you do so can only be positive.

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Things I Don’t Know About.

You will be in good company. Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman, started making notes like these when he was a teenager. James Gleick, author of ‘Genius’ tells this story about a notebook Richard Feynman was especially proud of. “In preparing for his oral qualifying examination, a rite of passage of every graduate student, he chose not to study the outlines of known physics. Instead he went up to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where he could be alone, and opened a fresh notebook. On the title page he wrote: ‘Notebook of things I don’t know about.’ And then set out to reorganise his knowledge. He worked for weeks disassembling each branch of physics, oiling the parts, and putting them back together, looking all the while for the raw edges and inconsistencies. He focussed on trying to find the kernels of each subject.” I am sure he would have done this much more efficiently had he been told about the advantages of Pirsig’s filing system.

Try doing the same but not in a notebook but on slips of paper under a category slip ‘Things I want to know more about’.

Back on Your Bicycle

Now a quick look again at the bicycle problem introduced in Idea Seeds #11 and expanded on in Idea Seeds #12. The ‘Idea Seed’ that wheels in certain situations can be considered to be continuous levers really needs to be understood as it is found in so many situations. Remember these articles are not aimed at teaching you all the basics as they are easily found by Googling them. If you do not understand levers then Google ’Levers images’ and then, below the images on the left side click on ‘More images for levers’ and you will find all you need about levers and how to identify whether you are dealing with 1st, 2nd or 3rd class levers and much more. Wheels can be used as force multipliers or speed multipliers. In the adjacent picture of a simple machine for lifting buckets from a well the wheel is being used as a force multiplier. A steering wheel in a motor car does the same. On a bicycle, however, the driven wheel is used as a speed multiplier. This can be clearly seen in the adjacent picture of a Penny Farthing bicycle. The bigger the front wheel the further it will travel for one rotation of the pedals which of course means that for the same pedalling speed the faster the bicycle will be travelling. Don’t forget to make those slips!

Why the Bicycle Goes Backwards

If you still don’t understand why the bicycle moves backwards, think about it this way. When you pull on the string your feet have to push on the ground with the same force that you are pulling with. The string in turn transfers the pulling force via the pedal and the wheel to where the tyre is in contact with the ground, the only place that can provide an opposing force to the one you are making with the ground. The size of the force on the pedal and the ground are exactly the same but their lever arms are not. The longer one (ground to centre of the wheel) overpowers the shorter (vertical distance between pedal and the centre of wheel.) and the bicycle goes backwards.

Explore the Limits

Don’t stop there, do what a wise person would do, explore the limits while everything is fresh in your mind. As the bicycle moves backwards the wheel and the pedal arm move in a counter-clockwise direction. When the pedal arm is horizontal the effective length of the lever arm has become zero and the string now acts as though it is directly tied to the axle of the wheel. This means the pulling force can be reduced as it is no longer fighting the opposing force produced by the effective lever arm when the pedal is near or at its lowest position. Continue this thinking through a full rotation of the wheel. Don’t forget to look too at the limits for the length of the pedal arm. Believe it, when the pedal arm is made the radius of the wheel and positioned vertically below its centre and the string pulled, the wheel will stop rotating and start skidding on the ground because the two opposing forces in this position will cancel each other out. The bicycle will continue, however, to go backwards. Go figure.

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