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Are Careers Anachronistic?

October 14, 2015

 You’ve probably seen him on CNN's "GPS" or "What in the World" segments or perhaps read one of his weekly columns for The Washington Post. Earlier this year, Fareed Zakaria told graduating students about the most important thing his university education taught him: how to write well.

 

Born in India, Zakaria studied at both Yale and Harvard, and he recently wrote about this experience in a book entitled In Defense of a Liberal Education.  When delivering a commencement address at a liberal arts college in New York, Zakaria noted that,

 

I realized coming from India, I was pretty good at taking tests, at regurgitating stuff I had memorized, but not so good at expressing my own ideas.

 

As his liberal arts education trained him in good writing, he also saw his critical thinking skills improve:   

 

...thinking and writing are inextricably intertwined. When I begin to write, I realize that my "thoughts" are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them.
 

Whether you’re a novelist, a businessman, a marketing consultant or a historian, writing forces you to make choices and it brings clarity and order to your ideas. 

 

George Orwell also pointed out the connection between writing and thinking:

 

...the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.  Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits ... If one gets rid of these habits, one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.

 

Think about that: writing has real consequences, not only for an individual's well-being but also for a society’s life together.  Writing poorly can be costly; words can mislead, confuse, belittle and harm.  Learning to write and speak well, however, can help us achieve goals, strengthen relationships, beautify lives and serve the common good.  (As Scripture teaches, “death and life are in the power of the tongue” and “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 18:21 and 25:11).) 
 
As Zakaria notes, good writing and speaking are beneficial in any job one pursues. If it's true that careers are becoming anachronistic--that the notion of "a [single] career" is being replaced by "a portfolio of jobs" (see article below)--then students who focus on developing these "transferable" skills will have a strategic leg up on success.    

If you’re interested in learning to write and speak more effectively, the Millis Institute is offering a unit in “Grammar and Rhetoric” in Semester 1, 2016.  These “tools of learning” form the bedrock of a liberating education and the first step along the “path of wisdom.”

These students received a perfect Tertiary Entrance Rank of 100 in 1995. 
What career did each of them go on to pursue?  As it turns out, quite a few!

 

The statistics hold true for Allegra Spender, who worked at a big hospital in Britain, then for a non-profit in Kenya and is now into her fourth career in Australia’s fashion industry.  They also hold for John Butts; he studied Commerce Law, then worked for Goldman Sachs and presently runs a retail eatery in London’s Gatwick airport.  The same is true for Saadiah Freeman, who started out practicing law, then moved to investment banking and now works as a management consultant.  "Consulting is my third career," she says, "and I'm sure it won't be my last." 
 
Allegra, Saadiah and John all scored a 99.95 or better on their Tertiary Entrance Rank in 1995.  An article in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald caught up with them and other high achievers to see what they’re doing 20 years after school. 
 
What stands out is how frequently they have changed careers.  According to the social research firm McCrindle, “Today's school leavers should expect to have, on average, five separate careers and 17 different employers during the course of their working life.”
 
Dr Mike Rafferty, from the University of Sydney’s Business School, comments that an increasingly small number of high school graduates can expect to leave school to study a particular vocation at university that will become their career.  He argues that:

 

The idea of a career is dissolving. … Careers are becoming anachronistic.  These days we talk about a portfolio of jobs and lifetime learning.
 
In a turbulent world the way you assemble your portfolio is not as linear anymore, it's not just a matter of getting a degree and then a job, it's more matrix orientated, or rather it's 'snakes or ladders'.

 

According to Rafferty, the most successful of this year's school leavers will be those who are able to embrace mobility and change careers by following and anticipating trends.

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