The Modern Meaning of Life

Careers Advice

I’ve recently found SO MANY amazing resources that are helping me in my work. Firstly, a colleague recommended me the books GCSE Mindset and the A Level equivalent (A Level Mindset) which are excellent resources for motivational activities to do with students. The books are teacher-centred so wouldn’t be the kind of thing you’d just give a young person (unlike the book I’m writing…)

At work I’m slowly creating lesson plans for these books’ activities which I’ll be sharing on my brand new resources page!

I also spotted two cards decks from The School of Life. The first are job trump cards which I’ll be turning into activities with the students, but I also got the Career Crisis cards. They’re not really suitable for students, but they’re great for blog post prompts for you readers, so I hope to use them here instead.

Today’s card is a good one:

“The modern meaning of life: that our deepest interests should find external expression in a form that others will find useful – and that will bring in sufficient money to fund a bourgeois life. The ambition is enormous, beautiful and worth of solemn respiect for its infinate trickiness”

That we should always promote working in what we love – especially to students – is quite dangerous, in my opinion.

When you were 18, how many careers did you know about? How many out there can say that the thing they are doing right now is something they had no idea about when they were choosing their options?

I feel there is so much pressure on young people to decide their path from way too early. So many of them expect that they can easily get a job making YouTube videos, or taking photos, or designing clothes, or in hairdressing. The things that they can see in their world, the things they can see other people doing well.

The GCSE book I mentioned above has an activity where it asks students to not set goals such as “I want to study medicine at Manchester University” but instead set ones akin to “I want to find how the national health service can be improved”. I have a LOT of experience working with year 10s and I don’t think I know many of them who would be able to come out with something as profound as that. It’s a challenge even to get them considering what they might like to study after GCSEs, let alone what problems they’d like to solve through what they learn.

(The point of the activity is to get them to be more open; if that student doesn’t get into Manchester University then they’d have failed to reach their goal, but there are a lot of different entry points to get to improve the NHS).

I think many people in education are so keen on coaxing students into progressing and not falling off of the conveyor belt that we are selling them dreams that cannot come true. You can’t always work in a job that fits around the things you love to do. Even as a translator at Nintendo there were weeks and months when I had to play the same damned Wii Fit U salsa dance minigame over and over when I just wanted to play literally anything else.

Labour Market Information is an area of careers advice that I have seen a lot of schools struggle with. In order to be knowledgeable enough to pass correct information to students, schools would need to:

  1. Build up strong relationships with local companies (which is a really hard thing to do from both sides)
  2. Start doing major research into labour trends (which they don’t have time to do)
  3. Utilise/employ the careers advisors properly, instead of seeing them as a low-skill addition to the school as opposed to the experienced, knowledgeable and woefully underpaid exceptional people they are. (Very unlikely to happen).

If students had a better understanding of the kinds of careers available, they might be able to separate their skills into ones that would get them a great job, and ones that would be great kept as hobbies. You can’t always do what you love, but we can always do something that we’re excellent at.

Despite a lot of young people not knowing accurate labour information, I don’t think many are aspiring to have a bourgeois life. One thing that worries me greatly (that I’ve not really mentally processed or found a solution to yet) is how often students will talk about homelessness with me. Here are some genuine conversations I’ve had with students:

“I don’t really care what I do when I’m older I just don’t want to end up homeless”

“Instead of working, I just want to be homeless! Those guys look like they have a really chill life!”

“I’d rather have a stable job over something I enjoy. I worry about losing a job and being homeless”

The top two of them may have been said for epic bants, but the fact remains that the topic of homelessness is something that is on their minds and is taboo enough for them to make jokes about. This breaks my heart.

I think that young people, more than wishing to strive for the kind of life where they buy nice things and go on nice holidays, want the kind of life where they’re not constantly struggling, or worried about money. And as much as possible I’m honest with them; yes, I eat out and have day trips to London doing nice things, but I also live in a houseshare and have a car that’s cheap to run. Sometimes in order to have the nice things you have to make sacrifices.

As I’ve said before about being open about failures, I think we need to be open about the sacrifices we make in order to have the things we enjoy. If all they see is an Instagram filter life of never-ending joy and abundance, then they’ll never know that life has both the ups and the downs.

To conclude this mega waffle, I really think it’s important for us to show young people that you can’t always have a career in the thing that you love. Sometimes you do really crappy jobs for a while and then stumble across your perfect thing. We should encourage them to do the things they enjoy, yes, but also help them be mindful of the skills that are needed and would help them get good jobs. And we shouldn’t assume that young people are all about the bling – I personally feel that they’re much more about keeping afloat.

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this, and also whether this new “essay from a prompt” format is a good thing! Please do leave a comment, I want to get a conversation going!



  1. It seems almost as though there’s been a shift in mindset from a future where you can see yourself having enough money for nice things to one where you’re focused on survival since I was young, and I bet the financial crash has had a lot to do with that. It makes me a little sad, but also a little hopeful that young people seem a lot more grounded in reality than I was (which in turn means they’re a lot less likely to get made redundant with £11k in credit card debt, which I’m still trying to recover from).

    I really love this new style of post, I don’t know if I’ll always have a lot to say but I’m enjoying reading them and you always give me plenty to think about!

    last year’s girl recently posted…a love letter to memoir;My Profile

    • Hmm I would disagree that they’re grounded in reality. I do think there are chances for people to do what they love, but I think that young people really need to be shown what jobs are needed out there, so they can see if one aligns with what they want to do. I also think that they don’t think enough about having hobbies – we don’t always have to WORK in our passions.

      I’m really glad you like the new format – it was so scary switching it. I hope it becomes as popular as my previous blog!

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