Discover more from Bastiat's Window
20 Job Tips for 2020s 20-Somethings
Plus, with sheep comes optimism.
This piece was originally published by DC Journal (InsideSources) on May 9, 2023. Please share this post widely. Free and paid subscriptions are greatly appreciated.
A favorite editor asked me for a quote on what soon-to-be job applicants and their parents should keep in mind while preparing for tomorrow’s employment markets. I’ve given job-market advice to students and colleagues for decades, so here are 20 ideas I’ve often shared. Some have served me well. Others would have served me well if I had realized them earlier.
Jobs that can be done in Cheyenne, Des Moines and Sarasota have potent advantages over those that can be done only in New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
For now, college degrees are important, but high tuition and opportunity costs, combined with often less-than-stellar returns, are reviving the notion that the workplace is often a better educational venue than a university.
Maybe Ivy League graduates making photocopies for congressmen shouldn’t look down on plumbers who own beach homes.1
For a generation, American educators have looked down their noses at vocational and technical education, and the United States will face critical shortages of people who can build and fix things.
Mastery of a foreign language gives you a boost over other job applicants. When dining with your host, it also helps you avoid the tête de veau and maguro no medama.
Become good at two things. There are plenty of finance majors and music majors, but not so many emerge from college with substantial knowledge of finance AND music. Sometimes, that helps.
Professors, counselors and other experts will often discourage you from exploring careers where you would do well and encourage you to enter careers where you would not. Seek a second opinion. And a third.
Keep your eyes on technology. Several times in your career, high-tech innovations will make your job obsolete. If you can clamber onto the beach before the wave hits you, bully for you.
Always be thinking about how to reinvent yourself.
People passionately seeking a career have a natural advantage over those grudgingly seeking a job.
It is often the case that once an organization becomes large enough to require a human resources department, individual creativity begins to die.
Save money early and invest it carefully. The ability to walk away from a bad job is a power far greater than anything found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sometimes, the only way to avoid working for a jackass is to work for yourself. And even then, it may be iffy.
If your mom, uncle or neighbor can pull strings to get you a job, let them pull. People care about how you got your job for around a month. After that, they care about how you do the job.
Political campaigns and congressional offices are chock full of volunteers. Think twice about making a profession of something that other people are willing to do for free.
Your job is important. But if it’s the most important thing in your life, you might want to rethink priorities.
Someone once tried to persuade my father to buy a garbage-hauling business. He didn’t do it because the very idea seemed gross. That said, he told me, it would have been a really lucrative business. Think about doing a job no one really wants to do.
Make sure you consider the process as well as the product. While you may gaze with pride upon the gleaming skyscraper that you helped design, the fact remains that your job on the project might have involved nothing more than finding locations for the toilets and other plumbing fixtures on all 72 stories of the building.
I knew a place where one of the most coveted perquisites was a plastic card allowing you to park beneath the building. Employees had to wait 17 years to get such a card; many could tell you exactly how many years and months they had to go before getting their card. If such a perk is high on your list of desires, then my other words of advice may mystify you.
I’ve always told my students that the most important quality to develop in confronting the world is skepticism. So be sure to question everything I’ve told you here.
Speaking of Jobs …
Sometimes, you stumble across a reason for optimism, and it does wonders for the soul. I had one of those moments last Saturday. In my writing, I can and do issue forth curmudgeonly wails about the decayed state of American youth. Last month, for example, I did so in “Whence Fall Snowflakes: How Otto von Bismarck and Robert Moses Wrecked American Childhood”—a jeremiad against contemporary childrearing and its often-dreary, fragile, and visionless products.
Saturday was different, however. My wife and I and our friend went for the afternoon to the 50th Annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. (Alanna works with wool, as you can see from her 20 felt wraps at the top of this page.) There, we saw a mind-boggling variety of sheep breeds—absolutely beautiful animals. But even more than the sheep, we were struck by the kids who were exhibiting the animals they had raised. From teenagers down to little ones no older than 7 or 8 years old, they were poised, dignified, personable, proud, and eloquent. They had an air of maturity and accomplishment that’s hard to find among the cloistered, interconnected-but-disconnected children and teenagers of 21st century America. Seeing them was like a time machine ride back to a gentler time.
I suspect these kids will in time intuitively understand many of the 20 aphorisms I offer at the top of this page. As a wise man once said, “Land spreadin’ out so far and wide—keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.”
Robert F. Graboyes publishes Bastiat’s Window, a Substack journal of economics, science, and culture—with an emphasis on healthcare. He is a health economist, journalist, and musician in Alexandria, Virginia, and holds five degrees, including a PhD in economics from Columbia University. In 2014, he received the Reason Foundation’s Bastiat Prize for Journalism. His music compositions are at YouTube.com/@RFGraboyes/videos.
A fellow musician saw aphorism #3 and sent me the following: “A guy calls the musicians' guild to get a quote on a six-piece band for a wedding. The rep says, ‘Off the top of my head, about $2,000.’ The guy says, ‘WHAT? FOR MUSIC?’ The rep responds, ‘I’ll tell you what. Call the plumbers' union and ask for six plumbers to work from 6 'til midnight on a Saturday night. Whatever they charge you, we'll work for half.’”