An argument against careerism


Graham Colton

I don’t think that all humans are created equally. Some people are just better than others. But what makes one better than someone else?

I’m not sure. These are tough questions, with no easy answers. People are born with different talents, to varying degrees. Ours is a career-centric culture, in which our self-worth is determined by our resume. For example, I once met a fellow W&L student who asked me, “What do you do?,” (codeword for “What’s on your resume?”), directly after we introduced ourselves to each other. Sure, it’s a useful way to get to know a peer, but we are not our resume, as much as we’d like to be.

We are measured, rather, by the extent  our actions align with our values. David Brooks, a writer for The New York Times and a personal hero of mine, had a TED Talk about the resume virtues versus the eulogy virtues. He makes some good points about careerism, a “work-life balance” (I hate that term), and basically what we should be focusing on in our life. It’s tough to determine.

The zeitgeist of our time is a gross overemphasis on relative truth. As a result, people our age are kind of lost, I think.

I can’t claim to know what makes a life well-lived, or what gives us our worth. But I do know that the most pressing question for all of us is what we really want in life. At W&L, it has been said, there is not much diversity, especially not in religious affiliation. At W&L, some might even argue that there is a chasm between the self-indulgence of cultural Christians and the self-denial of biblical Christians. It’s extreme.

But I don’t need to talk about Christianity to make my point. My point is that it is very tempting to compromise our values—among which honor, integrity and civility are necessarily included—for the almighty dollar. Plus it just feels better to be a better person. It’s been proven.

Corporations make themselves feel better by practicing “corporate social responsibility,” one of the latest buzz-phrases. I don’t know if that phrase, stripped of its nauseating political correctness, is the way forward.

So what is? And is there even a way forward, or is “progress” just chronological arrogance?

I’d say that it kind of is. And I’d also say that there is something wrong with our society. We look at our phones instead of looking at the person talking to us. For many of us, money is the only God, there’s a chasm between the political left and right and neither side is open-minded to the half-truth of the other side. Where do we go from here?

I don’t know, but as you plan your career, keep in mind that there’s so much more to life than your job.