How thoroughly do you research your dreams?

Eliezer Yudkowsky:

Have I ever remarked on how completely ridiculous it is to ask high school students to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives and give them nearly no support in doing so?

Support like, say, spending a day apiece watching twenty different jobs and then another week at their top three choices, with salary charts and projections and probabilities of graduating that subject given their test scores? The more so considering this is a central allocation question for the entire economy?

I’ve been meaning to remark how surprised I am that not even the students themselves seem interested in researching such things, or to even think of it. Similarly for their families. It’s not expensive to phone a few people who are doing your dreamed of career, and I expect many would be happy to talk or show you the ropes. Even if high school students aren’t that strategic or farsighted, I would expect a given one to have at least one e.g. great aunt who would think to say ‘Stop! This is a really important decision! Maybe you should research it beyond your ridiculously naive imaginings and a the stereotyped impression your lay-parents have given you!”.

It would make sense for not many people to do this entering college because they didn’t have much idea what they wanted to do yet, but it doesn’t look like people do it later either. And even if you are entering college without knowing what you want to do later, it would probably make sense to at least contact some current students doing your proposed degree and find out something about what that is like. I did neither of these things, I’m not sure why. So far I’m confident the latter would have helped. I don’t know of anyone else doing much research, but maybe they just don’t talk about it. What’s going on?

16 responses to “How thoroughly do you research your dreams?

  1. Just my experience. I didn’t contact anyone because I didn’t know anyone who was employed doing what I wanted to do (be a pattern maker) and wouldn’t have known how to find someone doing it, assuming I’d had the guts to do it. I was in love with it and couldn’t imagine anything else. What if I’d met someone who was doing it and they said I’d be utterly unsuited for it? I would have had no future, I didn’t have a back up plan. I didn’t have anyone who could help me, I’d dropped out of high school by then. It was discovery of this career option that got me into college. -And they let me in without a diploma because testing showed I had an unusually high spatial IQ (req’d for the job).

    It worked out okay. I’ve been doing it more or less for nearly 30 years and it remains the only thing I want to do.

  2. My school required me to do basic career research, including finding and interviewing someone in my chosen profession. They certainly could’ve done more, but they certainly didn’t ignore the issue.

  3. The overstated, oversimplified version: No one has the incentive to do it. Most high schoolers, understandably, don’t want to think realistically about their future. Schools would not promote this process because what school wants to be known as the killer of dreams? Parents won’t encourage this because most are too deluded about their kids’ prospects for success. Relatives won’t get involved because they don’t want to be the meddling aunt / uncle telling sis how to raise her kids. Business won’t do it because they don’t have the time or resources.

  4. Maybe people only care about what their career choice looks like to others, and they already know that.

  5. Because it doesn’t matter. People talk as if they have dreams. But what they really want is a job with a certain degree of status which they think they deserve or can attain. I have noticed that the intellectual content of most academic fields taste the same. It’s my peers which influence my ultimate interests. I’m sure the same goes for most jobs. Most jobs suck. High status ones may suck less than low status ones, but ultimately they suck less *because* they are high status. People don’t so much hate their low status job more than they feel embarrassed by it. And how do you research the status of a job? You don’t have to do any, except to be socially savvy enough to have picked up on the relative statuses of various jobs.

    • “High status ones may suck less than low status ones, but ultimately they suck less *because* they are high status. People don’t so much hate their low status job more than they feel embarrassed by it.”

      Sure, status is a big part of job satisfaction, but that seems like quite a leap.

  6. I chose not to do lots of things which led me to what I did, which apart from being work was delightful, challenging, satisfying and educated me. Once I worked for a little while as an employment interviewer. I had 20 minutes with each school leaver to categorise them for job vacancies. I would ask them what they had wanted to be when they were 11. At that age the drive for status was undeveloped, they knew what they enjoyed or thrilled them and they had had the time to dream. 80% were realistic ideas for their abilities, careers that most still wanted but had lost the confidence or path to go for. Also they were pleased to reignite that interest. Work experience was the next thing.
    When you have heaps of abilities it’s hard to choose, but then pick one that meets your purpose and interests,then promise yourself in about three years you can do one of the others. Within a decade or so you may guess how to spend the next one or five. Life is not a race.

  7. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people would actually be comfortable being “shadowed” by a high schooler. When I worked as a first-year associate at a large law firm, I even had trouble finding partners that were willing to let me know when they were going to court so I could watch them in action. And they had a vested interest in me — I worked there!

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  9. What high-schoolers most need is to learn, not what people do in their jobs, but the usual development of their feelings about their job. E.g., do most people in the job become bitter and bored, or is the opposite true? I used to think that being a doctor would be unpleasant because of the disease and the risk associated with mistakes, but now I think that for a large percentage of doctors, both of these are just in a day’s work. I used to think that members of highly skilled professions would be fascinated with ongoing challenges, but now I realize that many — though certainly not all — end up in dull repetitive work and lose interest in it. I used to think that MIT physics PhD students who drop out to do quant work would be bored out of their minds by the simplistic math involved, but now I think that work in the business world has other challenges which many of them learn to enjoy or at least not not be bored.

    Though each person has their own preferences and aptitudes, data about people’s typical attitude towards their jobs is what is most needed.

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  11. Sarkology nails it: “…what they really want is a job with a certain degree of status which they think they deserve or can attain. I have noticed that the intellectual content of most academic fields taste the same.” I’m a nontraditional student (by age) in a professional program and I am consistently surprised at how incurious many of the younger students are about what their futures hold in terms of day-to-day experience and financial reality. Of course when I was younger I was like them, until I thought long and hard about what I wanted, so that may be why I think about these things more.

  12. Perhaps it’s more difficult to find people willing to ‘mentor for a day’ than it would seem, or when someone thinks of researching in this way they have an inaccurate perception of how difficult it would be. Professionals generally seem inaccessible and busy. Also, most high-school students that I know would just be unwilling to take three weeks out of their lives in that way; so maybe it’s just a lack of planning.
    It’s probably more that they feel like they’re limiting their choices early on if they do this though. There’s a nice sense of having your options “wide open” and if you do actual *ugh* research you lessen that pleasant psychological effect. Additionally people usually decide before they’ve seen the evidence; so I don’t think charts of that sort would make many high-schooler’s hearts warm and fuzzy.

    I know I’m weird, but this is exactly what I plan to do and have done to some extent. I was easily convinced after a couple of conversations that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Or a doctor. Common sense helped me rule out being a vet. A couple of actual, work-related blog posts had me decided that I was not going to be an experimental physicist. All of which I’d considered. So if you’re willing to perhaps make a mistake and “miss out on the best career ever” by just making some initial decisions, I think it’s a lot easier.

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  14. hearts warm & fuzzy, being comfortable of being aware of not having all the information even tough making decisions, i read something like that this week on MR:

    but, that’s asking too much for a teen, isn’t it?

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