Friday, August 15, 2008

When J Grows Up

Every once is a while someone will ask J casually what she wants to be when she grows up. She could say anything and it wouldn't matter - it's just one of those things grown ups ask kids. Yet J grows concerned about such queries and asks me what I think she should do or become when she grows up. This is a very difficult question to answer for a couple of reasons.

First, I am not in a line of work that I have a great deal of passion for. I just wandered over to where I am today, picked up some decent skills along the way and am reasonably viable in the job market. When I add all that up along with my education, I know I can offer little to no guidance to J from my own experience. I would hate for her to go through life feeling like a cog in a wheel like I often do.

Second and far more importantly, I haven't the foggiest idea of what the career options would be for young people fifteen to twenty years out. It seems to me that we came of age in far more predictable times than J's generation would; the pace of change was much slower and its consequences not as transformational as it will be in time to come. It was possible for our elders to show us a road map of sorts even if the proliferation of technology has made large chunks of it useless today.

I have been reading Bill McKibben's book , Enough : Staying Human in an Engineered Age in which he discusses the many dangers posed to the human race by unrestrained growth in germline engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. While McKibben's tone is fearful, cautionary, frequently pessimistic and he advocates that we go only thus far and no further in scientific and technological advancements, I could not help thinking about the unlimited possibilities in careers of the future. I wonder if I would even comprehend what J and her peers do for a living a couple of decades from now.

So instead of pretending to know any answers, I advise J to not make any decisions until much later and wait to see what opportunities present themselves to her generation. In the meanwhile, I do my bit to understand the changes that I will never be part of so I can help J navigate her course to an education and career destination that is rewarding and fulfilling to her.

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