A Move Toward Greater Responsibility?

Given the chance, would you like to try your hand at solving the nation’s problems?

It is an interesting question with an equally interesting answer. In his New York Times article, With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King? Steve Lohr addresses a current situation wherein the taint on Wall Street and finance jobs may be changing what college students now aspire to.  

Steve writes:

In the Depression, smart college students flocked into civil engineering to design the highway, bridge and dam-building projects of those days. In the Sputnik era, students poured into the sciences as America bet on technology to combat the cold war Communist challenge. Yes, the jobs beckoned and the pay was good. But those careers, in their day, had other perks: respect and self-esteem.

Could it be that the careers of choice, given all that we have been through since 9/11 and continuing right up to the current financial crisis, could lead to aspirations of service?

Today, the financial crisis and the economic downturn are likely to alter drastically the career paths of future years.  But choosing a career is a guess about the future in which economics is only part of the calculation. Prestige, peer expectations and the climate of public opinion also matter. And early indications suggest new career directions that are tethered less to the dream of an immediate six-figure paycheck on Wall Street than to the demands of a new public agenda to solve the nation’s problems.

 “In choosing careers, young people look for signals from society, and Wall Street will no longer pull the talent that it did for so many years,” said Richard Freeman, director of the labor studies program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “We have a great experiment before us.”

It is interesting to note that the circumstances of each generation actually influence that generation and can change priorities.

Perhaps if history proves to repeat itself, the economic meltdown of late will leave behind some positive residues – a workforce less focused on self, more focused on community; a nation less focused on getting and one more focused on giving. After all, what has been dubbed the “Greatest Generation” evolved from the trying years of the Great Depression, which itself had been preceded by years of relative prosperity on Wall Street.

Lohr shares that based on graduate school applications, undergraduate course enrollments and anecdotal accounts, it seems there is becoming a profound shift in career trends toward things such as public service, government and teaching, while fewer “shiny, young minds” are choosing education and careers in finance and consulting.

It seems more people are changing direction with a course toward aimed at greater societal responsibility. I would hazard a guess that this is the case among some adults as well – downsized from corporate America and using the opportunity to embark on new path of social good.

It is interesting that within every challenge is an opportunity. It is an interesting question to ponder: What if many of the best and brightest minds emerged from the educational process, not seeking a six-figure income on Wall Street, but rather seeking to solve problems? What if we all focused a little more on the collective good versus individual advancement? What might that mean to our future?

From my perspective of addressing need on a daily basis, it is a thought I enjoy entertaining. What do you think?

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

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