I’m an Old Fart

I see a general reluctance among students to look at anything beyond the very immediate. It’s such a strange way of thinking about things.

I ask students who are graduating this semester what they will do after graduation, and they look at me like I’m crazy. “I have no idea,” they say in the same tone of voice as if I asked them what they’d do if aliens from another galaxy disembarked in front of them. And it’s clear that they have honestly not given it a thought. I guess this is the mind-frame needed to succeed in a fluid world, so good for them. But for me, with my 5 and 10 year career plans, this is insanity.


21 thoughts on “I’m an Old Fart”

  1. But for me, with my 5 and 10 year career plans, this is insanity.
    “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and waiting five years for a 401(k) to vest felt like questions from another era to me a decade ago. It could’ve been my age or temperament or the job I held at the time but I could not bank on plans staying on one groove for decades. Of course, most traditional students who graduate on time aren’t 25 yet, the age at which the prefrontal cortex is fully formed.


  2. I have the suspicion that students of 20+ years ago gave the same answers. Only their professors were not tempted to interpret that in such a positive light to force into the latest theory of social transformation. 🙂

    Also, I have another possible explanation. After graduation, most students will begin searching for their first full time job in their field. Some may want to move near their relatives, others – into the city of their choice and try their luck there. They do not know whether they’ll find a job in place X, or at all. They do not know what kind of job will be accessible to them. So, if “what they will do after graduation” is interpreted as “where and in which job you’ll work,” they honestly have no idea.

    Have you asked where they’ll try searching for a job at first?


    1. Even 5 years ago, this would be unthinkable.

      I started teaching college in North America in 2002, which is not 20 years ago but getting closer. And I’ve never seen anything like this attitude.


  3. Now thought about a game of “Give 10 explanations to the students’ reactions”:

    Wonderful! They exhibit “the mind-frame needed to succeed in a fluid world” (Clarissa’s optimism and the theory of fluidity go together nicely here)
    Horrible! The kids in those days are so spoiled that even being from poorer families doesn’t push them to make a minimum effort. Instead, they blow their chances – if not before graduation, then immediately after it. (“an Old Fart” who votes Conservative and thinks American safety net is way too generous)
    Horrible! The resurging predatory capitalism leaves both working and (formerly) middle classes without hope. The subject of “what they will do after graduation” provokes such anxiety that it’s pushed out of mind for as long as possible. However, it won’t help the poor youngsters to escape lumpenization unless we – the 99% –
    unite to fight for our rights. (A Marxist meets the theory of fluidity)
    Hmm… May be, they are unsure, and do not want to describe their private lives and wildest dreams to a professor. A bit like automatically answering “I am fine, thank you” to “how are you?” (Somebody trying to be realistically optimistic)


  4. I’m glad I’m not alone in this. I tried to think of what I want to do, but after years of thinking all I know for sure is I don’t want to be a waiter anymore. I have a vague interest in Our Ohio Renewal now that they’re forming, but I don’t know that they’d want me (my major is not really relevant to their work, tbh.) In many ways I’m not suited to fluidity, but other times I can see the fluid mindset in myself (although I didn’t have a term for it originally.)


  5. I see a general reluctance among students to look at anything beyond the very immediate.

    To be honest, I made decisions based on assumptions which are no longer true.
    For example, I grew up with someone who installed a landline in the toilet and I decided I never wanted to be so responsible. A political figure had a laudatory biography that opens ten years ago with him being so busy that he answers a cell phone while in transit, pulls over and then continues talking while going to the bathroom. Now smartphones are ubiquitous and I’ve had low paying bosses who wanted me to have smartphones so they could message me 24-7. If career offices are anything like they are at my current institution or my undergraduate one, they aren’t really equipped either for any of this.


  6. One theory is that if you fail to equip yourself with technology skills in college, you have no future. Colorectal cancer is an emerging reality among 20-35-year-olds who think they’re invincible. So, perhaps they don’t think about a future because they don’t believe they will have one.

    Another theory is the “optimism bias.” They’ve bought the cool-aid from parents that nothing bad can happen to them. Unfortunately, that is a real problem.

    Of course, the Woodstock generation wasn’t focused on the future, either. But that was a different time and a different sent of challenges. Many of those became vulture capitalists or lawyers.


    1. Woodstock generation? My parents were born in the 1920s. They were completely convinced that you should not be career oriented and a corporate job would just appear for you somehow. Or at least, that was what they told me — I think they thought they didn’t need to be serious since I’d find a corporate job in the form of a corporate husband. But it was really sinful, from their point of view, to be career oriented. Of course, they were working at minimum wage after my father graduated from college and my mother dropped out, and not thinking of the future at all, and his aunt basically forced him into graduate school, she was so worried about their future. And maybe they were unusual, sullen rebels or something. But they were so convinced you shouldn’t plan for the future, my brother and I are both under-achievers even though it is not in our nature.


    2. Colorectal cancer is an emerging reality among 20-35-year-olds who think they’re invincible.

      Blowing smoke up their own asses, eh?

      Sorry for the stupid pun, I couldn’t help myself.

      Now in all seriousness, what does colorectal cancer in particular have to do with feeling invincible? (and not some other random ailment)


  7. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to graduate school. I had intended to major in forestry/environmental science, which would have given me a clearer career path, and I had concrete ideas of my own about it. But my parents wanted me to major in art or music. Since I hadn’t the art or music background to get into those departments, I had to major in their second choice, humanities, and my choice within that, languages. Never having done something of my own I didn’t have the confidence to go out and work as a receptionist or something, so I was at loose ends and entered the Ph.D. program.


    1. \ my brother and I are both under-achievers

      \ I didn’t have the confidence to go out and work as a receptionist or something, so I … entered the Ph.D. program.

      It sounds completely … I don’t have words. Weird? No. Some other word.

      How can somebody with a PhD present oneself as an under-achiever? I think sometimes people see themselves as their family tells them to, without any connection to reality.

      As for the second quote, to me it sounds like “I didn’t have confidence to wash floors at the local Walmart, so I got a degree in computer science and became the second Bill Gates.”

      As if being “a receptionist or something” would’ve been the better choice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right, I know, it is very neurotic. But I was convinced I could not make it at anything not based in school. I had always had positive responses from teachers. But had been told I would not make it at anything else. Part of my parents’ strategy was telling me everyone secretly hated me and talked to them in private about it. So I was uncomfortable with my friends, for instance, since my parents had told me that they were secretly my enemies and were only being nice to me for the sake of my parents. But I knew that this was not what the teachers thought.


        1. \ But I was convinced I could not make it at anything not based in school.

          Who can? People like Bill Gates are an exception rather than a rule for college dropouts.

          Clarissa has been writing for ages about the importance of education, both formal (a college degree) and continued through one’s working life.

          Most people w/o education are going to become jobless or at fake jobs; the process is going on right now.


          1. Right, but I mean, in the meantime. For instance: other friends got random/interim jobs after college, while deciding what to do. Supported themselves, looked around, explored live, recovered from intense work of college (I went to a university where you really couldn’t make good grades if you did not really study — planning ahead takes time and research, and that would mean having grades sink enough to cut you out of the running for the best graduate and professional schools, so many thought it best to study now, worry about the future later).

            So I got a great GPA and GRE score. But in my case, I didn’t think I’d be accepted anywhere except in an academic program, so I felt I had to continue. And I also liked school, was an intellectual. And got a lot out of the Ph.D. program. Still and at the same time, I didn’t feel I had a choice. I thought about this a lot at the time: it was probably what I would have chosen anyway, yet it was what I had to do, and those two strands needed to get untangled, I thought.


  8. I used to plan way far ahead. But things didn’t work out well at all, and having a plan like that actually contributed a lot to my depression. So I’ve stopped making much in the way of plans beyond a year or so. Sure, I’ll have a general idea of what might happen in that sort of time frame. But the best of my plans span a few weeks to months.


  9. I think part of it is that students now work a lot already, so they will graduate and stay in current job until they figure something out. In our case, graduation was like being pushed off a cliff–you had to have a plan because you weren’t already working full time or close to full time.


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