Where Are You?


This is the 50th in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.

Your third grade teacher said you had a problem with math.
You gave up on math, and you forever eliminated two-thirds of the jobs available in this world.
Somebody decided the Navy needed a cook.
After your hitch, you opened a restaurant.
Mother was a nurse.
Now you are.
Why are you where you are?
Because you want to be there?
Think about it.
Maybe you ought to be somewhere else.
Maybe it’s not too late to figure out where, and how to get there.

I’ve often wondered how many people actually give much thought to the jobs/careers that they have.

My sense is that many people just take any job that comes along because they need a job.

As a result, it’s no surprise that the majority of Americans aren’t happy with their job. According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, which surveyed more than 150,000 full- and part-time workers during 2012, just 30 percent of employees are engaged and inspired at work.

Ken Robinson made this point in his classic 2006 TED talk about education and creativity:

“So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Is that right? Don’t do music, you’re not going to be a musician; don’t do art, you won’t be an artist. Benign advice — now, profoundly mistaken. The whole world is engulfed in a revolution.”

Seth Godin makes a similar argument in The Icarus Deception, the best nonfiction book I’ve read in the past 30 years:

The old rules: Play it safe. Stay in your comfort zone. Find an institution, a job, a set of rules to stick to. Keep your head down. Don’t fly too close to the sun. The new truth: It’s better to be sorry than safe. You need to fly higher than ever.

I also like to get my students thinking about these kinds of issues, and it’s one of the reasons why I show them the Ken Robinson talk, encourage them to read The Icarus Deception, and have them complete a Vision Board.

I know that many of my students are genuinely excited about becoming accountants and financiers and brand managers, all fine jobs to aspire to. But I also think that there are some students who have little interest in business, and would rather be pursuing something else. But they choose the safe route of business because that’s where the jobs are when they graduate, and perhaps their parents strongly encouraged them to pursue business.

I think I must have had a teacher early on tell me that I was not good at art (I’m sure it was kind of obvious). As a result I always wanted to be the first one done an art project in school, and could not have cared less about the quality. According to Ken Robinson, that advice could have been profoundly mistaken.

I wonder if my Mom saved any of my grade school drawings,  because given what passes for art these days, some of them could have made their way onto the walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

(By the way, one of the drawings at the top of this post was done by a child, the other by a professional artist. Can you guess which is which?)


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