After reading a great post on the soul crushing aspects of 9-5 McJobs over at Monevator, I started writing a response… and as it often happens, the response got overly long and I figured I’d turn it into a blog post instead.

Speaking of cakes(*), I think that’s actually part of the problem/resentment with employment/careers. Some of us (possibly the hardest working and most idealistic) think we were promised far more than we got and suffered from careerism. Others were perhaps more realistic in their assessment and just resigned to work to pay the bills. Yet others, got more than they thought they would get or they thought they’d deserve based on their own understanding of their performance yet they learned to play the game. Maybe those are the one’s who enjoy their careers the most. Who knows?

I have a theory that perhaps much fewer people are really meant to go to school to become employed than are presently doing it under the one-size-fits-all mentality that’s so prevalent in our mass production society.

(*) The cake is a lie is an internet meme from a game much like All your base are belong to us. I never played the game myself, but I get the point. Listen to the end game song from the game. It’s a wonderful and sad song. One of the comments on youtube said he’d want it played at his funeral. I might just add that idea to my will.

Bill Gates and other college dropouts figured this out pretty fast, whereas others, like me, were much slower to figure it out. Gates was and is smart in the right way… I was smart in the wrong way and never really realized that I was getting deeper and deeper into a career situation that did not really fit me well until way after collecting all my degrees.

One thing I did appreciate and something which is frequently misunderstood by a lot of people, maybe particularly by lawyers and MBAs, is that I never got my degree to get a job. I got my degree because the work was interesting and because it was challenging(*). The degree was the end. It was not the means to the end. In that regard, the actual piece of paper was just incidental. The real achievement was the completion of the research project. I ran that project like it was my own; built it from scratch pretty much; and solved some problem that was interesting to about five people in the world, myself included, that had never been solved before. Then the university gave me a diploma. Summa cum laude, too. Not that many of those. By the way, I keep my diploma in a box with the rest of my files. I understand that Richard Feynman (third most famous physicist after Einstein and Hawking) used his Nobel Prize trophy as a fruit bowl. Scientists just think differently about these things than lawyers and MBAs or even engineers.

(*) I actually like studying. I realize that makes me a 1 in 10 minority (based on observations of students and conversations with teachers and professors.)

Now being somewhat of a public figure (at least on the internet), I frequently come across people who apparently drank the kool-aid. Yet, I can never really figure out if they really mean it when they say their life becomes meaningful when they, as monevator puts it “facilitate third space encounters for beverage based minibreak clients” … you know, did they really buy into that whole line about “assistant renovation manager in charge of expedited food services” (garbage man and burger flipper). I can’t tell how many are just navigating along the massive groupthink and how many are choosing deliberately. I mean, we have psychological experiments like the Asch experiment (Watch the video in the link!) showing that more than 2/3s of normal people are willing to agree that an obviously shorter line is actually the longer one if the group insists it is. We have regular Germans going along with a lunatic like Hitler (uh oh, the Hitler argument on the internet) and not because they are Germans, but because they are humans. (I’m not sure that came out right, but you know what I mean!) How many people are regurgitating career advice or even personal finance advice because … well, all they ever do is regurgitate. How many actually think rationally and are capable of disagreeing when they are surrounded by people who make opposite claims?

Well, the answer is … about 1/3.

(And that’s just when considering a small group of people who don’t know each other. I can easily imagine that the percentage would drop even more if the group was larger and if the question was more complex than identifying the longer of two lines.)

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Originally posted 2010-06-30 00:31:17.