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What work will I do in the future?

by Matthew Chennells
Matthew Chennells
I am a Masters student in Economics at the University of Cape Town, with a poten
User is currently offline
on Jul 01 in Experience 3 Comments

In the next few years I will have to begin defining for myself what kind of job I want to do, what kind of work I want to be part of in my future. This decision, as for most, is a difficult one for me. My dream is to be able to do work that allows me to work for myself with clients that I am able to choose, and that allows me directly or indirectly to contribute positively to my community. Idealistic and naïve, maybe, but that’s why it’s a dream. I am privileged that I am able to have choices: I have no student loans to pay off, no debts and no dependents relying on me to support them. I am, essentially, free to choose what path I want to take. What drives me therefore is only my own purpose, which I have chosen to define as such: “What can I do to be the most useful to my community?”


I find it strange to map out a career for two reasons: the first is that I have no idea what I am going to be like in the future, what will be important to me and what I will want to do. Combined with the fact that it is far easier for people of my generation to switch professions and learn new ones, this makes it difficult to map out what path my life will take. Secondly, I have no idea what the world around me will be like in the future, what new industries will be created and what new jobs will be in demand. If the past two decades have been any sign of this, then the future is likely to involve radical change with radical new demands.


No humans like uncertainty, and this is why we seek out security, money, family, comfort, routine. And this is not necessarily wrong. But what it does mean is that we are pre-disposed to thinking along very narrow lines. When I look at future jobs, for example, the corporate world exerts a strong pull on me: good social standing, doing enjoyable work, getting paid well, building skills and networks, and providing a safety net for future plans. This is what we are pushed towards; the nature of the South African education system and the labour market mean that throughout our lives this is the ideal of what we aim to aspire towards. And again, depending on who you are, this is not a bad thing. But we are never taught a different story: unless couched in some kind of business strategy course, working in non-mainstream fields, starting your own business, thinking of new and independent policy platforms or innovating existing ones are not ideas that we embrace. Often we do not think of these and most of the time we are not even given the option to do so.


Many people complain about the binding nature of the corporate world and then go in themselves (Imight be one in the future). I have friends from university who claim to only want to work in big business for a few years in order to gain the required skills, networks and capital and then leave and start out on their own. A few years have passed now and I am waiting to see in the next while how many actually take the plunge. Because there is no doubt that it does tie you in. Rewards for hard work are delayed into future salaries years down the line; in order to realize your increases you are required to remain at the company and climb the ladder.


And if my goal is to gain skills and networks and then leave to start my own socially-beneficial organization or enterprise, isn’t that just a lazy way of saying that I I’m happy to take the easy road for now, putting off the hard decisions till later? There are many ways I could be much more useful in that time and still come out at the same place in the end. It is true that there is space in organisations to innovate and come up with your own means and ways of doing things, but this space often requires years of dedicated service before these ideas can be realized, and it is very difficult to create change in long-lived organisations.


I won’t dive into my own creation just for the sake of doing so. I understand that I need to have an idea to work on first and I understand that for some people working in such environments described above is what makes them happy. But for myself, I want to experiment and learn more about who I am and who the people I live with are. I want to make the social, political and economic order in which we live question itself and keep re-inventing. If I fail, all the better, provided I am able to learn from the experience.


My biggest fear is that if I choose to work in the current economy, in a comfortable corporate job, that I am buying into a system that I do not believe in. I don’t believe that I will get sucked in and change who I am (a friend spoke the truth when he told me I will only change if I choose to do so) but I am scared of the thought that I am profiting off a system that I regard as unfair. The free-market and competition in business has the ability to help and lift many through a combination of the ‘free-hand’ and some necessary regulation. But this requires a fair business environment and universal access to good information. I do not believe the South African economy is in this state; most industries, from bread and banking to retail and fast-food outlets, are dominated by a few very powerful organisations. This is not healthy competition; the power of the rich controls the lives of the poor, a situation that has been in place in our country for centuries. The wealthy have access to education and connections that the poor do not; as such our society is one of the most unequal in the world and this inequality is increasing. Working within this arrangement must therefore imply for myself that I am either working towards something greater at a later stage or am engaged in an attempt to try and create some type of reform from the inside.


We need people inside and out if we want to create a more fair and equitable agreement between our country’s citizens. I know there are plenty of people who are as committed as I am (if not more so) to this dream and who are working in these industries to do so (and likely more capable than I am at it). Even at the end of this piece, I am completely unsure what direction to take. A different friend asked me a version of the standard question I always get when I mention these ideas, but one that is important nonetheless: “How am I planning on putting bead on the table? Buying a house? If I have the life I have through the current system then why am I ungrateful, why should I not want the same for others?”


I don’t know, but I don’t think we think enough about what we can do or that we are brave enough to try what we are not sure is possible.

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About the author

Matthew Chennells

I am a Masters student in Economics at the University of Cape Town, with a potential research focus on human interaction under uncertainty, education and sustainable development. I spent two years after my undergraduate degree working, travelling and cycling through Europe, parts of the Middle-East and Africa and I love experiencing and learning about people and places that I encounter. Discovering how I can be most useful to my community in the future is what I am focused on at the moment.


Dan Harrison Thursday, 04 July 2013 · Edit Reply

An interesting read and an conundrum that I think many socially aware young people face.
Starting a social enterprise is a good half-way house - doing good and getting paid, at least in theory.
My advice would be to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves.
If you are a positive person, willing to work hard and are connecting with people in this field, many opportunities should arise.
After a while you will either be happy contributing to one/several of these organisations or be experienced and confident enough to see where you can see an opportunity to start something of your own. At which point, make sure you find someone who is as convinced and dedicated to your idea as you are - business are several-fold more likely to succeed with complimentary partners, than those who go it alone.
Good luck on your quest - it seems like you are starting on the right foot.

sally Saturday, 06 July 2013 · Edit Reply

Some wise words from Dan.

Matthew  Chennells
Matthew Chennells
I am a Masters student in Economics at the University of Cape Town, with a poten
User is currently offline
Matthew Chennells Monday, 15 July 2013 Reply

Dan: Thanks for that - I remember talking about a few of your experiences and the idea of buy in from others with an equal interest struck me strongly. I'd like to learn more about the idea of partnerships and how to make them succeed (thinking of coming to SA? :) The interesting thing is that I try and plan it all but I know that exactly as you say, things will arise when I don't expect them and it'll be my prerogative to make the best use of them when they do.

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