Saturday, January 18, 2014

. . . Career Choices

My son has reached the age -- 18 -- at which the question of what he wants to do career-wise is being asked more frequently and, it seems, with a greater expectation that he will have a meaningful answer.  

In short it seems that the adults asking the question are expecting that he already has a plan in place, and when it is his peers asking, the barely perceptible edge of near-panic that is present has the effect of adding an emotional layer to the question that somehow increases its weight.

I am not so old that I do not remember what it was like to be 18 and to be asked what it was you expected would be your career.  In fact I distinctly recall laying on my back on the floor of the tree-house that my brothers and I built ten years before, with the rare assistance of our father, who because of his career rarely had the sort of free time that is required to plan a tree-house, let alone build one.

How I imagine I looked while laying on the floor of my tree-house thinking about the future.
 Jump in the Way Back Machine...

As I lay on the floor staring up at the roof joists and the light fixture -- yeah, our tree-house was fully wired for both electricity and more - I should go ahead and digress and explain that...  Yeah, I think I will.

When the subject of  a tree-house was first raised by my next-older brother, who was ten at the time (I was eight, and my little brother was three so he did not really contribute to the conversation) had some definite ideas in terms of tree-house building.

There was a tree -- I think it was actually an oak tree -- which is rather unusual for the area around Byron Bay -- that had a thick set of branching trunk (a sort of "V" shape) right about twenty feet up, and that was where he thought that the tree-house should go.  Now the fact that our neighbor and my brother's arch-rival, Tim Rose, had a tree-house that was around fifteen feet up.  I am not saying that Tim's tree-house in any way influenced the choices that were made in terms of the planning and the construction of our tree-house...

In the interest of full-disclosure you should know that Tim's tree-house -- which was until ours was constructed the preferred gathering and hanging-out point for our group of peers -- was basically a platform constructed between two moderate-sized trees that was about twenty-feet across and ten-deep, with walls and a pitched roof that had been constructed as an after-thought -- originally Tim had planned to pitch an old military-surplus tent on the platform, creating a sort of tree-house that was very similar to the sleeping platforms that were commonly built in the rain forest nearby by students who were studying them...

It was, in other words, a very basic tree-house.

To put you in the picture, Byron is the eastern-most land point on the continent, and it is justifiably famous for its beaches and its sunrises; the hippies that live around the area (there are still a few small commune farms left over from the 60s!) and the rainforest nearby that still plays host to a number of outposts for Australian universities who study the creatures that live there as well as the plants and trees and whathaveyou.

Outside of the rain forest - which has a diverse collection of rain-foresty trees and plants - the types of trees that you are most likely to encounter range from gum trees to scrub pine and a smattering of European tree types that have been, over the course of a couple of hundred years, planted here and there by European settlers who desired a more European view out of the window of their Australian homes.

I named the tree on the right in this Australian Rain Forest "Mike"
While they are pretty rare you can still encounter the odd bunya pine but for the most part what you are going to find are king or bangalow palms and a wide selection of European trees because while it is easy enough to forget that Byron Bay is a mixed-use settlement, it is.  

Most of the native flora and fauna was eradicated early on and what wasn't was pretty neatly killed-off in the last hundred years in the interest of what they call "planned" environments (that is, yards of rolling green grass that could not survive here without their expensive irrigation and watering systems, and the regular application of chemicals intended to fend-off the native weeds that would make a pretty good meal of those outsider plants unless that effort to defend them is made, just saying.

You could ask a member of the Bundjalung tribe about the trees, and they will instantly start rattling off a long list of them because the indigenous people for this part of Australia are very in-touch with the land and what can be found in and on it.  But the names they will use will not be of much use to you since they are the names in their tongue, not yours.  

But then again you could ask a member of the Bundjalung tribe and get nothing but silence and a blank look -- these people are still irritated (I would say pissed off but to be honest I cannot remember ever actually seeing any of the aboriginal people around Byron show genuine anger to a white fella in all the time that I lived there) and you would think that they would be pretty angry, considering the shitty-end-of-the-stick that they were handed by the white settlers.

While I love Australia I have to admit that its people have not exactly been kind to the aboriginal tribes that were there long before a white man ever cast his gaze on the Gold Coast and said "You know what Jim?  That there coast will make a very nice holiday town, it will!"

The treatment of native-Australia has, in many ways, paralleled the treatment by Americans for the indigenous tribes that lived there long before the first white man looked at the forests and swamps of Manhattan and said "You know what Jim?  That there island will make a great place to build really tall buildings from which to sell things it will!" 

It doesn't help that the settlers either treated the locals like they were subhuman or worse, treated them like they were a commodity to be exploited.  Based on my personal experience with the native Australian I can say with confidence that they are not stupid, or beasts, and in fact are some of the most sensitive people I have ever met from a cultural point-of-view.

If you were to ask an aboriginal -- look, that term, aboriginal, is pretty offensive, but it is the word that white western culture has chosen to identify the diverse and distinct tribes of native Australians so I use it but I don't mean it in a bad way, just as a word intended to positively identify who it is I am speaking about -- teenager about what the career is that they plan to have, if they answered you at all, chances are the answer would be that they don't really know because it has not happened yet, right?

Back to our tree-house -- it was planned over a three-month period by my Dad and older brother, and it was built during the six-weeks of my Dad's annual holiday.  It is almost twenty feet off the ground and has a spiral staircase AND a rope-ladder (the former is the main access method, the latter the emergency egress method).

It is fully wired for electricity, with light fixtures (two of them) inside, and one outside to light the entrance.  It has three wall plugs so that we can plug in the odd thingy like a radio, tape player, or when I was in my early teens, my Commodore C=64 and its monitor.

The tree-house has a phone -- though not one that is connected to the telephone network, rather it is a phone that my Dad found in a resale shop from the 1920's that has a speaking horn on it and a  handset that you hold to your ear -- and a crank that you wind in order to cause the bell on the identical device that is installed in the pantry closet in our kitchen to ring.  While that was not as you might say high-tech, it was still pretty cool for a tree-house.

So I was laying on my back looking up at the joists and thinking about what it was that I was to do with my life.  This was the evening before the day I was to leave for Sydney and begin my university degree program, and I honestly had no idea whatsoever what I would end up using that degree for -- that was assuming that I ended up seeking a career inside the scope of that degree program, which was engineering.

So when my son is asked that question, I cannot help but remember how uncertain I was when I was in his shoes, and having the benefit of hindsight I cannot help but note that very few (if any) of my mates who went to uni ended up with careers that had even the remotest connection to the subject that they studied for their degree program.

I can only presume that there is some sort of logic to the whole degree-program approach to higher education, though even now I am unable to see it.

Two people having a meaningful conversation about the future and how education really relates to reality...
While the argument can easily be made that this does not really apply, to this day the most expressively accurate quote that I can think of when the question of young people and careers is raised in this conversation between Sloan (Mia Sara) and Cameron (Alan Ruck) about the future:

Cameron: I don't know what I'm gonna do.

Sloane: College.

Cameron: Yeah, but to do what?

Sloane: What are you interested in?

Cameron: Nothing.

Sloane: Me neither!

Cameron: (yelled at Ferris, who's singing on the parade float) "YOU'RE CRAZY!"

Sloane: What do you think Ferris is gonna do?

Cameron: He's gonna be a fry cook on Venus! 
And there you have it - the perfect example of how what you study in University or College will have on what you end up doing for a career after you leave the relatively safe and protective environment of higher-education and go to live in the real world.
What It Is...
The answer to that question changes over time.  If you had asked my son what it was that he wanted to be a year ago, he would have instantly answered that he wanted to be an FBI Agent.  Since then though, he has expanded his interests, so the answer has been modified.

Now he says he would like to be an FBI Agent, but if he cannot be an FBI Agent, perhaps he would enjoy being an Automotive Journalism...

Between you and I, the choice of Automotive Journalism strikes me as an excellent career choice.  For one thing, there will not be some crazed automotive engineer on the other side of the office door cranked up on Crystal and Heroin looking to pop-a-cap into him when he appears to interview them, and perhaps even more significant, I cannot imagine a more interesting time for a young fella to be an Automotive Journalist.

The oil-based auto industry is about to wind down, and by the time my son hits middle-age I fully expect that the world of auto-making will center around a wide range of alternative fuel sources, primarily hydrogen and electric-cell based power sources.

With the fascination that man has for speed and style, that means that the design and the performance of cars in the future will be as important then as they are now, and that should mean that he will have all sorts of interesting things to write about.

Plus I have to admit that having my son choose a career that is related to the one I ended up choosing is rather flattering.

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