Why I'm Glad my Dream Job Didn't work out

For the past 5 years of my life, I’ve dreamed of having a job where I would get paid to think about interesting and important ideas and to try to get young people to be so passionate about those ideas that they would want to fight anyone who disagrees with them.

For the past 5 years, I hoped I was going to be a philosophy professor

I say “hoped” because I’ve always realized that philosophy professors have a sweet gig and a scandalous job description. I’ve always known that society was in the process of calling “BS” on anyone who wanted to make a living in the aforementioned way. The philosophy job market is terrible, and the humanities in general are having a rough time carving out some respect (and funding) in our STEM-focused society.¹

My hope was that I could be one of the last ones to trick the powers at be into paying me for something that many of them didn’t really seem to care about (viz., teaching people to think critically). This past summer, however, my hopes were dashed. The world wasn’t cooperating with my dream, so I decided to give it up.

Obviously, that was a sad time, and I’ve only recently stopped worrying that giving up on my dreams has set me up for an incredibly awkward mid-life crisis. (I would probably start listening to metal again at 40 and drive across the country going to concerts with 20-somethings.) Now that I’ve stopped worrying, I’ve had a little time to reflect on my career path change, and perhaps surprisingly, I now think that this may have been a good thing. Here’s why:

The world is a mess.² Lots of children starve, many women are forced into sexual slavery, and some men persecute those who are powerless, which often causes more starving and more slavery. This is nothing new.³

What is new, however, is that I’m becoming so dissatisfied with the world as it is that I’ve started to become willing to let the state of the world inform my career choices.4 I’ve started to ask, in other words, “In what career can I have the most positive impact on the world?”5

And whenever I ask that question, it seems clear that if I became a philosophy professor,6  I wouldn’t rank incredibly high on the I-make-the-world-more-awesome-via-my-career-meter.7

So if philosophy professor is out, what will I do? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure. I am, however, leaning heavily towards building a career as a mobile app developer. (I just got some internships as an Android Developer.) I also have some ideas for a tech startup.

If neither of these career choices seem to be directly related to making the world better, that’s probably because they aren’t. I plan on making a positive impact via a more indirect route: make a lot of money and then donate so much of it that Bill and Melinda Gates will feel like a couple of Scrooges.

Its likely that the startup gig will fail, but that’s okay. I can still make a pretty penny (I think) if I really push this software development career. I know that this is not as sexy as a philosophy professor position, but I think I’m pretty happy with aspiring to be a kind of philosophical hacker/entrepreneur.

Notes:

  1. I remember thinking to myself when I was deciding whether to pursue a career in the humanities that a materialistic society such as ours is going to have a hard time supporting or respecting a degree that does not cultivate the skills required to produce of a product.

  2. Perhaps one of the best things about my philosophical education is that its given me eyes to see the all of the various ways in which the world could be improved.

  3. For some of my readers this may sound familiar. Here’s the reason.

  4. I don’t think I ever would have been so dissatisfied with the world to leave philosophy on my own. I like it too much and I’m too self-interested to leave something so fun.

  5. Kuddos to 80,000 hours who, among many others, are partially responsible for this development.

  6. The conditional here is important. I’m not making the strong claim that philosophy professors in general don’t help the world that much. I’m only making the claim that if I am serious about helping the world, I might be better off doing something else.

  7. I’ve also always thought it would be cool to be a pastor or to mentor young people. Unfortunately, if I’m interested in making the world as good as I can, I don’t think I’ll have the privilege of working those jobs either.