The Irony Of Employability.

During an interview by the undergraduate admissions office at the Cornell Hotel School in 1991, I happened to mention that I speak a few languages. “Ohh…” breathed the Dean. “That’s sooo marketable.” At 17 years old, I hadn’t realized I was “marketable,” but there you have it.

As it turned out, one of the big things I learned from my most excellent education was that, in fact, I didn’t want to be in the hospitality industry. After graduation, I went on to have a career that can be described at best as eclectic, at worst as frustratingly vague. I never have a simple answer to the simple question, “So what do you do?”
Over time, I figured out a few things about myself. I’m not a particularly good employee, for example. I don’t respond well to authority or monotony. And — this is the big one — I am far, far better at work I am passionate about than I am at work I don’t enjoy.

Without exaggeration, I am likely to be twice as productive and effective working on something that excites me. If I am engaged and intrigued and feeling that I’m making a contribution, I will get there early, stay late, work weekends, and dream about my projects. What’s more, I will do all this with no sense of resentment — as long as it is for something I am passionate about.

It sounds obvious, and potentially universal, but it bears mentioning, especially in light of a pattern I’ve noticed: that many of the educational institutions I engage with are still talking about employability as if it were the only goal worth striving for.

There are a number of problems with making employability the goal of education. It immediately constrains your perception of what is possible. It diminishes the value of exploration and passion. And it subordinates the way you value yourself to the way others value you.

A focus on employability creates a culture of fear. You choose not what your heart tells you, not what you excel at, or the highest expression of your humanity, but what is statistically more likely to give you an OK paycheck.

Believe me, I can appreciate that people need jobs. We need to fund our homes and our food and our iPhones. But the irony is this: the most employable person in the world is the person who is amazing at what she does, and the reason this person is amazing is because she’s passionate about it, driven by it, moved to invest effort in it far beyond what the career counselor told her was necessary.

And because this person is motivated intrinsically and driven by joy, she is not so easily bought; this, coupled with her skills, can also mean she commands a higher price.

Thanks to the Internet and a democratization of social structures, the tools for investing in our passions are readily at hand, no matter what it is you want to get better at. We live in a world in which the only thing limiting us is our own drive to learn more.

So do not ask whether your activities make you employable. Ask whether they motivate you from within or from without. And if the answer is still “from without,” keep searching.

By Kaila Colbin
Kaila Colbin is a serial entrepreneur who is fascinated by all things Web and human.
Courtesy of MediaPost

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