Max wants to know what to do

Max has me stumped.  I promised him an answer months ago, but I’ve come up with nothing of value, other than perhaps citing Adam Smith on alienation and the division of labor.  I’ve felt guilty ever since and I suppose today is the day I fess up to having no good response at all.  Here is his initial email:

1) As a fairly recent graduate of an Ivy League institution (with a bachelor’s degree), most of my classmates seemed to have some idea that career and life path choice should be driven by a “passion” such that the right choice is self-evident to the chooser. What does this belief mean to you as a social scientist?…

For question two, then, you may sense where this is going…

2) Assume I have no such passion. Furthermore, I am a fairly well-qualified young generalist.* What paths should most appeal to me if my goal is to maximize doing “interesting” work? Doing meaningful work? Achieving social status? (Which of these goals should be primary?) Need I try to develop a passion before selecting a life path/career, and if so how do I do it?

All the best,

*Two years out with a BA from an Ivy League school. Top 10% of the class but not an academic rock star. A record of primarily reading/writing-intensive courses, as well as basic to intermediate economics, calculus, statistics, a proofs course. Time spent abroad in study and travel, though no foreign language fluency. Two years in the private sector with a decent amount of analytic and management experience, but without a big name behind it.

Max is hardly doomed.  Still, reading emails such as Max’s makes me more of a determinist.  He seems to have a meta-preference for more career passion, but no way of getting there.  I would tell Max to at least consider the world of consulting (and here is Robin Hanson on same).  I also would tell him that meta-preferences are overrated, as there is no reason per se to side with the meta-preference over the preference.  Passion isn’t a value in and of itself.

What other advice can you all give?


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