Monbiot tells us: ‘Choose Life’

George Monbiot is an environmental and political journalist, who writes for The Guardian. My values and beliefs align closely to his, although he is more radical than I am.

He has some careers advice on his blog, which warns me (and you):

Even intelligent, purposeful people almost immediately lose their way in such [corporate/institutional] worlds. They become so busy meeting the needs of their employers and surviving in the hostile world into which they have been thrust that they have no time or energy left to develop the career path they really wanted to follow. And you have to develop it: it simply will not happen by itself. The idea, so often voiced by new recruits who are uncomfortable with the choice they have made, that they can reform the institution they join from within, so that it reflects their own beliefs and moral codes, is simply laughable. For all the recent guff about “corporate social responsibility”, corporations respond to the market and to the demands of their shareholders, not to the consciences of their employees. Even the chief executive can make a difference only at the margins: the moment her conscience interferes with the non-negotiable purpose of her company – turning a profit and boosting the value of its shares – she’s out.

I had a session with the careers advisor this morning. Both he and I agreed that becoming a chartered engineer should be my key priority. However, Monbiot says, “…be wary of following the careers advice your college gives you.”

Nor does this mean that you shouldn’t take “work experience” in the institutions whose worldview you do not accept if it’s available, and where there are essential skills you feel you can learn at their expense. But you must retain absolute clarity about the limits of this exercise, and you must leave the moment you’ve learnt what you need to learn (usually after just a few months) and the firm starts taking more from you than you are taking from it. How many times have I heard students about to start work for a corporation claim that they will spend just two or three years earning the money they need, then leave and pursue the career of their choice? How many times have I caught up with those people several years later, to discover that they have acquired a lifestyle, a car and a mortgage to match their salary, and that their initial ideals have faded to the haziest of memories, which they now dismiss as a post-adolescent fantasy? How many times have I watched free people give up their freedom?

Oh dear.


  1. vera says:

    Well, I guess it all depends on how badly you want a car, kids, a place to live, financial security…

    Becoming a chartered engineer probably isn’t a bad move, Joan, if you’re going to get those first, second and third homes, those two cars, and support two kids (as per your life plan).

    Especially if you’re to move into your first home this year…

  2. joanium says:

    Haha… you remember that post from all those years ago?

    You know, I wouldn’t mind following that plan. It’s still attractive… and as unrealistic as ever (especially the Kid 1 + PhD part).

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