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Better Advice for Students

Megan McArdle explains why following Steve Job’s advice just doesn’t make sense for most students:

I’m not sure that Jobs was trying to signal anything as much as he was offering very good advice . . . for Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs’, um, job, is to tell graduates how they could be Steve Jobs. And if they are to have any chance, they do indeed need to follow their bliss and take risks rather than settling down to a degree in accounting.

But not everyone has the potential to be Steve Jobs. Not just because most people are rather more ordinary, but because there are a limited number of jobs that are really fun, greatly admired, and fairly well remunerated, which is what most people want.

The problem is, the people who give these sorts of speeches are the outliers: the folks who have made a name for themselves in some very challenging, competitive, and high-status field. No one ever brings in the regional sales manager for a medical supplies firm to say, “Yeah, I didn’t get to be CEO. But I wake up happy most mornings, my kids are great, and my golf game gets better every year.”

That’s most people. But what does Steve Jobs have to tell them? I doubt he can imagine what that’s like, much less empathize, or come up with solid advice on finding a great hobby. So he tells them how to be Steve Jobs. Which sounds great, and is of very limited practical value, even to Stanford grads.

Everyone wants to encourage students to be their best. No one wants to say “Maybe you should consider a life ambition that’s something less than ‘as famous as Bill Gates and as successful as Warren Buffet.'”

Helping students be realistic isn’t as exciting as inspiring them…but may be a lot more useful.

Categories: Education
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