The unemployment rate has now found a solid place within the mundane and extended anxiety of this year. Job losses, companies filing for bankruptcy, fewer vacancies and decreasing GDP all merge into one cluster of nervousness that we collectively go through in (semi)isolation. Yet even in this isolation, the power of online networking still remains relevant, at least for those of us looking for a job.
I have started checking the online groups and networks I have been part of for a long time. I have even gone on Bumble Bizz (yes, it’s a thing) to give networking another shot. What was supposed to be a job search activity brought me face-to-face with the predicament so many young people have been experiencing, namely: How to afford to make the world better? The countless swipes I have made, the big number of “I’m looking for a job” posts I’ve seen have primarily been pointing to a longing for meaningful work, search for community-based jobs, work that directly contributes to the development of the world. This is not an iconoclastic tantrum by another Millennial job seeker trying to derive meaning solely through work, but rather an observation of the normalized framework that we have positioned the concept of work in. A framework that sees working for non-profit collective goals — yet getting a paycheck for it — a privilege, because “so many people want to do it”. A framework that is so oblivious to the potential of young people in making a meaningful non-profit contribution.
You can volunteer if you want to help. You can donate. You can sign a petition. All these are very much needed and valid ways of making a change and usually are (rightfully) praised. Yet it is the moment we want to transfer this behavior into a long-term occupation that not only do we face a distinctive shortage of opportunities but are almost guilt tripped into looking for jobs “that can actually offer money”. So much can still be improved around us, so much human pain can be eliminated, so much help can be offered to those still waiting to hold gain of their basic rights. And I look around and see all the work that can be done, all the people that are available and yearning to do this work, yet so few bridges connecting these two.
A Manichean comparison is not productive; for-profit work undeniably contributes to the betterment of the society too. However, it strikes me how ignorant the discourse of profitability can turn. Not only do we fail to see the advancement of social issues a very direct profit to our society and welfare, but we consciously want to get rid of the abundance of goodwill young people manifest, by our complacency, by refusing to radically reinvent and design a work infrastructure that enables us to use jobs as a resource to reach social goals. I keep hearing “you probably can’t afford to work in a not-for-profit industry”, but one thing the recent turbulence showed is that what we cannot afford is not to rethink our perception of work and meaning, and more importantly, our perception of collective well-being.