I wish we lived in a society that made it easier for people to switch between different careers throughout our lives, rather than feeling the social pressure or economic necessity to find a steady career in a single field or industry because of the financial risks and time commitment associated with that kind of transition. We participate in a world where our basic needs are not assured or guaranteed, and because of this economic uncertainty, we are forced into a situation where we seek employment to ensure our own — and our family’s basic survival, or at least attempt to do so. Therefore, the sooner that a person can find consistent employment in a manner that will satisfy their expectations for their own living standards, the sooner they are able to feel more secure about their own personal wellbeing.
The high cost of post-secondary education, both in terms of financial and time commitments, are significant barriers that make many occupations inaccessible to many people from the outset. This is also the case for people who have received an education or training in a given industry, but who wish to transition into a different field for whatever reason that may be. This desire for change could be the result of personal preference — maybe a certain career seemed ideal at one time but is no longer the right fit, or it could be driven economic boom and bust cycles, or it could be the result of global crises such as the covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency, which have forced us to think differently about how we live on our planet. Whatever the reason for change may be, I wish that it were easier for people from all walks of life — not just those with the privilege of time and money, to pivot and try something new without putting their wellbeing at stake because of the risks associated with change.
We only get one shot at life, and our current society has many barriers that make it difficult to truly flourish as individuals and to fully enjoy the brief time we are given. It saddens me to think that many people out there are working in jobs that they might hate solely for the economic security of a consistent paycheque, when it doesn’t have to be this way — it’s just the world we currently find ourselves forced to participate in. This difficulty to shift careers likely keeps people in exploitative and/or abusive working environments because the risks associated with leaving a toxic work environment are viewed as potentially greater than remaining in an abusive working relationship. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
I have been thinking about this issue lately, specifically as it relates to the climate crisis and the need for a just transition. There are so many workers around the world right now who have found consistent employment in industries which have higher associated greenhouse gas emissions such as animal agriculture, fossil fuels, timber logging, and aviation — and the future livability of our planet depends on helping these people find meaningful employment in “greener” industries without compromising their quality of life. If our society cannot provide an easy and inexpensive way for these workers to pivot to different careers then they will be much less likely to abandon their current jobs out of fear for their own wellbeing and the security of their families. This is one of the main reasons why I argue that our society needs to have robust social programs such as guaranteed (or universal) basic income as well as free post-secondary education, especially in the face of the climate emergency. As our environmental and economic realities shift, we will need to provide the means to transition millions of people into new forms of employment in regenerative and sustainable industries, and this kind of mass mobilization will require a societal safety net to ensure that working people are not left behind or suffer.
Beyond the need for a just transition, I just feel like people should have the freedom and the means to change the direction of their lives if and when they feel the need to do so — life is too short not to. Our interests, desires, and commitments change constantly over the course of our lives, and I wish it were easier for us to change our careers just as frequently. What if five years from now I decide that I want to start working in sustainable agriculture and work on a small farm? Yes, I recognize there isn’t any physical barrier that is preventing me from making this lifestyle switch, but what if I had a family to support? How could I make this transition and not risk the lives of others for who I am partly responsible for? A universal basic income as well as publicly funded retraining programs would make this type of switch easier for everybody.
Stronger social programs are just one way we could tackle this issue. Another option would be to abandon the exploitative system that causes this issue in the first place — capitalism, and embrace democratic socialism instead. Capitalism is the root cause of our current economic reality which prevents us from following our interests and desires because the majority of the world are forced into a system of wage labour in order to support themselves and their families. Under capitalism, we can never be truly free since our lives serve only the generation of profits. We are never allowed to own the question of what we should do with our time? — since that question has already been decided for us. We exist purely for the sake of generating profit, and because we spend the majority of our lives working, we have very little free time to pursue the commitments that we find meaningful as ends in themselves. Under capitalism, we only produce what is profitable for the owners of capital, whereas under democratic socialism we would be enabled to produce whatever will satisfy the needs of our society in a responsible, sustainable manner. Democratic socialism would give us more free time to pursue our own interests, enabling ourselves to flourish as social individuals, and truly reclaim agency over our finite lives.