Employable, not Viable

Employable, not Viable

This neat little phrase struck me the other day when I was talking to a representative of a leading American Business School. It seemed to sum up the output of many universities and business schools and I found that sad. Life is about viability, of which employability is a part, albeit an important one. But equipping your children with employability only will not enable them to achieve fulfilled lives. And it is partly through them that your own life is fulfilled.

My five children, eleven grandchildren, eight step-grandchildren and three great grandchildren compel me to declare an interest. From when my own children were little I guessed that they would benefit most from independence. If they were in trouble and wanted me I would always go to them and have done so on a few, happily very few, occasions. I love them all the more for their independence. They are fine, successful and decent human beings. For that I am forever grateful. They are viable.

Some are employable; some independent and entrepreneurial enough that they employ others. What would I try to differently if I were helping to bring them up in the Internet Age?

First, I would encourage them to get two degrees, keeping humanities and literature – perhaps media generally – as an important element. Being able to enjoy life to the full requires appreciation of our world and the ability to communicate with other people.

Second, I would encourage them to be fully tech-savvy without becoming total geeks. Technology has a way of driving progress but sometimes in the wrong direction. A hammer is a useful tool but just because you have invented it is not a reason for using it to conduct delicate surgical operations. The balance required to understand technology but remain objective about its value and appropriateness is a vital and undertaught skill today.

Third, I would encourage each of them to appreciate at least one of the arts as a relief from the work they are going to do. This is because I am certain that our thinking improves when we switch our mind away from the normally quite proper work focus we must have much of the time. It is while listening to the great symphonies and seeing the best theatre that I get the inspiration and thinking stimulus for the Daily Paradox – and, indeed, for all my work.

Art does more for you than shine the mind for business. It tells you that whatever it is and wherever it’s found there is such a thing as a soul and you have one. It is not, perhaps, the soul you were taught to believe when young and it is certainly not presided over by some draconian being bent on extracting your last ounce of naughtiness. It is, rather, a side to you that makes you human. That is the privilege of who we are – not superior, just gifted.

Fourth, I would say that having no beliefs beyond the provable was permissible but sad. Finding your own beliefs is to open a treasure trove nobody can give you. Since they are beliefs they must remain matters of doubt. That doesn’t stop them being invaluable.

Finally, I would tell them that my years working as a mentor have shown me that the happiest people in the world devote over 60% of their time to others – that is, people normally beyond their family. These are the people I see being genuinely contented and fulfilled. They retain their personalities with all the quirks and inconsistencies that implies. Their gift of time to others brings with it a reward they didn’t expect and cannot quite explain.

May those you mentor make you as fulfilled as it is possible to be.

No other reward equals it.