I was at the gym the last night and I overheard a conversation between a yong man who was 26 years old and a young woman who was 24 years old. The conversation was about how this man was doing a PhD in some subject but didn't even know if he would use it in his career. This is noteworthy and worth a blog post of its own, such a huge investment of time and money into education without a plan for how to use it is completely absurd. The only reason people don't talk about this more is that this absurd situation is common and has thus been normalized.
People doing a PhD because they don't know what to do with their lives is an entirely tragic situation. If you've been at university for a number of years doing an undergraduate degree you should be thinking about what you want to use the degree for. If you get to the end of a degree and you still somehow don't know what to use your degree for you have massively fucked up. Doubling down on this mistake and doing a PhD because you don't know what to do is even more of a fuck up. When you are younger you won't have the reference point to know how valuable those younger years were, but if you gain any sort of insight from your life experiences you'll see that those years are some of the most undervalued years people have in the current Western societal zeitgeist.
They then went on to talk about how they didn't really have any plans for the future but that it didn't matter because they were in their 20's and "in your 20s you have all the time in the world to figure out what you want to do". Seeing that she also had no life plan or direction as well made me sorely tempted to interject into this conversation because their impressions couldn't be further from the truth. It was obvious that deep down they both knew something wasn't right but instead of tackling this discomfort they engaged in an exchange of mutual delusion. I decided to not say anything because I don't personally know these people, but I knew exactly what I was seeing here. The energetics of this conversation were terrible, the mutual delusion was palpable and the cognitive dissonance was like a huge iceberg just below the surface.
Unfortunately an idea that's becoming more common in the West, especially amongst wealthier demographics, is that people think they have all the time in the world to figure out what to do with their lives. I hate to break it to you but you don't have all the time in the world. It may seem like this in your 20s, especially if you have financial comfort, but if you waste your 20s being aimless it sets your entire life trajectory up for complete failure. Its exceedingly costly to not sort your life out, a cost that only people with wealth can afford to pay. Part of why people don't comment more harshly on this is because people give youth an extreme amount of leeway for bad choices because of their age. When people are young you hear phrases like "oh they are still figuring things out", but the leniency goes away fast as you get older so you might as well get prepared now.
In the past by the age of 26 men had a valuable skill that they could offer to the world to get employment and women would have had the chance to start a family. Having little to show for yourself and no direction for the future at 26 was highly aberrant behavior at just about any time in the past. Just because the current culture and previous economy1 gave you the ability to not have any life direction when you were younger doesn't mean its a good idea to fall into this pattern. Doing a postgraduate course just for the sake of it is an entirely terrible thing to do if you want to get anywhere in life. If you have a clear purpose and direction for a postgraduate degree by all means do it, but you need to know exactly why because the opportunity cost of the time is so astronomically high (let alone the financial cost) even if you are too young to emotionally recognize the cost of that time.
I could write more about this topic, but I have far more important things to do with my time. Ironically in my 20s I would have had more time to write on it but not the maturity and life experience needed to write anything of substance on the topic.
A massive recession has already started and looks overwhelmingly likely to deepen in the next year, so aimlessly racking up debt and being unproductive is going to start to get a whole lot more painful compared to before. Economic decline is going to put people who did pointless degrees at an even bigger disadvantage. ↩