There is a story I've heard time and time again: It's about a millennial employee who gets a job in tech, struggles to find meaning in that job despite the beanbag chairs and the unlimited PTO, decides to get another job in tech--this one with the hope of more meaning, more passion. Press repeat.
I think because we spend so much time in our careers, we hope they will somehow soothe our existential angst. Instead, we find them lacking the sort of substance they promise us, and, in an attempt to find it, we job hop, searching for meaning in our careers the way ascetics do in caves. Perhaps now I will be fulfilled, we think. Perhaps now I will. Whether or not our careers are our best source of fulfillment is one thing, but I have a theory that some industries are more conducive toward it than others. I'm garnering this theory from the fact that I hear this story play out so often in tech, and almost never in heavy industry.
Before I lose you at the word industry, consider this: Despite the fact that tech jobs are notorious for their generous vacation policies and in-house masseuses, employees in that field change jobs every two years on average. Industrial work, however, requires the occasional 80-hour workweek and various holidays spent on call, yet employees stick around for the duration of their careers.
I have a theory about why that is.
I CAN'T GET NO SATISFACTION
Technology is ethereal the way that God is. You might have a feeling that something's going on behind the scenes, but you can't see it, or touch it. Similarly, the "product" sold by most tech companies is immaterial. You might be able to use it on a phone or computer, it might make work more convenient, or life a little easier, but for the most part, it only physically exists on a server out in the ether.
That's exactly the sort of thing that could spur on an existential crisis. "Those of us who sit in an office often feel a lack of connection to the material world, a sense of loss, and find it difficult to say exactly what we do all day," says Matthew Crawford in his book, Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value of Work.
I have to admit I have a bit of an inside connection here. I am an amateur anthropologist, working among the Silicon Slopes and living among the working class. I have friends who work in tech and change jobs every two years and family members who have worked in mines for decades. My subjects may be anecdotal, but I can tell you who's happier.
When we can see the work we've done, when we can actually feel the heat of a blast furnace singing the hairs off our skin, we are more invested in what we're...