A guided tour of the workplace for the class of '88

A MENTION in passing that the average age of lobbyists for the elderly is only 41 should have come as no surprise. But it did - a brute statistic, leaping off the page to remind a reader of the comically bad logic of life's hiring practices. If you stop to think about it, the matching of persons to careers is an odd coupling more often than not. As a mirror reversal of the example above, people of Gray Panther years give professional advice to teen-agers.

Celibates prescribe the rules for marriage.

Male obstetricians instruct women on how to give birth.

A professor with admirable candor confessed recently that one of the reasons he wrote a three-volume history of love was that he had been told he lacked a gift for being loving.

Not infrequently such cross-endeavors produce worthwhile results. Unpredictable and illuminating things can happen when a round peg tries to squirm into a square hole.

Yet the assignment of people to employment that does not fit them disturbs a romantic notion: Somewhere a destined mate waits to love and be loved, and somewhere a destined task in life waits to be performed, as definite and right an assignment as the holy grail for Sir Galahad.

Easier said than done!

How many college graduates, class of '88, now finishing their summer breather before entering the marketplace, dream of such a perfect vocation - while having no idea what they want to do? Seldom has the choice of career seemed more crucial - or more of a puzzle. Never mind the class of '88.

Who does not know of ``children'' in their late 20s or early 30s still searching for their destiny, still listening for some inner voice to advise them what to do, and thus tell them who they are?

Once accident largely determined what people would become. One happened to be born on a farm. One became a farmer. One happened to be born in Detroit. One worked on an automobile assembly line. And almost all women became wives and mothers.

Now for the growing ranks of the college-educated there are all these options - what freedom, what luxury, what agony!

An industry has arisen to give expensive aptitude tests to inform the young - or even the middle-aged - what their bent may be.

We have become our own multiple-choice questions.

Alas, the world has grown more complicated along with us. Read through the lists of ``consultants'' and ``counselors'' in your reunion book and try to figure out what half of your classmates are doing. You need to be an expert of sorts to interpret help-wanted ads. Whatever became of butcher, baker, candlestickmaker? Does anybody have an occupation that does not require a footnote to explain it?

The more we look to our work to give us identity - and we do, desperately - the more confused we end up, as if our souls have been taken over in mergers almost as crazy as the ones, for example, that have found RCA, CBS, the New York Yankees, and Gulf + Western turning into book publishers.

Something in us dislikes all this flux and flexibility - all these inappropriate match-ups.

Something in us prays for a pure and simple calling - for life turned into an inevitability.

In the meantime, the class of '88, turned loose in an Alice-in-Wonderland world, has until Labor Day to get - what's that word? - a job.

A Wednesday and Friday column

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