By Barbara Hewitt
Labor Day…the unofficial end of summer. (I know, given that classes started a week early this year, to some of you it might seem like summer is long gone!) Wikipedia explains Labor Day as “..a celebration of the American labor movement dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.”
As a career counselor, I think a lot about “labor” and what work means in the everyday lives of Americans. Most of us spend 40 hours a week at our place of employment, lots of us many more than 40. I spent the Labor Day weekend home with my father in upstate New York. He is now 75 years old and long retired from being a New York State Trooper, a job he held for over 30 years. As a child, I don’t remember him ever being particularly enthusiastic about going to work, although he seemed happy enough to have a steady job with good benefits. (The job market was not stellar in the Catskills even back then, so these qualities were definitely sought after in employment!) I asked him how he had decided to become a police officer, and he said he entered the army after graduation and was assigned to be a military police officer. When he left the army two years later becoming a state trooper seemed like the most sensible thing to do, given he was getting ready to get married and start a family he would need to support.
It struck me how different his experience of deciding on a career was from the experience of most of our students at Penn, who spend much more time preparing for a career – thinking about what would be fulfilling, pursuing classes and internships, and networking with alumni and professionals to make their dreams come true. Attending an Ivy League institution such as Penn opens a huge variety of doors for graduates in all kinds of career fields, and the stress often comes just as much from choosing what to do as actually landing the job. As I think back on my dad’s career, which was quite limited in terms of choices, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to attend college and graduate school, providing me with the opportunity to find a career that is truly satisfying to me. While I enjoyed having an extra day off work for Labor Day, I appreciate even more the fact that I look forward to coming to work each day. On this “day after Labor Day”, I wish each and every one of you the same good fortune in your life.