Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reality TV - The Recession's New Hot Career Path? Yikes!

I was chatting with some college grads about job searching recently. Given the stats are pretty grim (less than 20% of 2009 grads have gotten jobs), there was a lot of anxiety amongst them in terms of the lack of real career options available. Then, one of them said, "I only have one friend who is close to getting a job. She applied to be on a reality TV show, and if she gets it, they are going to pay her $60K for four months." I sat in shock. She then said, "Ya, this one pays better than a lot of the other reality shows. My friend applied to MTV's The Real World and they only pay you, like $10-15K. But this other show she's trying out for isn't as well known, and the people are chosen for being pretty outrageous on camera, so it pays more." Jaw still on the floor, I proceeded to listen to the table of young (future) professionals discuss the pro's and con's of choosing a reality TV show career path. And let me tell you, the pro's seemed to be outweighing the con's.

Okay, so this is where my old age of 41 really starts to show. I couldn't believe that a serious (trust me, they were serious) conversation was going on about the best way to get on a reality TV show and then use the experience to get ahead. When I asked what the young woman hoped to do after being on the show, I was informed she felt certain her new contacts in LA as a result of participating would help her land a job in the event planning business - the field she was truly interested in, but didn't get a degree in while in college.

Further discussion proved that the '15 minutes of fame' approach to career development seems to be a big consideration amongst young people. A female member of the conversation admitted she and her friends sat around on the weekends and dreamed up ideas for reality TV shows based on their lives. A male member chimed and said he and his 'bros' did that too.

I guess I shouldn't be shocked. A study done in 2007 ago by USA Today indicated that 81% of young folks between ages of 18-25 expected to be rich, with another 51% planning to be famous as well. And honestly, if I went back to that time in my life, I think I would find my own secret aspirations involved achieving great things too. That's what youthful optimism is all about.

However, I do wonder if our culture's obsession with reality TV is hurting the younger generation's ability to find satisfying careers. How do you consider being an accountant, salesperson, or computer programmer, when being on a reality TV show seems so much more exciting? We are already seeing a trend in America where there are lots of lower paying jobs people feel are too beneath them to take. Even in spite of the recession, there are jobs folks won't accept because of pride. What happens when the jobs people think are beneath them are the very jobs we need for country to survive? (i.e. nursing, teaching)

So, I'm wondering: Is this idea of becoming famous via reality TV here to stay, or is it just a phase the younger generation will grow out of? Will the economic realities kick in and force this generation to look at other career paths besides stardom?

And, how can we help students gain a more realistic view of careers BEFORE they graduate. I mean, can they really be blamed for this mindset when the older generations are the ones who created A) the reality TV they watch and B) the recession they are living through?

What do you think? Is reality TV participation a good career move? Should we be doing something to help young professionals get excited about other things besides fame and fortune? Or, do we leave them alone and let them learn the realities for themselves?

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