‘Why do we do what we do?’ – Priorities

The importance of ‘Priorities’:

In our previous post on ‘Ambition’, ‘Priorities’ were mentioned as a key factor in determining both long and short term plans. This is a complex concept, because ‘Priorities’ shift and evolve as time goes by, with a myriad of factors in turn determining them at any one time. For example, my Priorities as an undergraduate student were very different from my priorities as post-graduate student, and certainly distinct from those that are in place now.

This is certainly reflected in the views of our Pilot Study Group, who demonstrated a tremendous variety of priorities depending, not just on ‘age and stage in life’, but also on their educational and social background, desires, perceived Purpose, Identity etc. In short, everything that we have so far covered has a bearing here.


Climbing the ladder:

Given that we have primarily concerned ourselves to engage with those aged 20 – 25 in this study so far, it is unsurprising that for many, finishing their current studies is a key priority. This walks hand-in-hand with a desire to become, through education and gaining relevant experience, more employable in a highly competitive market place.

An unsurprising view prevails: going to (a good) university and getting (a good) degree is an important step in building a career and thus an important investment in the future. That having been said, the link between gaining a degree and starting a job is far from clear-cut, particularly for those who have not chosen to study a vocational degree. In addition, the number of higher education students in this country, coupled with the percentage achieving the market-dictated general requirement of a ‘2:1’ is higher than ever. It is curious to note then that, given the present circumstances, the perceived link between academic studies and employment remains strong.


An eye on the horizon:

Our pilot study group were also clearly concerned to develop skills pertinent to a future career and to familiarise themselves with various career paths. However, the fact that none of them showed an interest in building an understanding of a variety of employment sectors and employers seems totally bizarre. Perhaps this is just naivety, or simply that this group is still ‘primarily’ in the phase of preparing for the world of work, rather than directly engaging with it. Regardless, it would seem to indicate a pervasive focus on self, and a tendency to make judgements based on perception rather than experience and engagement. Its all well and good in acquiring as many skills as possible, and indeed endeavouring to compete with an over-saturated market, but without an interest in or knowledge of employment and employers, what’s the point?

The Pilot Study Group generally considered themselves to be, ‘Ambitious’. As we have seen however, this manifest in ways that are traditionally not considered to be indicative of someone who ‘has ambition’ – i.e.: apparent detachment from the world of work, a lack of interest in the concept of employment etc. Indeed, the majority of our Pilot Study Group maintained that their Priorities were determined and fuelled by their Ambitions. This makes sense given the age and stage of life these individuals are at, and also that they generally lack responsibility for anything other than their own personal development (i.e. none of them actively take care of dependents etc.)


Breaking free:

The need to earn a living and (an associated) desire for personal freedom were also considered significant priorities amongst this group. Again this is what we would expect of people at this age and stage in life, i.e.: they are finishing their studies, on the brink of full-time employment, beginning to think about ‘Career’ etc. and so are concerned with moving out of the family home (if they have not done so already) and severing the fiscal link with family (at least to a convenient degree!)

It is interesting to note, and this is a recurring theme in this piece of research, the extent to which earning a living and fulfilling personal ambition are seen as mutually exclusive. As we have seen in earlier posts, many of these individuals were not motivated by financial gain per se, but rather by being able to live in a certain way. Thus, it would seem logical for notions of personal freedom, satisfaction of ambition and desire for financial independence to all be bound-up as one, at least as far as this particular grouping is concerned.


Thinking about ‘Priorities’ – the wider picture

The majority of the open-text responses on this topic reinforced what had been said in the earlier questions. Most of this group have, and indeed continue, to prioritise gaining fiscal independence, achieving their goals and generally beginning to build an ‘adult life’ as they see it. The disconnect between what is required of them in prospective employment, and what they want from life is perhaps explainable by the tendency they have to acquire plenty of ‘internship’ experience but very little actual employment. For much of their university or other study years, these individuals will generally have been encouraged to seek out employment opportunities and to demonstrate that they are a ‘balanced’ individual, with a healthy range of skills, abilities, interests etc. that are relevant to a variety of employment options. Is it a surprise then that so many of them appear unconcerned with accruing an understanding of employment and employers; many will believe that they have been doing this for years – and will make judgements on the quality of the internships they undertake.


Final thoughts:

Priorities, like Ambition, are a veritable feast, at least as far as our Pilot Study Group are concerned. While primarily related to their Ambitions (for fiscal independence and personal freedom) their Priorities are also tied to pragmatic concerns about earning a living and competing with others for employment. It is well-documented that these are difficult times to be ‘young’, and the confusing state of affairs in which these people find themselves is perhaps partly to blame for their apparent naivety on some topics. Indeed, the context, and particularly ‘Influencers’ of this group will be our next focus where we will explore this notion in more detail.

(Image courtesy of www.sosleadership.com)