A Need for 'Higher Education': Interview with Author Kenneth Jedding

When most of us graduate from college, we have little knowledge/experience on how to navigate the real world. Kenneth Jedding was no different. “When Jedding first graduated from college he went into a bookstore looking for “THE” book – a book that would tell him all the things he didn’t learn in school, how to get a job, how to navigate friendship and love, how to maintain a good relationship with family and above all, how to stay cool.”

Unfortunately, no such book existed at the time. Fortunately, Jedding was inspired to write such a book.

Kenneth Jedding is the author of HIGHER EDUCATION: On Life, Landing a Job and Everything Else They Didn't Teach you in College. For 10 years, he has lectured as a career counselor and life coach at colleges and universities across America. He is currently a psychoanalyst.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Kenneth and ask him some questions about his new book HIGHER EDUCATION and his opinions on life after graduation.

I hope you get a lot out of his great insights, and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section!


1. Generation Y is often characterized as being lazy, entitled, and generally a lost generation refusing to grow up. Having spoken and worked with many Gen-Y’ers, what is your opinion on their work ethic and how do you see Gen-Y contributing to the working world

Good question. Complicated question.

Gen Y has a bad reputation, as you mentioned, but I think your description masks a larger truth. You're a transitional generation. In the 80's and 90's, the world evolved into what it's going to be for the next century. The new modes of communication were your baseline. For you, that's just how life is. So your perception of time is futuristic. But I think in many ways the world is still in the old time mode, so there's what I'd call generational jet lag. This comes off as laziness. But it might just be that you can't believe that non-electronic life is so slow.

I think the Y's reaction to life, what you called not growing up, reflects a different wiring. To give an example, when I was 18 I had a French girlfriend I met while backpacking. We wrote three snail mail letters a week. It was very fun and sexy, but it existed mostly in our heads and imaginations. If we did it now we'd be on Skype: it would be a hundred times cooler though still long distance (i.e. no physical touch or sex.)

But how can you go from one time orientation to the other? Say, from having a friend, or a boyfriend or girlfriend in China and keeping up with each other moment to moment--to: the slower time scheme of starting an entry level job when it seems nothing is happening, and they ask you to fetch coffee! It's easy to get discouraged and to say: Why bother?

You asked about the work ethic. Work has a puritanical connotation. Sounds too much like work. Let's say career instead.

Having a career you enjoy will make life more interesting. There aren't many other ways to do it. I think we grow up thinking "All I need to be happy is money, stuff, and love," but career needs to be with love at the top of the list. It's one of the ways to feel truly good about yourself, excited about life, and, one of the best ways to make money.

We're told we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to, the American Dream et al, but I think 9 out of 10 people who make big money love their jobs. As I discuss in the book, most people figure out what they love by trying things out. That's a slow process for every generation but for Y's it must feel like walking underwater.

You're wired for things that are real in the moment. Work starts out being unreal in the moment.

I believe Gen Y's have a ton to contribute, and, if they can forge through the initial b.s. of the work world, and trust the process even when things seem to be moving forward in super slow-motion, they'll work as hard as anyone else, and will reap the psychological, spiritual and financial rewards.


2. In HIGHER EDUCATION you provide some great techniques to find your passion. Do we need to find our passion in order to be happy at work?

Yes. But it's a trick question. If you're a violinist and you play the violin out of college, you're onto your passion--but even violinists may not feel happy at first. Or, say, if you make it to the NBA, it's definitely a passion.

More to the point, for most people passion opens up incrementally. It doesn't feel like passion at first.

The Dream: I'll love what I do.

The Process: I'll start doing things to get closer and closer to what I love (i.e. start using more and more skills) and find my way to real passion at work.

You're one week job project was so interesting, Sean. You were writing about having the courage to begin.


3. In your opinion, why is that Gen-Y is putting off entering the real world after graduation – generally taking longer to leave their parents home, get married, start a family, and choose a career?

College costs more, leading to more debt and to living at home. I talk a lot about dealing with parents in the book.

As for getting married & starting a family, I think it's good to get to know yourself first, so waiting is not necessarily a bad thing.


4. You mention several examples of people who were very successful by not focusing on the money and simply doing what they love. I always questioned, “Well, what if the money doesn’t come?” In pursuit of our ideal job, how do you suggest we cope with those difficult times when our fears and self-doubt surface and we question if we’re doing the right thing?

Money can come in unexpected ways. The best way for you to make money may not be in the traditional "money" areas, as I discuss.

And yet: some careers don't pay much. Like being a teacher, working with the mentally challenged, or being a coach (unless you make it to the top in any of these areas).

What if one of those non-money professions would truly make you happy? Then it's a good idea to go for it.

Let me put it this way: If you're born to be a teacher and you do a mental two-step (It doesn't pay much so it's off the list) you may be walking around numb and confused, telling yourself "I don't know what I want to do," but you actually know.

It's easy to fear "I won't make a lot of money doing x or y," rather than trying to make just enough money in a field you love. Money is nice, for sure, but so is empowerment, being on your path, feeling confident, radiating energy that attracts others, and liking yourself. And there are many ways to get there.


5. I recently read a NY Times article in which a recent college grad struggling to find work was offered a job paying $40K at an insurance company. He turned it down saying that he’s holding out for the job that feels right for him. Would you recommend waiting for that perfect job, or is it more important to get into the workforce?

I don't recommend waiting for the perfect job. That makes me laugh, Sean, thinking of what you did.

Perfect's a dangerous word. I like the Leonard Cohen poem:

Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in

We learn things in unexpected places and those things prepare us for more unexpected moments.


6. What one piece of advice do you wish someone shared with you when you graduated from college?

I wish someone had told me that, over time, things would work out.


Kenneth Jedding's book, HIGHER EDUCATION: On Life, Landing a Job and Everything Else They Didn't Teach you in College, was published April 2010 by Rodale Books and is available for purchase through the above link to Amazon.com.