“So You Want to be a Wizard”: Career Conversations For a New Century

Friday, September 16, 2022

by Andrew H. Potter, Director, Office of University Experiential Learning

As a fan of the world and ways of Harry Potter, I am often reminded of one pithy but important observation by the sage of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledore: “Curiosity is not a sin.”

In our current globalized, post-industrial, knowledge economy I often observe that the very real risk of disruption is unfortunately fostering an overly utilitarian, realistic, and prescribed approach to career planning.  What is most ironic about this situation are the predictions of the recent Future of Work report from the McKinsey Global Institute.  Essentially, about 38 million US workers will face some form of displacement by 2030—that’s ~23% of the current US workforce.  Nearly one in four workers are at risk of displacement, yet we continue to regularly require that the next generation pick from an existing career list and the educational pathways that support it.

How do we prepare today’s students for a tomorrow that is yet amorphous and ill-defined?  I defer to the classic tome of career planning philosophy—Alice in Wonderland

In this childhood fantasy, Alice arrives at a fork in the road and asks the Cheshire Cat, “Which road should I take?”  The Cat replies, “Where are you going?”  To which Alice responds, “I don’t know”.  The Cheshire Cat answers, “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take.”  While the obvious lesson certainly relates to the sheer ludicrous prospect of procuring directions from felines, the essence of this dialogue is that direction not distance determines destiny.  Speaking plainly, we need to help all learners figure out their direction, rather than simply requiring them to select some destination point in the distance. 

I think Ayah Bdeir, the founder of littleBits, was exactly right when she noted, “What we want to do is help ignite kids’ passions, unleash their inner inventor, build up their own confidence so that they can be the ones to invent the world they want to live in”.

Instead of channeling or reforming the curiosity of our learners, let’s amplify that curiosity.  If they want to design a flying car, sodium ion batteries, or go to Mars—awesome, let’s help them figure it out.  Empowering them with a human-centered design process that allows them to create their own solution, and maybe even their own career, will produce more than interesting Tik Tok content—it will equip them with a sense of direction that will give shape and meaning to their own aspirations.

At the Office of Experiential Learning at the University of Georgia, we have found that helping students amplify their curiosity through hands-on experiences transforms and unlocks the true potential of higher education and equips students with the competencies that they need to thrive in an ever-changing world.  Not to mention, this approach to teaching and learning is a heck of a lot of fun.

From future droid rangers to Jedi masters or teleportation technicians, our learners come pre-loaded with curiosity and a sense of adventure that would challenge even the imaginations of Robert Jordan, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George Lucas. 

As educators and parents, let’s leverage this, even if the muggle wants to be a wizard…

Andrew H. Potter is the Director of the University Office of Experiential Learning at the University of Georgia, one of the nation’s leading experiential education think tanks.  In this role, he directs the strategy and casts the vision for experiential education enabling every UGA undergraduate student to connect their academic foundations to the world beyond the classroom.  Learn more at UGA Experiential Learning. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.potter@uga.edu.Stay up to date on all of UGA’s Experiential Learning programs at el.uga.edu and follow us on Instagram.