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Down on the Farm: Build your own job

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Last month, I met for the first time a 23-year-old shirt-tail relative in Los Angeles named Sarah. Fully-employed in a well-paying job she loves, Sarah is the face of our new economy.

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Sarah has a college degree, but it wasn't the degree that qualified her for the job of her dreams.

It was her love of video games. Thanks to her passion for video games, Sarah landed a job in a growing company in a growing industry, a job good enough to allow her to life comfortably in a trendy neighborhood near West Hollywood. What does Sarah do?

I really don't know. After hearing her talk about her job with another video game player for over an hour, the best I can come up with is that Sarah consults in the creation of promotional online videos for new video games to help the game gain acceptance with the gaming audience.

Video gaming is a fast-moving multi-billion dollar industry where creating a buzz for your new game can mean the difference between success and failure.

As a part of her job, Sarah maintains a popular weblog which reviews new games. I visited the site hoping to learn something about her job, but found the jargon of the video game world impenetrable.

What I did understand is that Sarah's job, as well as the company which hired her, didn't exist two years ago.

Using her quick mind and street savvy, Sarah grabbed a position she knew could be transformed into a job of her dreams by her own drive and creativity.

In other words, Sarah's present job wasn't advertised. She applied for an advertised position knowing that she would quickly turn it into something else all together.

Sarah already has her eye on the next job she hopes to create for herself. I wouldn't bet against her.

The skills Sarah used to build her career weren't taught in her college classes. Her savvy, her patience, her drive and her ability to look around the corner and see what is coming were taught her by the video games she grew up playing.

To succeed in the notoriously sexist online gaming community as a participant, Sarah created a male alter-ego as her character in the games she played. "Most female gamers do," she shrugged.

Last week, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman penned a column entitled, "Need a Job? Invent it!"

Sarah could be his poster child.

Friedman argues that the days of "finding a job" are over, at least for highly-paid, highly skilled positions. If you want a satisfying, well-paid job, you are going to have to create it yourself.

Otherwise, get ready to wait tables.

Fast-moving technology requires nimble feet. Your college diploma, for which you likely paid way too much, is no longer a ticket to a tenured corporate position from which you will retire with benefits in thirty years.

Our elephantine education system is slow to respond. High schools and colleges need to prepare students to think on their feet and respond to the openings created by technology.

Last week, I ate supper at the bar of a fun restaurant in a trendy St. Paul neighborhood. I listened to the waiters banter. Their intelligence was evident. All were college graduates and one had a master's degree.

To pass the time, they had developed a game, one they took seriously. As customers came in, each waiter wrote down what they believed the customer would order from the extensive menu. The bartender kept the chart.

Of course, the waiters were free to coach the customers towards particular items. When a customer complied, the waiter went behind the partition and pumped his fist in celebration. He won the pot!

And yet, these college-educated guys were waiters. Waiting tables well is a noble calling, but I suspect it wasn't the profession they imagined entering when they chose their major as a freshman.

They were waiters because their college degrees didn't qualify them for a better-paying profession.

They were waiters, you could argue, because their education did not teach them the most crucial skill of them all: The ability to analyze the fast-changing economic and technological landscape and create a job for themselves that didn't exist last year.

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Eric Bergeson

Eric Bergeson is the third generation owner of Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, Minn., a business started by his grandfather in 1937. He also writes a weekly column for several newspapers in northwestern Minnesota. He has published four books, including most recently Pirates on the Prairie, which the Minneapolis Tribune called "a Minnesota cultural and historical treasure." You can read more from Eric at his website, The Country Scribe

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