Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Live to Work or Work to Live

A while back someone else on the team at work was describing how she'd got here by saying, "I knew that what I wanted to do with my life was work in analytical marketing, and _______ Inc. is one of the legends in doing that well, so I'd been looking for a chance to get a job here."

This struck me, because -- although I quite enjoy my job and find it very interesting, and haven't exactly be casual in pushing my career over the years -- I'd never say that marketing analytics is "what I want to do with my life".

Certainly, life is a lot more interesting and fulfilling (not to mention, usually, successful) if you can find an employment that you enjoy. However, it does strike me as a bit off-base to equate success in a specific job as a goal/success criteria in life.

Not that you shouldn't have job-related goals, but that even within that context, the job-related side of one's life is generally a means to an end. (This would be different, I suppose, if you had a truly vocational approach to your job, but I'm not sure that most jobs merit a vocational -- in the Catholic sense -- approach.)

Truly left to myself, I'd probably be drawn to something rather more riskily entrepreneurial than what I currently do -- or else simply reading and writing a great deal. (Or maybe both in turns.) However, since we got married job decisions seem to be primarily motivated by where we want the family to live and how much we need/want to make rather than what, in the most objective sense, I "want" to be doing.

I think at an earlier point in my life I would have found that dispiriting, feeling that career decisions should be strictly the result of "following your passion" in regards to what seems interesting. At this point, though, it seems to me that this involves substituting an artificial set of ends for one's person. In the end, our ends as persons are (in the earthly sense) matters of love, charity and creativity; and (in the heavenly sense) sanctification and salvation.

In some cases, one's occupation leads to these ends quite directly, but most of the time, I think, it is simply a means to an end. A good career provides the money to support family and the leisure to pursue creative outlets. But in this regard, one good career is very much the same as another. Over the years I've wandered from sales to marketing to web design to marketing analytics, and I wouldn't mind if opportunity sent me in yet another direction, so long as that provided good support for family, book collecting, occasional writing, etc. I'd be hesitant to take a job that didn't allow for any use of mind or skill -- but aside from that it's certainly not as if there were some great, glowing GOAL job description out there towards with I inexorably move. It almost seems a little odd to take it so personally.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. I work in downtown Chicago, and everybody seems to be career obsessed. The value of one's life is equated with how much time is spent in the office. One woman even left the office her contact info during her honeymoon because she simply couldn't bear to leave work at work for a week. The Blackberry is making sure that family time is phased out in favor of a 24 hour work day.

Literacy-chic said...

Maybe she was just quoting from her application letter or remembering her interview? ;)

PB said...

At my previous job it was almost like a competition amongst the 20ish employees as to who worked the latest each night. I was the only one of the 20ish crowd with kids, and as I’d stroll out at 5pm a few of my office friends would razz me with comments designed to attempt to justify why they “needed” to stay later such as, “oh it must be nice to have all your work done by 5”, or “I wish my job would let me leave by quitting time.” I don’t let things bother me too much but this one started to, especially since we all turned in the same type of status report and when it boiled down to it I was getting just as much done if not more than most of them, finally I made the comment to the extent of “I guess I’m just able to manage my time a little better than most.” It shut them up rather quickly.

sdecorla said...

When I was younger (high school/college), I sort of bought the career-as-identity thing. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I decided that when we had kids I would stay home with them. Even though I knew this was the right thing to do, I struggled with the idea of being a stay-at-home mom and sort of hoped I would advance to a fairly high level in my career before kids came along.

Then, as the neocons say, I was mugged by reality. In other words, I started actually working at an actual job. And realized that it sort of sucks.

Since God has such a wonderful sense of humor, I now find myself in a position where I would love to stay home with my daughter but am unable to do so for financial reasons. I like my job but I don’t love it. The corporate world is one of the most overrated things there is. Sure, there are some jobs that are really, really cool, but those are few and far between.

I’m also in kind of a strange position because I’m also a poet, and writing poetry is something I absolutely love and could never give up. I really do feel that being a poet is “what I want to do with my life,” even though being a wife and mother comes first. I don’t feel that way about my day job. But I don’t think of being a poet as a “career” as such; it’s more of a calling, though I wouldn’t elevate it to the level of “vocation,” a term which I think should be reserved only for marriage and the religious life. I will most likely make exactly $0 in my lifetime by being a poet, but it’s something I love, and something that can be fit in around kids and other responsibilities.

So I guess my love of poetry kind of makes me understand why some people love their careers so much. As hard as it is for me to understand why someone would love being a lawyer as much as I love being a poet, some people really do feel this way. I wonder if such people are likely to be called to religious life? If I felt that way, it would be very hard for me to give up my job. I am very lucky that the thing I love to do is something that can be done any time, any where and needn’t interfere with child rearing.