Growing up in the '90s was filled with a lot of great entertainment options, and besides all the great shows on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, it was also a time for a ton of family-oriented movies aimed at '90s kids.
The basic framework for most of these movies centered around some kids who grew up in middle to upper-middle class suburbs with a dad who never had any time for his family (probably because he was working hard to pay for the house in the suburbs).
Usually, through some sort of shenanigans, by the end of the movie the dad would come to the realization that his kids were more important than his job, and that would be the lesson of the movie.
One would think, then, that an entire generation who grew up watching movies that followed this moral chain of reasoning would not concern themselves too much with the pursuit of a high-paying career, and would simply take whatever job is available so that they could pay for life's basic necessities and have time to spend with their family.
But the modern millennial (I'm beginning to really hate that term, but it takes less effort to type than "20-something", granted this entire sentence explaining that has taken much longer to type than either) has taken a different approach to life and career.
Now, to some degree, millennials took this advice, but they didn't really think it through. The Art of Manliness did a really good and in-depth article on how millennials desire different things than past generations, namely experiences like travel to exotic places over big houses and fast cars, but nonetheless they still seek to acquire financial wealth, just in a different way.
For most millennials, the pursuit of a high-paying corporate gig where you wear a suit to work has been replaced with that of something like a graphic designer working for a start-up internet company in a trendy place like San-Fran. It's important to realize that millennials still desire a career, they have just placed more emphasis on having an "enjoyable" career over something like a "soul-sucking corporate gig".
The implementation is different, but the pursuit is the same. The unfortunate case, for many, is that there simply aren't enough "cool" jobs for all of the people that want to do them, which has caused an unfortunate amount of post-college unemployment for millennials.
On one hand, you could make the case that millennials did indeed learn from all the '90s movies. They saw a dad in a soul-crushing career and said "I don't want to end up in a soul-crushing career, I want to have a job that I like." So they followed their passion and it has led many into massive amounts of debt and despair...but they were successful in not getting a soul-crushing job! The irony is that many are now wanting a soul-crushing job just so they can pay off all their debts.
But even if the average millennial was successful in establishing a career that they loved, they would still be missing the point of all those movies. Granted, it would certainly be better for them if they had a job that paid handsomely and was fun and/or rewarding, but the crux of the matter is that they are still putting their career at the top of their totem pole of life.
The struggle that the kids faced in all of the movies wasn't that their dad had a soul-crushing career, it was the fact that their dad placed his career above his family. That was the point that the movies were really trying to drive home: your career isn't the most important thing.
At our core, I think most of us realize this, but we need to be reminded of it occasionally. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of many different interest groups of today seeks to counteract this philosophy.
Take, for example, feminism. Now, let me just acknowledge that as a man it is impossible for me to be objective about feminism, and to think otherwise would be kidding yourself. I have nothing against feminism, it seems logical that women would want to promote themselves, but (trigger warning) I do have some reservations about the implementations of modern day feminism.
One of the main facets of feminism is to allow women to achieve the same career goals as men. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but one of the effects (that I've seen at least) is that it encourages women to do the very thing that all these '90s kids movies were trying to get men not to do: put career ahead of family. It has become almost taboo in today's America for a young, smart woman to say that her main goal in life is to be a loving wife and mother. Instead, she is expected to talk about how she wants to excel in whatever career she chooses, with finding a husband and having kids as an afterthought.
Now, you can say that this is good, that women need to believe that they can excel in a career and not rely on being a wife and mother as their sole identity, I get that. But the fact of the matter is that intelligent women have fewer kids. This makes sense, intelligent women know that having children can be an economic and emotional barrier to career success, so they delay the process until their career/life is established. This, however, is sort of a bad thing for society (and, ironically, feminists) as a whole. If you are an intelligent woman and want a future society that contains intelligent women and men, then it really becomes your civic duty to have kids. Otherwise, we will just continue the trend of reverse Darwinism.
On the other hand, the economy is not exactly the same as it was in the 1950s. Depending on what kind of lifestyle you want, it may not be feasible to have the traditional "husband brings home the bacon and wife takes care of the kids" family. So, it's pretty much a given that unless one partner makes an obscene amount of money, both are probably going to have to have some sort of career. It's important, though, to try to be objective about things with regards to the family's finances.
The main problem that I can envision in many modern relationships is that neither the man nor the woman wants to make career sacrifices for the other. The only way that this really comes about is if one person gets a job in a different city, and it becomes a question of should the couple move for the sake of one person? Some men may find it emasculating if they move to a different place because of their wife, and some women may think it is "anti-feminist" to move somewhere for their husband. Really, both parties must assess the costs and benefits of moving versus staying, and come to an objective conclusion that doesn't rely on personal pride. Sure, it may be hard to leave your job for the sake of your partner, but you really just have to ask yourself: what makes you happier, your job or your partner?
Zach's Guide to Career Choices
With that said, here are some things that I've gathered from a few college classes on the matter as well as my own observations about life. It is by no means a set of rules, but rather just things to think about when making career choices.
- You shouldn't hate your career: I think it is overly optimistic to think that you should find a job that you "love", but you shouldn't absolutely hate your job either. If you do, think about a different one. If you've hated all of your jobs, then either you are the problem, or you picked the wrong career.
- If given the choice between time and money, choose time: This came from a college professor that I had, whose mantra was that it's pointless to trade time for money because money without time is meaningless. What's the point of having a nice house if you are always at work? Granted, in many cases like that of the '90s kid's movie, the dad presumably chooses money over time for the sake of his family. My professor's retort to that was that kids, while sometimes quite materialistic, would ultimately rather have their parents around than live in a house that has a professionally manicured lawn. The moral was to not fall into the "keeping up with the Joneses" trap and live a humble lifestyle that doesn't rely on too much money.
- Treat your career as a means to a life, not a life in itself: Many people seek the "holy grail" of careers: one that not only pays well, but is also your main source of fun, entertainment, and fulfillment. People rationalize that if they really enjoy their career, they won't mind working long hours. Now, for some people, careers like this can exist, but searching for happiness in your career is a path that is doomed to end in sorrow. Instead, treat your career as nothing more than a means to pay for the things in life that you actually do enjoy.
- Know how to "switch off": For better or for worse, I am really good at "switching off." When I'm not at work, work is the last thing on my mind...sometimes to the extent that I completely forget what I do at work when people ask me. Unlike some people, I enjoy weekends and vacations without fretting about work. They allow me to wind down and rest my brain, which in my mind makes me more efficient when I actually am at work.
- Don't take pride in being "busy": People treat busyness like it's a badge of honor, and it seems like the most commonly used excuse for not doing something. "Oh, I'd love to but I'm just sooo busy." What they are really saying is "I'm just too important to waste my time with you." I get the idea that people can be busy, but I mean...I work a normal job and practice around 5 hobbies while writing and making movies for this website and I still find time to hang out with friends and go on dates. So the time is there, you just haven't learned how to use it yet. Granted I don't have kids, and I've heard that changes things.
Careers are important, but they aren't everything. A career is nothing more than a set of skills you develop in a certain area that allows you to get a job that people are willing to pay you to do. What you do with that money is up to you, but many people fall into the trap of spending the money on things that cause them to desire more things, so they continually make life sacrifices for the sake of career to get the money to buy more things that makes them want more things...etc.
Just remember: if you don't die from anything else, then you are going to one day be old your career will be a distant memory. Will your legacy be that your name was in a few spreadsheets or papers or emails that have gotten lost somewhere on the servers of whatever company you worked for, or will you leave behind a spouse and children and grandchildren who all think that you were the best wife/husband/mom/dad/grandma/grandpa that the world ever knew.
Your career doesn't care about you the minute you stop being useful. Your family always will.