Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The right place at the right time

I sometimes wonder if I have had my priorities straight as an adult. Growing up, I was encouraged to apply myself and to choose a career field that would be rewarding, financially and intellectually. I fully bought into that way of thinking and have spent the majority of my adult life either in school or working, searching for the "right career" that would provide me with the fulfillment I was seeking.
Now that I am 37 and well into my second professional career, I sometimes think maybe I should have spent those years focused more on other things. Maybe if I had devoted more time to taking care of my body by eating clean and exercising, fostering closer relationships with my family, friends, and boyfriends, and exploring the world around me. . . . . or any number of other things. . . . rather than devoting myself primarily to the pursuit of education and career(s), I would be a happier person.
Most people in our society deem one "successful" based on many things that have very little real relationship to the state of one's psyche or soul. For example, both graduating college and owning a home are often referred to as "the American dream." The messages that we receive tell us that driving the right car, wearing the right clothes, living in the right neighborhood, taking the right vacations, and many other things that require significant financial resources will make us successful and happy.
Some of the most contented people I have encountered in my life have had none of the outward trappings of success: no late model cars, no stylish wardrobe. Some of them have never set foot on a college campus, let alone earned a degree. On the other hand, as a lawyer, I regularly encounter people who are highly educated and appear very "successful" who are nonetheless quite unhappy with their lives.
When I was growing up, my mother often said that all she wanted for me was that I should "be happy." (My father, on the other hand, had "higher" aspirations for both his daughters.) When Mom used to tell me that, I thought it very simplistic. I also used to think that being happy was not something I could choose to do or not do: it would either happen or it wouldn't. Naively, I also believed on some level that if I achieved my other goals--a rewarding professional career and all that went with it--I couldn't fail to be happy.
Sometimes I think I ought to have put my personal preferences first rather than acting "sensibly." I would have joined the Peace Corps for a few years, then probably had a child while I was still young enough to do so easily. . . . without thinking about the impact that these decisions might have had on my "career path."
But alas. . . . rather than taking "the road less traveled," I have walked the worn and familiar path all my life. Though I'm not sure it was the right path, it's unlikely that I will retrace my steps now.


Land family said...

Our generation was very confused IMO. I knew I wanted to go to college (although I stay at home with kids now...) and to go to college you had to pursue a degree from HS with foreign languages. So for me, that meant no home ec ever. I went off to college not knowing how to cook anything, sew on a button, or even how to do my own laundry. I think I figured I'd have a maid or cook. Who knows. My Mom (very successful no degreed worker making $100K) tried to teach me domestic things and I thought it was beneath me. Niiiice. I had to learn everything the hard way with my mother 1,800 miles away. We were supposed to be the generation with all of the options, but I'm with you. We were given very specific ideas about what we were supposed to do and I don't think it prepared us much for real life.