Rhetoric of choosing career “life path” limits alternative postgraduate plans

As one trudges along four grueling years of higher education, there is an omnipresent reality that holds a person back from burning textbooks, dropping out and blowing all of her money on a new steed to ride off into a less miserable counter-reality: the future as career.

However, jumping into a high-paying and exhausting lifelong career exclusively to achieve economic stability seems irrational compared to a more freeform lifestyle that involves less commitment and predictability.

We have all been taught by our schools, the media and our parents to follow a set “life path.” Go to high school, graduate, go to college and get a job—a job that will become the foundation for your career. A career, realists teach us, is essential for a fulfilling lifestyle. It provides one with money for sustenance, status and security.

Such wealth makes life much easier when it comes time to settle down and have a family, if you’re into that, or convincing your parents that your college education wasn’t a waste of 30 grand (see Elliott Piros’ article April 15 for the reasons why not).

No matter how stressful one’s career may be or how many unrelated yet potentially enriching opportunities slip by in the midst of it, there is a light at the end of the tunnel that supposedly makes it all worthwhile—retirement.

Surely this sequence of events is true in many cases, but it should not be put on a pedestal. If all one needs in life to be happy is comfort and security, more power to ‘em—society will accommodate.

But for people who crave more than the simple charms of domesticity, the restrictions of a lifelong career may simply be too limiting for a diversity of experiences, of which travelling abroad and immersing oneself in another culture are examples.

What if a person has multiple passions which are professionally unrelated, like an avid painter or fiction writer with a knack for biochemistry? It may be better for such a person to not commit to one track for the rest of her life, and intead maximize both her happiness and potential by planning to commit to both fields for a limited time each, or to go back and forth.

Unfortunately, pushing oneself to the limit and indulging in adventures is less feasible at the ripe age of 60 after 40 years of energy drainage. So many things can happen in those 40 years aside from the inevitable deterioration of the body and the mind. Planning on letting loose after a lifelong career is just as naïve as claiming not to need a lifelong career.

One should not squander youth for fear of being left behind without considering the great experiences that could be neglected in the process.

If the media and personal observation can be extrapolated to the general reality, one can see that stressful, high-paying careers and positions that provide someone “too much to lose” can really take a toll on an individual’s happiness.

Professions may be accepted by said individual as entirely superficial or a mere means to get by, but studies show that if a person is not doing something she really likes for several hours nearly every weekday for 40 years or so, depression is very likely to occur at some point in a life. Approximately 9.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 65 have a depressive disorder in a given year, with five percent suffering from a major depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Health Sciences. The average age of onset for depression is the mid-20s—the age one typically commits to a professional track.

Compare America to the Netherlands. The Netherlands is tied with Sweden and Denmark for second happiest country in the world based on qualitative and quantitative indicators, while the United States comes in thirteenth (out of 50 countries, most of which are still developing). The Netherlands are famous for their historically strong economy and accumulation of wealth, but so is America. Why the difference?

One Jezebel article, “Take Your Workaholism and Shove It, Say Dutch Women,” may have the answer. The American author writes of her experiences and observations in the Netherlands and how life there compares to home.

“I worry about my career incessantly,” she writes, while Dutch women “take a lackadaisical approach to their careers.”

She notes that there is this “staple virtue of American life—it seems to apply no matter what your religious background—that says work brings salvation. The Dutch women obviously have a different idea of what personal freedom and fulfillment means. It involves, um, having fun. It sounds totally right-on.”

One’s career is so tied to one’s identity in America, taking a risk in the professional field may feel like putting one’s soul on the line. However, one puts her soul on the line every day in refusing to nourish it. Committing to a career hinders the diverse types of enrichment that the world has to offer.

[PHOTO COURTESY / lighttoyourpath.org]