Passion, Work and Motherhood

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Catherine Clifford

When I was in high school, I only knew one type of passion (hint: it had nothing to do with work).

So, when my son, a junior in high school, came home from Career Day fired up about finding his passion, I was all ears. He was in charge of the day, which they called FYI (Find Your Inspiration). He and his peers invited "cool adults" (aka not Mom or Dad) to discuss how they chose their respective career paths. As the recent co-founder of YourOnRamp.com, a site for women in career transition, I found the entire process enlightening, especially since it took more than 20 years for me to figure out my own passion.

When I was only a few years older than my son, I graduated from Indiana University with a business degree in accounting, and got my CPA soon after. I spent 16 years in financial services with Peat Marwick, Chrysler Capital and GATX. My last position was as Managing Director at GATX, where I worked part-time for eight years. In 2001, I left work to spend more time with my four children.

After four years at home, I began to search for a new career, and was frustrated by the limited options and resources available. At the same time, I was amazed by the number of professional women I met who had taken time off to spend with their children, but were at a loss as to how to re-enter the workforce on a family-friendly basis. My intrigue with start-ups, and passion for helping fellow OnRampers, led to the creation of YourOnRamp.

So, naturally, I watched my teen-aged son with curiosity. First: the choice of speakers. Most of the parents at his small school are investment bankers, lawyers and consultants. The committee was quite clear that they did not want to hear about "boring" jobs where (in my son's words, not mine), the only goal was making money. So, they chose the media director for the San Francisco Giants, a local comedian, a group of hip hop dancers, a Latin teacher, and a favorite English teacher who also happens to play in an alternative rock band.

The favorite speakers were the teachers. Their message was crystal clear: Life is too short to spend working in a job you don't enjoy. The Latin teacher had several careers before he found teaching -- the Army, studying classics in graduate school, then onto Africa to teach. When the program's money ran out he returned to the States to teach. When the English teacher was asked why he didn't want to be a full-time musician, he said his music fed his teaching and his teaching fed his music. He enjoys coming to work every day and is passionate about teaching kids. That message resonated with the students.

So, as my son routinely stays up past midnight completing his homework and assembles too many college applications, I hope his hard work will pay off and give him many career choices. When Mom and Dad no longer foot the bill, and earning a living enters his equation, I hope he doesn't lose sight of his passion. He assures me that he and his generation are much more focused on passion and giving back than we were. Time will tell.

Are you passionate about your career? What messages about work do your choices send to the next generation?

Catherine Clifford is the co-founder of YourOnRamp.com, an online community where professional women manage their career OffRamps and OnRamps, and connect with employers. YourOnRamp provides women them with a targeted job board, social network, and career resources, including online career coaches. Clifford lives in Tiburon, Calif., with her family.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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First!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 7:46 AM

Good Lord, what a bunch of worthless idiots those guest speakers were. The "boring" jobs are exactly what these kids need to hear about. Guess what, kids, in the real world you DO need to earn a paycheck, and you DON'T always get to do what you enjoy. I sure as hell wouldn't want my kid listening to a bunch of feckless comedians and musicians talking about their jobs. Bring on the lawyers and investment bankers!

Posted by: mucus99 | February 26, 2008 8:20 AM

first of all, plenty of comedians, musicians, and dancers make decent incomes. Second of all, the musician had a day job too--as a teacher. God forbid any of our kids want to be (gasp) teachers!

The point is, if your parents are investment bankers, you probably already know that field exists. The whole point of career day is to introduce students to options they didn't know exist--so bring on the marine biologists, professional clowns, rodeo riders, etc.

It's fine if your kid chooses an "inside the box" career, but what's the harm in exposing the kid to some "outside the box" careers? Right, because what we need are MORE small-minded people.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 26, 2008 8:39 AM

I don't think the guest columnist plugged her site enough times.

Posted by: marielley | February 26, 2008 8:41 AM

Gee, I don't think I'd ever agree with someone named Mucus, but I do agree that when thinking about the future, I'm encouraging my kids to consider:
1. what I like
2. How it contributes to the world around me (spiritual matters, God's plan for your life, etc.)
3. Whether or not it will help me to support myself and my eventual family in a way in which I am comfortable
4. whether it will mesh with my other goals, including taking time out to raise my kids, if that's important to me.

I'm saying this from the somewhat bitter perspective of someone who HAD a great job that excited me and thrilled me every day (foreign service officer) and was unable to make it work with my family responsibilities, spouse's job,etc. Now I have a job that I like, but am probably not passionate about.

And we have some family friends who have several kids with jobs in the arts that they ARE passionate about -- but none of them has health insurance and they all live at home. I don't want my kids to feel like passion and life are incompatible, but I also want them to balance all the different factors out.

I only have one friend currently who has a job that she loves that works really well with her family and lifestyle. She's a transplant nurse and gets incredible fulfillment from helping kids and adults
get a second chance at life. And the hours are good and so is the money.
She's the sort of person I'd want to speak at a career day with my kids. She's truly inspirational.

Posted by: justlurking | February 26, 2008 8:44 AM

"I hope he doesn't lose sight of his passion."

As long as it's not golf. Right, Leslie? :-)

Posted by: laura33 | February 26, 2008 8:46 AM

I like justlurking's approach. I applaud the idea of presenting non-traditional career paths, and encouraging kids to find their passion. But I also think that needs to be tempered with a reality lesson, because there are always tradeoffs. Following your passion may mean a lot of ramen noodles -- not to mention choosing an affordable college instead of the one that will require you to take on $100K in loans to graduate. So, is it really that much of a passion that you are willing to make those tradeoffs? Or does it just sound kinda cool? Whatever you choose, do it with your eyes open.

Posted by: laura33 | February 26, 2008 8:52 AM

«What messages about work do your choices send to the next generation?»
«Catherine Clifford | February 26, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Category: Guest»

Gratefulness, where is the gratefulness to Allah? America, Allah put you in America, your career, here you can choose it. Be grateful, other places, your father, if he is an investment banker, you can only be an investment banker, your father, if he is a street sweeper, you can only be a street sweeper, not a Latin teacher, not a comedian. America, freedom, do not take these for granted, be grateful Allah has you living in America, not some stinking hellhole like _________ (fill it in, the blank).

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | February 26, 2008 8:53 AM

You know, it's great that these people have passion for their jobs.

You know what's also nice? Paying the utility bill and buying some groceries.

Of COURSE the kids are going to be excited by someone in a band - they're teenagers! Kids get excited by my former paleontology job, and my current job of developing web sites. They both sound "cooooool".

But when I talk about the process and training involved in these jobs (*lots* of graduate school combined with occasionally physically grueling field work for the former, lots of client meetings and research and testing and administrivia for the latter), their eyes glaze over. They just want to hear about the fun stuff.

Unfortunately, life isn't about the fun stuff. The English teacher was very positive about teaching versus playing in the rock band...but perhaps a bit disingenuous. They "feed" each other - that's nice. But I'm betting that they also help feed him literally as well. Everyone has bills to pay.

It's a cr@p economy these kids are going to inherit - perhaps someone needs to dose them with a little reality, as boring and scary as that may be.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 26, 2008 8:58 AM

I think this blog was just an excuse to promote her site.

Posted by: whatsmyname1 | February 26, 2008 9:08 AM

"I think this blog was just an excuse to promote her site. "

I didn't catch the name of her site.

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 26, 2008 9:16 AM

Isn't EVERY generation "more passionate and more about giving back" - in their OWN minds? :)

Anyways I do love what I do, but it has taken slogging through to get here.

So I hope that people also talked about how you get there. I think it is important for people who are really at the applying/serious planning stage to understand that you don't START as the media director. You have to be the grunt assistant first and then the associate etc. etc. etc. I hope these inspirational speakers made that clear as well.

Ironically, teachers may be the group with the least slogging in some ways simply because your first job teaching (after substituting) gives you pretty close to the same responsibilities as your last day in the classroom. It's a bit of an odd duck profession that way.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 26, 2008 9:19 AM

there is a lot of judgement in many of these comments - "what a bunch of worthless idiots"! i think it is a wonderful idea for kids to hear that passion for what you do should come into the equation of finding a career path. how many people actually know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are 18? so many kids go off to college to major in something and come to find out that they hate it. should they do that for the rest of their lives and live miserably under the roof it puts over their heads? my parents stopped paying for college when i wouldn't major in something that could "pay the bills" and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. i decided to follow things that interested me and i have never regretted it. have i ever had to get creative to pay the rent for the next month? sure - but along the way i have learned so much that has helped me make decisions to come in and out of the work force while raising children, find jobs that have paid the bills and followed some passions. as these kids mature they may come to realize that you can have passion for something less glamorous than being a football coach, movie star or a comedian. for some being a bench scientist is a passion, for others teaching high school might be it. some of these paths will pay more than others but that's just life. if you love what you do, you are way ahead of the game - who needs fancy toys and trips if every day makes your heart sing?

Posted by: mbarnard | February 26, 2008 9:20 AM

Yeah, I'm sure the media director for the San Francisco Giants is probably doesn't make a living wage.

What a depressing bunch of posts.Great message to send to your kids--resign yourself to the fact that the ONLY way you can support yourself and a family is to have a stressful job you hate. "Life isn't about the fun stuff"? What is it about then--making money and being miserable? That's a motivational message to send your kids.

And, kids being kids, naturally they will want nothing more than to prove you wrong so chances are they will choose to do the exact opposite of what you tell them to do.

Posted by: maggielmcg | February 26, 2008 9:23 AM

I'm laughing over the poster's assumption that one has to be in a creative, probably low-paying profession in order to be passionate about what one does.

I'm a lawyer, and I worked in a big firm. And I LOVED it. At its best, law can be thrilling and fun and fulfilling, and what do you know? It pays the bills, too. I'm amazed that the school would shun any input by professionals at their career day -- was the schedule really so limited that they couldn't have included some of the parents with "boring" jobs?

Posted by: newsahm | February 26, 2008 9:35 AM

Just because you end up getting a job that "pays the bills" or makes a lot of money (lawyers and Investment Bankers) doesn't mean you will be happy. Money doesn't buy happiness peoplw!

That being said, I am in a job I like a lot, but am not passionate about. However, I am at the point where I make good money and can indulge in everything I am passionate about after work/on the weekends. It is a really good balance, which works well for me. (especially since I don't dislike my job.)

I can't imagine working in a profession that I didn't at least enjoy just so I could make money.

Posted by: Thought | February 26, 2008 9:42 AM

Wow, the first couple of posts were pretty depressing. I am lucky to have a career that I am passionate about. And I DO mean lucky. I know that often people compromise because they have to pay the bills. But, I also realized many years ago that I would have to make certain compromises. So, I drive a 10-year old car. My house is only 1200 square feet. I often buy second-hand clothes. Most of the vegetables we eat in the summer I grow, rather than buy. I'm seriously considering getting a few layers so I won't have to buy eggs. But I'm happy. And Organic Kid knows it. I feel like I've done something right when my child tells me she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up, but she does know she wants a job that makes her as excited as mine makes me. I tell her of the drudgery that happens in all jobs, I tell her about the difficulty in applying for grants. She understands that, and still believes that she can do something that makes her enough money and pays the bills, but still fires her interest, and causes her to dance around the kitchen while making supper, instead of simply tuning out with exhaustion when she gets home. Organic Kid can't wait until she gets to spend a day with Mom at work, because she's fascinated about what I do. I know Organic Kid will likely not follow in my footsteps (really, how many people want to be organic farm inspectors?), but she knows that there's nothing wrong with living small and sustainably, and that a large paycheck really doesn't buy the most basic needs in life...joy, love, satisfaction in life, and kids that know they don't have to march to any drum beat but their own.
--Organic Gal

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | February 26, 2008 9:55 AM

Maggie: "Yeah, I'm sure the media director for the San Francisco Giants is probably doesn't make a living wage."

He/she is probably well paid, but has had to put up with Barry Bonds for the last few years. Some people think that there's not enough money in the world for that. :-)

BTW, it's not clear which one the original poster meant: from
http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/team/front_office.jsp?c_id=sf

Maria Jacinto Director of Broadcasting and Media Services
Blake Rhodes Director of Media Relations

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 26, 2008 9:59 AM

I have a job that many people find B-O-R-I-N-G. But I am passtionate about it because I love what I do. And I get paid a reasonable salary to do it, at least enough for my DW to choose to stay home with DS for a while. It took me a while for me to figure it out, after an undergraduate degree that really didn't get me started on a career path, but now that I've found it, I keep looking for ways to stay in it and improve my knowledge. That's really hard in technical professions because you have to keep working to stay on top. But I love puzzle solving, and that's what I do for a living. And the best thing I can do for my cmopany's customers is solve their issues using technology.

Too bad Ms. Clifford's son didn't find people like that, who are in the regular, everyday professions, that ARE jazzed about their work.

Posted by: WorkingDad | February 26, 2008 10:08 AM

I don't think those of us who are promoting a pragmatic approach are saying you have to have a mindless, stressful job you loathe. We're just saying you have to keep an eye on the bottom line...because I assure you the bank does.

I really like my job - I like it enough that I started my own company so I could make sure I make quality web sites without dealing with some of the less savory people I've been forced to work with over the past 15 years or so.

But I'll be honest - it's a job I initially went in to because the paleontology gigs were hard to come by. And I was tired of having roommates, eating macaroni and cheese and doing the occasional load of laundry at my parents when the washers in my older-but-affordable apartment building broke yet again and I was out of quarters.

I'm not saying I wanted (or have) a luxury lifestyle, but being in my mid-late-20's and still living like I did when I was in college without the *slightest* improvement in my lifestyle? Yeah, it got old. I wanted a job that I found interesting yet actually also paid me enough so I could afford to repair my car in a timely manner AND pay the rent.

I did my research and paid many dues. And while I occasionally miss being a professional geologist/paleontologist, I am quite sure I've made a larger impact on people's lives in my newer profession. Dino bones are cool and all, but making sure web sites can be surfed by the handicapped (and actually making others care about it as well)? That's got a fulfillment all it's own. That it pays a decent wage helps me enjoy it more, because I'm not consumed with worry about mortgage payments and praying my 15 year old car can hold on for one or two months more when a few projects wrap up and I get some nice closing checks (though I do hope it fervently).

You should enjoy your job, absolutely. But telling kids to follow their passions and glossing over how hard it can be at times? That's irresponsible. Passions are, by their nature, somewhat separated from reason and logic. But day-to-day life is filled with instances where basic reason and logic reign supreme. Hence, you have English teacher band members.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 26, 2008 10:19 AM

I loved justlurking's 4 points for thinking about careers. We go through this a LOT with our teenagers.

I hope that those guest speakers included a discussion of "what this job pays" in their presentations. They don't have to disclose their own salaries, but a realistic assessment of the salary range would have been helpful.

One of my daughters is interested in being a teacher. She loves to tutor/mentor younger kids. Her grandmother was a teacher; her aunt is a teacher; her cousin is majoring in education in college. She was really gung-ho.

Last month, the Baltimore Sun ran an article about the number of teachers at her high school who are alumni of the high school. (There are more than a dozen.) It was all fluffy and wonderful about the spirit they have, and how much they love the school and the culture. But way in the bottom of the article it pointed out that none of those teachers actually lives in the school district, or even in Howard County, because teaching doesn't pay enough. That really hit my daughter, hard. She might still go into teaching, but she'll go into it with her eyes wide open.

We do encourage our children to aim for a job/career that gives them what they want, no matter what that is. And they should never stop trying to change the world for the better. I'm still trying to change the world for the better; it's just that my understanding of what I can change is different. I no longer think of being "King of the world" and making all bow before my dictates; nowadays I'm happy with a job that's meaningful and contributes, and that I like. I'm happy running a youth sports program, because it gives girls a chance to play sports and experience the fun and camaraderie.

And if by posting here I give chitty something to snark on, and make her day a little happier, then I've made the world just a little bit better. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | February 26, 2008 10:29 AM

tee hee, laura! as long as golf is your JOB not your hobby i have no objection! it's worthless leisure time hobbies that i am opposed to. and i guess yesterday revealed that i have a thing against golf not shared by too many others on this blog!

and just lurking, thank god you don't just lurk. would love to hear more about what it is like to have found -- and discarded, at least for now - a job that you loved.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 10:34 AM

The thing that is hard to communicate -- to anyone, because it is so politically incorrect -- is that making money (in itself) can be pretty thrilling. Whether it is to put groceries on the table or buy the house of your dreams, making a good living is very rewarding. A friend at J and J once said, "Every job I've ever had I was underqualified and overpaid for." That is a pretty good feeling in itself, although I'm sure I will get slammed for being so baldly opportunistic here.

also, please don't slam catherine for the promos for her site. slam me, 'cause i'm the one who put them in. she wrote a good guest blog and i think her company performs a unique, valuable service for sahms returning to work and that people on this blog would want to know about it. silly me!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 10:39 AM

The thing that is hard to communicate is that life is full of "knocks". Many of us are in jobs where we feel lucky to have been able to combine "paying the bills" with "not in hell". There's nothing wrong with making money. Money is nice and more money is nicer. As long as you have a job that is somehow meaningful, that somehow contributes to society, that pays the bills and that is not in hell (and hell is different for everyone) you should thank your lucky stars.

Posted by: csherr | February 26, 2008 10:46 AM

"First: the choice of speakers. Most of the parents at his small school are investment bankers, lawyers and consultants. The committee was quite clear that they did not want to hear about "boring" jobs where (in my son's words, not mine), the only goal was making money."

If that's the uninformed attitude of the kids at that school, maybe that's all the more reason they needed to hear from bankers, lawyer and consultants about why they do what they do. Most of us have as much passion for our work as I imagine the person trying to put a good face on Barry Bonds' behavior does.

Posted by: Jayne | February 26, 2008 11:07 AM

Thank goodness the kids don't live with us full-time and are still little! I don't think they have figured out that my job is soul sucking and I absolutely hate it. But it puts food on the table and a roof over our collective heads. And until I get more help in that area, I will probably be staying in this soul sucking job.

They have figured out that I work a lot and have questioned that. How I wish that wasn't so. But at least my second job isn't soul sucking. At times, I actually really love it.

I also don't think they have figured out that my honey doesn't like his job either. We are at least making inroads in that area. His transcript is translated and we bought him books to brush up on his algebra for the entrance exam which is happening in the last week of March. With luck and prayer, he will be accepted into an electrician's apprenticeship program.

I suppose when it comes time to consulting about prospective careers we will try to encourage them as much as possible in their passion but also try to keep them grounded in reality. I would hate for them to give up their passion to take a job that pays the bills. I wouldn't foist my reality on my worst enemy.

Posted by: Billie_R | February 26, 2008 11:08 AM

I remember when I was a freshman in college getting ready to declare my major. My father gave me some of the best advice ever: Study something that you really enjoy instead of something that you think is going to make you a lot of money.
So I did. And yes, I don't make diddly, but I love my job. Which is more than I can say for a lot of my friends who view work as jail. There are boring days and it's not always festive and fun, but I do enjoy what I do. I think that is what this column was more about than anything: find something that you like to do because otherwise work is going to be hell. (And yes being able to pay the bills on time is a plus.)

Posted by: melissamac1 | February 26, 2008 11:18 AM

It's unfortunate that there is such a discrepancy between jobs in America. My husband and I are both passionate about our jobs--non-profit public relations and broadcast journalism--but neither of us make any money.

We worked just as hard in college (and grad school) as the people who make much more than us. We work the same amount of hours as our friends who make much more. It's demoralizing for us to worry about being able to afford having children just because of the type of jobs we're interested in.

It's a Catch-22: Hate our jobs or hate our inability to afford a family? I don't know which is preferable.

Posted by: messincm | February 26, 2008 11:26 AM

messincm, why do you assume that people that make more than you hate their jobs?

Posted by: Jayne | February 26, 2008 11:49 AM

I think there is kind of a Maslov Hierarchy of Needs when it comes to jobs:

First, you need a job that pays you "enough" money (and "enough" is not as easy a descriptor as it sounds - for some people, it's minimum wage and for others, millions don't cut it). Kids need to figure out how important money is to them. Do they just want financial security -- or do they "need" more?

Only when you've gotten a job that pays "enough" can you really start dreaming about having a job you feel passionate about. Some people don't ever get there. Only a few find that magical intersection between "enough" pay and a job they truly love.

I think it is also important to show kids that a great job isn't everything. A really terrible job can ruin your life, because you spend so much time at work, but the converse is rarely true. A great job doesn't make a great life -- you need more than just work and money to make you happy. (So to sound so cliched!)

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 11:53 AM

I'll agree that there is such a thing as following your passion and making decent $$, although much depends on what your passion is. I feel very fortunate to be able to make a living doing something that interests me and furthers a cause I believe in.

But yes, there are tradeoffs, as mentioned before. I chose a public grad school over my first-choice pricey private one because my expected salary level would not pay off those huge loans fast enough to suit me. You might not have a fancy house or car or wardrobe or vacations (if such things matter to you). And it may mean taking or keeping a job in your field that is not grant-dependent or at a certain pay scale (i.e. choosing a government or private-sector job over a nonprofit), or indulging a new passion on the side because it doesn't pay enough to do full-time. And once you get married, buy a house, and have a family, things like job/location stability and family-friendliness come into play. Hard for a teen to imagine, but a little reality lesson should be part of any good Career Day.

I think the committee's decision to only include "interesting" jobs on Career Day was ignorant, rude to potential volunteers, and shortsighted (and should have been overridden by an adult advisor), but not surprising given the age of the committee members. Just because a CPA crunches numbers doesn't mean their job is boring--what a lost opportunity to explain to these naive kids (math-club champs included) why an accountant's job is important!

Posted by: chescokate | February 26, 2008 12:07 PM

Leslie: I just want to register one vote in FAVOR of guest blogs where the author has a website or book or business to plug. I often click over to see what's going on and I find that it expands my knowledge. Now if you switched to a format where every day brought a new site I would get overwhelmed. But personally I like finding a good new site a few times a month.

Posted by: cm9887 | February 26, 2008 12:07 PM

Yes, it's nice to find your passion. And it's nice to pay the bills. When I was in college, I did think it a little silly that people thought: oh, I'll just major in *whatever* so I can get a high paying job. I mean, why were you there? If to only find a job, then go to a trade school. Get an internship, whatever. If you're there to learn about things, then find what you like.

I do wish that my options were different - and learning about different things as a kid helps, certainly. I mean, my 'job' was to go to college and get a good job. As in, my parents thought the best thing to do would be to work in an office. That was 'secure' right? Well, if I had said: i want to be a pastry chef, my parents would have FREAKED. It never even occurred to me. Cause I was always told that I need to be like all the other drones, and get a job in an office, etc. I would like for my kids to follow their passion - whatever it is. Even if they want to be a pastry chef. Or a gardener. Or an electrician. Or whatever. That there's good in all we do - and it's something to be proud of to do a job well done.

Basically, I'm just saying I'd like for them to know that there are plenty of opportunities out there for them, not just going into an office every day...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 26, 2008 12:08 PM

Thank you, CM. I feel the same way. Plus I really believe that the new companies and websites set up to help women exit, and re-enter, the workforce are very helpful and important. Appreciate your vote!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 1:29 PM

First to Leslie's "worthless leisure time hobbies" comment- exactly who decides which leisure time hobbies are worthless?

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 26, 2008 2:20 PM

Second, as someone who went into the worlds least practical field- philosophy, I think I've always held a unique perspective on careers.

Philosophy was, is, and always will be a real innate passion for me. But not to the point of being good enough to make it a career (think great football player who just can't cut it in the pro leagues), and when I actually found other priorities come up (life stuff like bills and living with a partner) in which a good job was important.

My job now is good, pretty boring, but gives me a sense of overall satisfaction. And it's got hardly any commute, freedom of internet, and hardly any OT. It plays to my non-intellectual talents very well.

If I WANTED, sure I could haul ass and get more degrees and make more money. But I wouldn't be able to enjoy my "worthless leisure time hobbies" or have nearly as awesome sex as often as I have it now.

So my life is in balance and very awesome overall, even if I don't have the awesome passionate career I started with.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 26, 2008 2:24 PM

Third- why is it so many parents who decide to make raising kids a priority over all else, remove themselves from the market, and then decide later they want to make career a bigger priority (on THEIR terms), act so surprised when they find it's not all easy and that they aren't as valuable employees as those who haven't left and haven't made other things higher priority?

I'm not saying these parents did anything wrong, but what did they think would happen?

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 26, 2008 2:26 PM

hey, i was being sarcastic about worthless leisure hobbies :)

Posted by: leslie4 | February 26, 2008 2:37 PM

I was quite surprised by how bitter several of the early posts were. I don't see what is wrong about having dreams and working towards those dreams. We've all had a job we didn't like at some point. Many people work those jobs in order to work towards a dream at the same time. I want to know when as adults it suddenly becomes so "naive" or "unrealistic" to continue to dream. We all need to make enough to eat and take care of our families. There is nothing wrong with working towards a passion or a dream at the same time. The people that have really made it big in whatever profession they chose did not stop dreaming ever!

I salute all the dreamers out there.

Posted by: kbj | February 26, 2008 2:41 PM

Count me as agreeing with CM. Websites or books: it doesn't matter to me. I like hearing from someone who researched the thought or exhibited some passion in some other form before coming to OB. It definitely broadens my horizons.

Posted by: dotted_1 | February 26, 2008 2:45 PM

First post here after months of lurking. I am not a father, nor do I intend ever to be one; but I enjoy reading this blog because an appropriate work-life balance is an important goal for everyone, not just for parents. Also, it is frequently fascinating for me to get a sense of how parents see themselves and the world.

Today's post was especially interesting, since it covers an issue that I have thought deeply about ever since my high school days, 30 years ago.

While everyone here seems to agree that it would (ideally, at least) be nice to work at something you love to do, I'm afraid that I will be the voice of dissent on this question. This idea is, in my view, a very dangerous bit of folk wisdom, one which frequently winds up leaving people broken and miserable.

While it seems obvious at first glance that "doing something you like" should be preferable to "doing something you don't like", applying this idea to one's work is a mistake for two reasons: 1) it taints the thing that you (used to) love; and 2) it introduces all kinds of potentially serious identity problems.

The key questions here are: What is the nature of work? What is its purpose?

First, the nature of work is "something that you have to do". You have to do it nearly every day, whether you really want to that day or not. It is a responsibility. Please note that doing something because you have to do it (under the great penalty of not being able to pay your bills, etc.) is very, very different from doing something because you love to do it -- even if we are talking about the very same act in each instance.

Example: Riding my bicycle is something that I absolutely love to do. During the summer I ride nearly every weekend, and also on many weekday evenings. It is truly one of the great joys in life for me. However, there are nevertheless some days when I wake up and say, "hmm, I don't think I want to ride today; I'd prefer to do something else". No problem there. But, if I *had to* ride my bike every day, then I would surely lose my love of riding -- AND QUICKLY!

So, I say that there is a certain entirely appropriate sort of resentment that one feels towards the daily demands of work. This is a healthy, necessary defence mechanism. But, when you make a job out of your "love", then you have created the inevitability of feeling that same resentment towards that thing you "love"; and you have by virtue of these feelings truly lost that "love".

The second question: What is the purpose of work?

The problem with promoting the "do what you love" philosophy is that work *becomes* life. And, of course, work is not life; work is a means to life. The danger in equating work and life is that the stakes at work then become dramatically raised -- a failure at the job becomes a failure with the self! The only defence against this sort of serious personal crisis is to maintain a strict wall between "work" and "life." This, I would assert, is the appropriate "work-life balance" for anyone.

In today's post, Ms. Clifford drew the distinction between "boring" jobs and other kinds of jobs. Presumably "professional athlete" would be counted by those making such distinctions on the "other kinds" side, and not on the "boring" side. Yet, one of the most profound statements on this issue was made by the great basketball star Bill Russell, who said "'basketball player' what I do; it is not what I am".

In keeping with this philosophy, I am very happy to recall that, on more than one occasion, I have known a person for many months, before that person ever knew what my job was. And that's the way it ought to be.

Even though I am not a parent, there are children whom I love, and I despair that they will be bombarded by this errant idea from every orthodoxy-spewing guidance counselor in sight (not to mention their parents). It really saddens me that the smartest of them will be most likely to adopt this view, and will therefore be the most likely to wind up with far more stress and far less happiness then they otherwise could have.

To sum up: life ain't work; indeed, it is everything BUT work. "Life" is but another word for "free time".

Posted by: cesarano | February 26, 2008 3:15 PM

cesarano, I'm glad you stopped lurking today -- that was a really thoughtful post. I know my husband has been tempted to quit corporate America and become a woodworker at times, but in the end, he doesn't do it for exactly the reason you explained: then the thing that he loves would become a chore that he has to do every day because he has deadlines and clients. He's afraid he'd lose the passion for it that he so enjoys now.

Off topic -- well, I guess kinda on -- we're off on vacation tomorrow, so see everyone in a week or so!

Posted by: laura33 | February 26, 2008 3:23 PM

I have always been envious of people who are passionate about their work (especially when it pays the bills!) but it might also be useful for students to know that there are also those of us out there who don't have the type of personality that will ever have a "passion" for a job, regardless of the job, and that could end up being a real possibility for the student as well. I am in a field that I happen to be good at, that other people think sounds interesting, and that pays a healthy salary. However, I am definitely not passionate about it, and I'm not sure there's anything out there that I would be passionate about in terms of doing on a daily basis while also needing to pay the bills. While I love reading novels by the pool or the beach, I don't think anyone will pay me a whole lot for that :) However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something to keep in mind (in case you don't seem to know what your "passion" would be in terms of a job and put a lot of pressure on yourself to go find that job without success).

Posted by: allaboutrocks | February 26, 2008 3:33 PM

Passionate about my career - nope. Oh, there are moments... About once or twice a year, I'll solve some seemingly impossible problem and sleuth out a very obscure bug in my system. Then I get to enjoy the puzzle-solving, and coast on the recognition of my coworkers and managers. But most of the time, the problems are simple, and the change requests are something I've coded a hundred times before.

I would love to see my kids having musical careers. They both have their father's musical talent. But DH doesn't make a living at his music, so it's not realistic to think that our sons will. If they can make their own way in the world, and still have the time and energy for making music after earning their daily bread, that will be good enough. Especially if they regularly invite me to listen.

Posted by: sue | February 26, 2008 3:37 PM

cesarano, that's exactly the reason my college chemistry professor gave for not becoming a gynecologist.

Other than that, though, I think I disagree with your post, in particular your conclusion. Life is NOT "everything BUT work;" life is "everything INCLUDING work." I am a whole person, made up of everything that I do. Work is an important part of that. Not the only part, and certainly not the MOST important part, but an important part nonetheless.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 26, 2008 3:43 PM

You know, the Post has been running ads and columns asking why so many women in their childrearing years don't read the Post. I can sum it up in one word: elitism. This guest column is a classic example. "Most of the parents at his small [almost undoubtedly private] school are [well-off] investment bankers, lawyers and consultants." In other words, representative of a minority of the multitude of schools or parents in the area. Parents who smile indulgently while their children hear from people in careers that few of them will end up going into.

Since the theme of this column is "balance," why not focus on how regular kids with regular parents can find satisfaction in the types of regular careers that virtually everyone ends up in? It can be done, you know. Plenty of "regular" people do it every day.

But oh gee, that might be boring. And beneath the elitist standards of the Post. As boring as publishing "regular" recipes in the Food Section that people might use, rather than those requiring a guest chef to trot over to someone's house to do dress rehearsals of their dinners. Or as boring as acknowledging in the Home section that "regular" people buy big screen TVs and put them in their family rooms and actually watch them, rather than running an article quoting snooty designers who swoon and need smelling salts at the suggestion that some people like to actually live in their living rooms.

Posted by: Yankeesfan1 | February 26, 2008 11:54 PM

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