Life Advice



Single File: Career as Connection

Susan Dietz on

Goal-oriented, ongoing, meaningful work is the ultimate connection, the taproot into the world around you. By its very nature, it places you in the middle of a varied support group -- from the bank clerk who cashes your check to the salesperson who sells you clothes for the office to the people who work beside you. The routine of work itself is a bridge to the outside world, pulling you out of self-absorption and prodding you to compare your thoughts with others' thoughts and your opinions with others' opinions, and to discover alternative ways of structuring your reality and making a life.

I'm not talking about "just a job" whose sale satisfaction is a paycheck but about a (gasp) career, which implies the sort of in-depth knowledge that can only be accumulated through dedication and focus. It needn't be in a field as esoteric as molecular biology; you may decide to become a potter or a farmer, a bus driver or a store manager. But you do have to sort through your strengths and interests and commit yourself to tracking a long-term career path with one of them. The key is to become good at something you love and then specialize in it. That kind of deep dedication requires pinpointed attention and inevitably results in stability and cohesion.

Work makes you part of a larger whole, an organization bigger than yourself, but also makes you dependent on your talents for full functioning. In that way, it is a fundamental connection to your selfhood, feeding back feelings of achievement, usefulness and camaraderie, all of which is so important for good mental health and a positive self-image. The economic rewards of work, of course, enable you to increase the number of choices in your life. The prestige of being successful in your field is a conduit to other fields (and the people in them) that, in turn, lead to possibilities you might never have known otherwise. And as you explore those new vistas, you place yourself alongside the rest of the madding crowd and see how you stack up. Career has an internal linkage, too, binding together the many dimensions of your life and giving them continuity, a running theme, purpose and meaning.

Work isn't the only miniworld you can build for yourself, but it's so fundamental that when wealthy widows brag to me about their life of leisure (as if that's an accomplishment), I suggest they remove the rose-colored glasses and see the benefits of productivity. Yes, of course economic security is important (you certainly can't doubt my opinion on that), but in my book, without the ongoing involvement of work, such women are deprived.



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