how we’ve changed

Since I quit my job almost two weeks ago, my blog has been getting a lot of traffic related to people searching for things like “should I quit my job?” and “when to quit a job I hate,” and “should I quit before or after my holiday bonus?”

Of course, since I wrote a post with the words “quit” “my” “job” and “today” sprinkled repeatedly throughout it, the search engines are going to direct people to my site. There were certainly just as many people searching for those kinds of questions the day before I quit as there were the day after. But with my new window into who’s searching for job-quitting, it’s very interesting to realize how many people scour the internet every day with dreams of leaving their current work situation and the intention, theoretically, of finding something better.

I was talking to my friend and improv teammate Brett Wean (Follow him on twitter because he is a very funny tweeter.) on the bus ride up to Boston this past weekend about a variety of thought-provoking topics, including the idea that our parents and their parents didn’t necessarily have the luxury, nor the mindset, of only pursuing work that made them feel happy and fulfilled. Maybe that’s an overstatement or a vast generalization, but I wonder. My mom wanted to be a physical therapist before she found out she was unexpectedly pregnant. She became a teacher because her mother told her that’s what she had to do if she was going to be a young, single mom. Being a teacher ultimately became a job that made her feel happy and fulfilled, but who knows if she would have chosen it if she hadn’t been forced to do so by her circumstances. I suppose hers is not a story unique to her generation. Her story could happen to anyone at any time in history.

Even so, whether due to an overall way of thinking as a culture, or due to an economic need, or due to a societal expectation, I would imagine that many people in the generations before mine ended up in jobs, jobs that they kept for their entire lives in some cases, that weren’t exactly their true bliss or passion. And maybe, in at least some of those instances, the person was able to turn the career in which they found themselves into a passion.

My grandfather is an interesting example. He played pro-baseball when he was a young man. He was a fantastic ball player, from what I hear, and traveled all around the country playing in ball clubs and managing teams. He managed the Yankees when they were a minor league team, and roomed with Mickey Mantle – they grew up playing on the same farm team, and ended up remaining friendly colleagues and teammates for a long time.

The stories my grandfather tells from his years playing baseball are some of the most fascinating, exciting and passionate stories you’ll ever hear. (He’s also a fantastically gregarious story teller, in general. He could make a blank piece of paper sound interesting.)

He maintained his career in baseball and his passion for the game even as he was starting a family. His young wife and their two oldest children traveled around the country with my grandfather while he got paid to play professional sports. Ultimately, though, he realized that he needed to give up this dream to provide a more stable life for his family. His wife desperately wanted to return to her home town, she missed her mother and her siblings and the place she knew so well, and they were planning to have more children, so it seemed the sensible thing to do. (Incidentally, this was a reality my grandfather relayed to me when I was a teenager and I announced that I wanted to be an actor. He tried to explain to me how he gave up his dream to do the responsible thing and that I should consider doing the same. Needless to say, this didn’t make me want to be an actor any less, it made me wonder why on earth he would ever give up something he loved.)

So my grandparents returned to Illinois, set up their roots in Quincy, where my mother and I were both born, and there my grandfather, now retired from baseball, worked himself to the bone. He enrolled in a college hours and hours away from his family to get a business degree, he worked at a shoe store to pay the bills, he bought a small plot of land and raised cows and other farm creatures, and he eventually became a teacher and worked his way up through the school system until he retired as Assistant Superintendent of the School Board when I was a little girl. Since he retired he’s had several other careers because the man just cannot stop working. He’s since been a principal of a Head Start program for underprivileged children and principal of the Catholic grade school – all this after he “retired.” He feels idle if he’s not involved in something and at almost 80 years old (his 80th birthday is next week!) he now runs his local Golf Club, helping the club to eschew a potential closing while we all weather the bad economy.

The point is, the man’s passion may have once been baseball, but when he became a father, his passion became his family, and when he became an educator, his passion became being a great teacher and creating a better school system. When he became a grandfather, he took it on with glee – you’ll never meet a man more enamored with his grandchildren. And when he became a golfer…well, he loves golf. He’s an example of someone whose circumstances forced him away from his “dream job” and toward a more practical lifestyle, but he’s also an example of someone who was able to find happiness and fulfillment in almost anything he did.

It makes me wonder if we are living in a time that is so fundamentally different from the days when my grandfather was young – a time where the options for careers are so plentiful, where the rhetoric that we can be anything we dream of being is so prevalent, where the dot com boom allowed us to watch our ridiculously young peers become overnight millionaires, where the economic depression and the expensive wars don’t have nearly the devastating personal impact (in some cases, at least) that they had the first time our nation saw them, and a time when the world moves at such a pace that we probably all have a mild case of attention deficit disorder – it all makes me wonder if many of us would not be so easily able to innately find a sense of happiness in the kind of life my grandfather found himself building after he left his dream job, a life based on making the responsible, safe, selfless choice.

To be fair, there are countless men and women in today’s culture who do make the responsible, safe and selfless choice every single day, men and women who have found themselves in situations where they might not be able to follow a childhood dream because they have to pay bills and support a family. And I would imagine that many of those people have been able, like my grandfather did, to find their bliss within that way of life. That is a wonderful thing and I do not judge their lifestyle nor how fulfilling they find it. Everyone’s bliss is their own and simple dreams are just as beautiful and important as lofty ones. Conversely, there are countless others in today’s culture who have chosen, probably in numbers greater than ever before, to set aside the idea that all our choices have to be responsible, logical and stable, and who are quitting jobs and leaving careers in the interest of seeking out those wild fantasies and daydreams.

I’m leaving my desk job, complete with a decent salary, stability and health insurance benefits, because I do not want to work here anymore. I cannot imagine that the option to just up and quit a job like this was a true possibility, or perhaps even a desire, for someone who had a job like mine sixty years ago. I’m going to have to spend some time asking my grandparents when I see them next about whether or not people followed their bliss when their generation was young. Did people seek out the kind of careers and lifestyles that they dreamed of having? Like so many of us seem to eager, willing, and capable of doing today? Or did people find a job that suited their needs and then stay in it, no matter what else they dreamed of having or doing, because that’s just what people did?

I’m not remotely ashamed of the fact that the tide of our culture has turned in such a way to find its inhabitants, young and old, seeking out careers that truly inspire them, and pursuing paths, projects and goals that they dreamt about pursuing as children. I think it’s a wonderful direction for a culture to take itself, where more and more people are searching for their dream life. It’s also very interesting to juxtapose today’s culture, where google searches about “I’m desperate to quit a job I hate” are prevalent, with yesterday’s. You have to wonder – if the internet was around 60 years ago, would people have googled “I want to quit my job” as often as they do today.

There’s absolutely nothing to judge about either culture. Both have their merits and are a sign of the times in which they’ve existed. It’s just fascinating to notice how we’ve changed.

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3 thoughts on “how we’ve changed

  1. i really like this post. i read it because of grandpas and mickey mantle, but then it spoke to me directly and addressed some thoughts i had only begun to have.

    i think it’s about doing whatever you are doing with a whole heart. thanks.

    also, my grandpa turns 80 next week too. holy cow.

  2. Pingback: i quit my job today « follow my bliss

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