Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my next steps in terms of my professional life. I have yet to really “choose” a field to be in, at least concretely. I feel like my mood changes every week. The only thing that stays the same is that I like to travel, cook, write, and be creative. Those things either (a) point to nothing in relation to a tangible job or (b) are so broad I could do a TON of things. Not an easy choice, I tell ya!
But I also have to keep reminding myself of this phrase: “You are not your career.” Americans (and Westerners in general, I guess) are brought up under enormous pressure to rise to the top professionally, or if not that, then at least choose a career path. It starts early – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Then onto high school, where you often take career quizzes and are deciding on college. Then, if you are lucky enough to go to college, you’re encouraged to pick a major that has the most payout, more so financially than emotionally. It’s exhausting just thinking about how long I’ve been pondering “what to do” with my life.
Of course, I find it incredible that women have more and more career capability than ever before. It’s a big win for ladies, for sure. And I’m all for women who want to be stay-at home moms and dedicate themselves to raising their children. Hell, it’s something I’m not sure I could do! To the women who “do it all”, I’m continually impressed at how you function daily, and raise my glass to you. Here’s my theoretical situation, though: if I don’t have my own business, or if I never become a CEO, or if I never have any children, or if I never get married; if I’m just a girl who, say, happily works in a coffee shop for 20 years even though she has a BA and goes home at night to a modest apartment and perhaps a cute dog – am I not an accomplished person? Do you see what I mean? It feels like I have to pick a box in order to matter. “Powerful businesswoman!” “Dedicated mom!” “Loving wife!” “Juggler of all three and somehow stays sane!” Let’s face it, we all want to matter in some way or another, be it to 100,000 or 1 person.
I guess I’m not sure why “enjoying life how you want” isn’t on the menu. You have to make yourself fit into happiness instead of embracing what already makes you happy. Like your job as a writer? You must become an editor, it’ll bring you success and that’ll make you happy. Totally in love with your boyfriend? You must get married soon, it’s the ultimate statement and that’ll make you happy. Again, I don’t think that rising up in a company or getting married are bad things – I just don’t like the feeling that an upgrade in any facet of life is an instant ticket to happiness. It’s not.
One can technically enjoy a leisurely, non-“successful” life. However, you know what words often come with that lifestyle? Lazy. Unmotivated. Dumb. Trapped. Poor. Unhappy. I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s a result of this pressure we’re brought under. If you don’t make something of yourself, you’ve lost the game. Or, worse yet, you’ve failed to take advantage of the opportunities that our society provides to you, and scorned the American dream. For shame!
I read recently about how Denmark has the best work-life balance. An average of 67% of their day is leisure time – a.k.a., time to themselves. I find that amazing! To not only have that time, of course, but to live in a culture where that is the norm. Instead of thinking, “I’ve worked hard, but I should work overtime to prove my worth as an employee”, someone may instead think, “It’s 3pm and I’ve worked hard today; I think it’s time for me to go home and rest”. And that’d be totally kosher, not lazy. Your worth is in yourself. But the inherent problem is that an American like me sees this culture differently than the rest of the world. Can an expat truly enjoy this lifestyle without taking advantage of it, or eventually having your American ambition creep up on you, leaving you feeling inadequate? Is it something only the Danes can experience?
I’m sure I’ll look back on this post in 20 years and think, “Wow, I got all worked up about nothing.” And perhaps some of you are thinking the same thing. And that’s okay. I’m just trying to figure it all out, and I don’t think I’m alone.