Lately I've noticed that a lot of very successful people (mostly men) will frequently lament having passed up their true passion for a career that offered them more financial security. Doctors, lawyers, bankers and highly placed government officials alike will talk about how much happier they would be as a cartoonist, a teacher, a high school football coach and so on and so forth. On the flip side I know a lot of people who have pursued their dreams in lieu of more lucrative careers who are SERIOUSLY freaked out about money. I'm honestly not sure which group has it better or worse.
The pressure on men to offer financial security to their family can not be overstated. No matter how liberated our society has become men still feel the need to be the bread winners and let's face it, a lot of women want them to be exactly that. When a child comes into the family it is still rare for the mother to keep working and the man to stay at home. I'm not saying it never happens but it's the exception not the rule. When the wife in a family gets laid off it's stressful, when the man in a family gets laid off it's an emergency. I've heard entire panels on CNN debate the reasons why women are paid less than men but rarely do they acknowledge that on a whole (and a again, there are always exceptions) women feel it's more acceptable to take a low paying job that they love than men are. Men don't feel like that's a luxury they are allowed and those who do take that route frequently stress about whether or not they made the right decision. That stress has probably intensified as we've become more liberated. Before it was completely unacceptable for a man to take a low paying job that he was excited about in lieu of the highly paid but boring position. Now society seems to be in the business of sending our men two completely conflicting messages. Message number one is that they must be a provider no matter what Ms. Magazine says. They are told that women won't want them unless they can give them a house and a yearly European vacation. They are told that not making a good living will make them a lesser man. Message number two is that as an American they must exercise their right to pursue happiness and happiness (as defined by almost all popular culture) is following your dreams. If you abandon your dream of being a lowly paid investigative journalist in order to be a highly paid CEO you've sold out and are nothing more than a misguided materialist. There is no winning. As a result the guys who DO attain financial security are less able to enjoy or even feel proud of their accomplishments and are CONSTANTLY playing the what-if game. The guys who love their jobs but don't make any money just feel like losers. Everybody is burdened with the knowledge that nothing was dictated, they made their own bed (although societal norms provided the bedding) and now must lie in it.
I don't really know what the answer is to all this is. As a woman all I can say to these guys is that from what I've heard from your counterparts it is clear the grass isn't always greener. For those of you who love your low-paying job you should know that the guys who are making more than you are secretly and legitimately jealous of you. While you are whistling while you work your richer counterparts are playing the what-if game and wishing they had more free time. You chose to follow your dreams and that's probably because you knew you weren't someone who would be able to stick it out in a career you had little interest in. You made the right choice for you. As for the guys who chose the high-paying power positions, you should remember that bringing home a small paycheck doesn't just mean you live in a smaller place. It means that you are sometimes late on your bills and actually have to stress about rent money. It means credit card debt that you can't always keep up with and stress about finances when you or someone in your family needs medical care. Poverty is not romantic and I defy you to find something romantic about being lower-middle-class. The fact that you chose a stable career route probably means that part of you knew you weren't cut out for the lifestyle of a starving artist. You also made the right choice for you.
As for my fellow women out there...God knows we have enough to complain about but before we start railing against "The Man" I think it benefits us to remember that we're not the only ones who have issues to deal with. It's not a man's world anymore than it is a woman's world. It's just one big highly complicated world that we all share. Perhaps we can help each other through it.
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