Leah Libresco has two must-read pieces responding to Hanna Rosin’s Atlantic story.
First, at First Things:
Rosin may think she’s delivering a paean for the hookup culture, but she’s really giving a eulogy for intimacy. A life that has no room for serious romantic partners can’t have much space for deep friendships either. This should be the one culture war fight where we can all be on the same side: if careers preclude real relationships, something’s gone deeply wrong. Instead of arguing about how much of the void hookups can fill, I’d like to attack the root of the problem: the miscategorization of career as vocation.
The totalizing careers that Rosin describes are not uniquely the problem of women, nor are they limited to the banking industry she profiled. Women like Anne-Marie Slaughter notice the impossibility of having it all because they had higher hopes than men to start with. Male CEOs are not asked how they will balance the responsibility to their jobs with their obligations to their children because it is assumed that a parental relationship is a luxury for men at the top. Women entered the workforce, but didn’t submit to its disregard of the family, so they are achingly aware of the tradeoffs. And we’re better off feeling that pain and steeling ourselves to fight than accepting the status quo and not noticing a sacrifice is being made.
Today, many of the most high-status jobs for the well-educated make a virtue of intensity and commitment. Investment banking boasts 80-hour work weeks; Teach for America’s emotional crucible results in a high burnout rate; and jobs in the political sector spawn articles like Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cri de coeur. Have a Type A personality? These jobs are ready to push you to (or past) your limit, and isn’t that what excellence is all about?
There’s a word for people who turn over their entire waking life to one cause, and willingly sacrifice the possibility of a family for the opportunity to serve: monks (or, more archaically, oblates). Just like the driven twenty-somethings of Rosin’s article, monks and nuns have made a commitment so total that it precludes marriage. But in the case of vowed religious, the form of their service is meant to be elevating, not just useful. I seldom hear people claim that spreadsheets are good for the soul. Even for people doing high intensity work for the public good (the teachers, the social workers, the public interest lawyers, etc.), the form of their work may still be deadening.
Most careers aren’t vocations, so we need space outside them to grow and love. It’s possible to make a short-term decision to put life and relationships on hold, in order to make a high-intensity commitment to a cause (this is the model for the oft-touted national service draft), but it’s unhealthy to let these crisis-mode jobs give shape to your life.
And from her blog at Patheos:
An “overly serious suitor” may indeed interfere with your career, but I’ll bet a too-close friendship will, too. (Though that’s not mentioned, because we don’t take friendship seriously enough already.) After all, whether or not your relationship in sexual, commitment and mutual dependence will constrain and limit your freedom from.
The trouble is, if that’s what you’re paring off, the freedom to that you’re preserving is pretty much just your freedom to work and advance. Letting your job be your life makes more sense if your career is also your vocation, if it’s making it easier for you to be the person you ought to be and grow in goodness. That’s not generally how I hear people describe the kind of high powered finance or legal jobs that Rosin’s profilees seem to hold. And even if you’ve got a stressful job that does good (let’s say you work in the public defender’s office), the results of your work may be service, but the way you work may not be good for you.
If we’re actually claiming that the only way to get good works done is to call twentysomethings to a kind of emotional martyrdom (viz throwing unprepared, hastily trained teachers into the worst classrooms to hold the line for two years til they burn out), they we should admit that’s what we’re doing. And then we should reel a bit in horror and try and think if there’s a better solution.