Privilege Blog

The Happy Path, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:58am

I want to thank you all for your help. Last Saturday, when I posted my question, on what to do about choosing a college major and how to sustain oneself in the early years, I was not sure if it was a good idea. But over 75 people answered in the comment section, and a few more sent me emails.

Thank you.

Your stories and opinions have helped me build a framework in which to have a better attitude, and therefore a better discussion with my son. Thank you.

If I think back to everything you wrote, here’s my analysis.

  1. Some young people have a clear early path. Maybe they want to make money and don’t mind choosing a major and entry level job that takes them towards that goal. Maybe they have an interest they love and pursue right out of the gate, wherever that takes them. Maybe they just love work, engagement, projects, and it almost doesn’t matter what they do.
  2. Others will take a more wandering path. I see 4 primary happy, if less directed, ways.
  3. You wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you find what you love/are really good at.
  4. Or wander around trying stuff, earning what you can, until you decide that you want to make a good salary. This will often involve going to graduate school.
  5. You can major in something practical, get out of college, earn a good if mundane living, and in your 40s or 50s change careers to something more fulfilling.
  6. Or major in something practical, and achieve fulfillment in your hobbies, and recreation. Your job remains just that, a job.

The unhappy paths are several. If you wander around young, there’s a chance that you may not get back onto the mainstream path, even if you want to. But that outcome is usually caused by drugs, alcohol, a difficult temperament, or cognitive issues. Which would mean that no matter which path you take your course will be somewhat difficult.

If you settle down young, there’s a chance that you will find yourself needing to throw off the traces later in life. The risk is that you may be stuck at that point, with a mortgage, and kids to put through school.

I think in the end these decisions are all about temperament and risk. Our own personal risk calculus. All happy paths are just that, happy. Like unhappy families, unhappy paths are different.

Which unhappy path is worse? Depends on the person. Never settling into a career that generates a good living, security, and social esteem? Or settling into one that does, always restless against its constraints? Different people feel differently. Some people can go to work every day and come home happily to hobbies. Others would feel brutalized by that life. Some people can wander, others would feel far too much anxiety with the lack of structure and security. It’s a good exercise, understanding your calculus, either for yourself or for your kids.

The key piece I was missing, (the constant in the equation if I push the metaphor) before you all were so generous with your stories, is that work to sustain us during any wandering-around-trying part is available. It’s possible to build a peripatetic life of minimal but not dangerous subsistence, with hourly wages, roommates, and friends.

As a parent of young adults I prefer to act as consultant. To assume that while I have knowledge and experience my kids are not me and I am not them. So rather than one single answer, I needed a framework. Again, thank you very much.

Have a wonderful weekend.

27 Responses

  1. Thank you for gathering up all the comments into an understandable info-pack. I´m sure that this will be helpful for many of us.

  2. Hi LPC
    Just wanted to say that is an especially great post.

    Intelligent, objective and expressed in a neutral tone.

    I'm not a parent myself but have come through those teenage and young adult years. I know people who have taken all those paths.

    In the end, there is no wrong or right because we each have different motivations in life.

    You are right about being a consultant in these life choices as well as being a parent.

    SSG xxx

  3. If you wander around young, there's a chance that you may not get back onto the mainstream path. But that's usually caused by drugs, alcohol, a difficult temperament, or cognitive issues. Which would mean that no matter which path you take your course will be somewhat difficult.

    oh, LPC – i love you dearly, and i couldn't disagree more. settling into a career that generates a good living, security, and social esteem and settling into one that does are not the obverse and reverse of a single coin – or if they are, they aren't the only coin. in saying that i don't mean that there are combinations of self-actualization and cold, hard compensation between the poles – there are, of course – but that allowing one's career primacy in one's life is just that – allowing. one of my dearest friends, a harvard grad and a computer genius, remarked a few years ago that he doesn't think that employment is part of his path; while that sounds like a punchline, it isn't. and i respect him for it.

    i realize that this probably isn't the main thrust of your post (or your previous one), but it must be said: the work, be it work for love or work for money, is not all. my life's work is living. that is all.

  4. whoop – make that "settling into a career that generates a good living, security, and social esteem and settling into one that doesn't." and i apologize for the treacly comment. i go treacly every now and again.

  5. "The unhappy paths are several. If you wander around young, there's a chance that you may not get back onto the mainstream path, EVEN IF YOU WANT TO." (that's the part I meant, but didn't write explicitly. I thought the rest of what I said later would make that clear. And if that's your version of treacle, dear god may I never experience battery acid.

  6. I'm following the blog with twitter account but unable to leave a comment. Please help. Thank you.

  7. Anonymous, are you choosing a profile? Sometimes it gets finicky and asks you to have a Google profile. Feel free to @AmidPrivilege on Twitter with your comment, if all else fails, and I can put it up here for you.

  8. Dear LPC,

    You may find helpful the following books (both written by Barbara Sher):
    I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was & Wishcraft

    Thank you for your blog. You are fascinating person.

  9. Anonymous. Thank you so much, for the book and the compliment. I don't walk around feeling fascinating, so if I am here, I'm very grateful.

  10. I loved the previous post and this one. I guess my mum could have written the previous one 5 years ago when I left my country without a clear idea of what I was going to do, and ended up in peacekeeping, in Africa, 5 months after that (well, then she most probably freaked out but didn't tell me anything). The truth is that I found my passion, my source of income and the love of my life (yes, all together)when I let go. I'm sure your son will be fine.

    I just read that your son will spend summer in Argentina…well, I'm Argentinian, so, should you need some info, just let me know!

  11. I guess it's natural to fret (for want of a better word) when one is a mom. I always think back to what my mother, a very practical woman, told me very early on… We will provide you with all we can, equip and prepare you as best we can. The rest is up to you. Both she and my father did just that. When it came time for me to decide on a major, choose a career, etc., they were around to give advice, but ultimately let me make my own decision. Knowing that I have their full support and complete faith was what kept me on an even keel.

    I think your son will do just fine. :)

  12. If you don't have a professional degree/ceritfication…law degree, medical degree, CPA, CFA, chances are that you might have mulitple careers and that can be both good and bad in terms of advancement and financial security. For the risk adverse a professional career is probably the best choice, hopefully the passion for that profession comes with it.

    I was always in awe of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do from an early age. I suffered greatly when I was young because I didn't have any clear path to follow. It was like having career ADD. Fortunately I started a family early. Now in middle age, I have found my path in business and a job that suits me and that I truly love.

    My daughter also has career ADD and no strong desire to do anything specific. She is "slowly" getting a degree in English Lit. At least she will get writing practice out of her degree which could help her in whatever career she finds herself falling into.

  13. Career ADD, ha! Marcela, thank you. Buckeroomama, I agree, I think when our parents believe in us it creates a real reserve of strength.

  14. I am so impressed you were able to pull all those stories together and see the overall patterns and possibilities of our choices. I wanted to reply to that post but didn't have time, but I am one of those who got a liberal arts degree from an Ivy League and bounced around in several careers before landing in the one I have now. I feel that having that broader education — and frankly, the Ivy League name — has allowed me to adapt to a lot of positions and industries that I knew nothing about when I started in them.
    I have noticed that acceptance and understanding of a liberal arts education is pretty regional. I was raised on the East Coast near Yale, and it was understood that you went away to college to go to college, to gain that experience and learn everything you could, etc. No one asked what you were majoring because that wasn't as important. I have lived in a major city in the Midwest for the last 20 years, and it is completely the opposite. The first question I am asked, even 20 years out of school, is "what did I major in?" It is inconceivable to parents here that their children not know exactly what they are going to study, and they all study a "thing" (Business, communication, pre-med, information systems, etc.)
    I'm still not used to the change in attitude.

  15. Really enjoyed both posts, I think that Buckeroomama said it so well when she commented We will provide you with all we can, equip and prepare you as best we can. The rest is up to you.

    I have so many years ahead of me before I reach that point on mummyhood where you are, but I think about it every day.

  16. Hi LPC! you probably posted it earlier on, how old are your children? I am not familiar with collage/master/boarding school etc. cycles, nor able to draw a conclusion on your children's age.
    btw: yesterday I pulled "English Grammar in Use" by Raymond Murphy out of the shelf in the basement. Will brush up my English and brush away the rusty stains :-)

  17. Glad you have more clarity. And- I'd caution about risk tolerance as the primary criterion (agree it's very important.) I'd broaden the criteria to "your values". For example, I have a son who cannot bear to ever work in an office. Another young person is certain she must work for herself only (sand is becoming an entrepreneur).

    And I continue to be mystified that commenters think the means to a liberal arts education is solely within the academy. Read, go to lectures, listen to podcasts. The academy is on intensive (and expensive) way to learn, there are other valid routes available throughout life.

  18. Oh, rats, I missed this. Been in thesis cave. But I have to ask myself some same questions and come up with my own risk analysis so the post was useful to read.

    For what it's worth, most of the people I tend to admire are those who are teachers, givers/healers, thinkers and/or creatives so I am hoping for a 'portfolio' life of these things, balanced of course, with the need to eat and not be or sound like a pretentious twat! (I know these are indulgences, on some level). There will probably be a few different things that I do to express and enact these things in different measures. We'll see!

    (But, yes, a few of my siblings have opted for the other course: work for money, have expensive hobbies, aim to retire or change career in 40s…and they will be able to do this given their current incomes and investments. I, on the other hand, still ride a bike.)

    All the best!

  19. I always enjoy your reports on the data you've collected. I find myself fact-checking and agreeing. Fact-checking is a hard habit to break.

    I'm sure your son will do well. Although I find it totally reasonable and endearing that you spend your Saturdays worrying about him.

  20. Um, isnt this the part where you wax poetic for us about your own trajectory? Which happy path you have taken? And your own traces? ;}

  21. Hello

    Thank you for the message of support following the awful incident I had in a store yesterday. The kind words from friends and strangers was amazing.

    The woman who feared that whatever was on my face would ruin her clothes was small minded, discriminatory and rude. But she has also managed to remind me that there are so many people in this world that are compassionate and open minded, and in support of the challenges I have with my chronic illness.

    I hope that my blog, and your support, can make people think twice about the prejudices they may have towards people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and also make them think twice about opening their mouth and saying something hurtful.

    I feel pretty crappy today, it's hard to be resilient all the time, but I know that I will feel better soon.

    Thank you again, you really brightened my day.


    ¸.·´¸.·´¨) ¸.·¨)

  22. I am catching up…
    what a great post. my favorite part is that you say you act as a consultant. I think that is so wise (and I would imagine requires a bit of self-control…probably more at some times than others).

    My parents and grand-parents were immensely patient with my meandering path and I am…immensely grateful.

  23. It's great that you are now less stressed about the options your kids may take. I know that I've worked in dull jobs that are secure and pay well and I've been way more unhappy, than in stimulating jobs that pay worse, but challenge my brain.

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