I’m Not The Man

April 21st, 2008

I’m really hoping, as I’m sure you are, that this is the last thing I say about Eat, Pray, Love, because dude, I KNOW. SHUT UP, ALREADY. But if you can believe it, it reared its ugly head again today as I was thinking about something, and if you can believe EVEN MORE THAN THAT, I’ve gotten no fewer than 126 e-mails and comments COMBINED from INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE who told me they hated the book, too, and they can’t stop thinking about it! They can’t!

Anyway, the one point that continues to stick in my craw like a piece of beef jerky that won’t go down — is that he talks of people who cite children as their greatest accomplishments like they are only saying so because they have no other accomplishments to speak of. You see, they poured all the energy into their kids, when they should have been living their dreams. And though she cites Toni Morrison as one who accomplished both, she’s treated as the exception, not the rule.

Granted, this is my interpretation — I doubt she’d agree that’s what she meant — but I feel the urge to say this BEFORE I have kids, lest someone think I was brainwashed by biology: I think, and have always thought, that having children and raising them to be good people is one of the greatest things a person can do, and you’re successful even if that’s ALL you do — which it isn’t, for anyone because I’m assuming that to raise good kids, you have to be a nice person, and if that’s the case, then SURELY you’ve touched someone else’s life.

(It goes without saying that not having kids also leads to great things, and, in fact, was almost the option I picked, and would have been happy with it. But her words felt so either/or!)

Which brings me to the whole point of how I got thinking about this in the first place, in a roundabout way (success? Lack thereof? I don’t know!): I’ve met surprising number of people — here, more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, but certainly other places — where a level of education and academic-type knowledge or skill (?) is valued over tangible, real-world success. Perhaps it’s because I live in an academic town that I see this more than other places, but I know an inordinate amount of people who have achieved very little in terms of professional and/or personal accomplishments (by this, I mean a job they like, family, travel, whatever), and cling to prior academic/literary/artistic pursuits, sometimes as far back as HIGH SCHOOL, because that’s the last time they achieved their definition of success (art, writing, literature, whatever).

Apparently, to apply what they love to a real-world job would be selling out and this, of course, is kowtowing to The Man. Ergo, they would rather eschew anything that smacks of sold-out success (read: anything that is remotely traditional, like being an SAHM (D) or working for a corporation-type thing) in favor of … well, I don’t know what. Pride in not selling out to The Man?

I guess I should preface this by saying that The Man and I are really good friends. Actually, I LOVE The Man. The Man has paid my bills for the better part of a decade or more, and lets me tinker with words and semicolons and stuff that I like for the benefit of a paycheck. Yes, I could make more money doing something else, and I have made that choice, and may make it again later in life. I’m cool with that, and don’t hold it against The Man. And though The Man doesn’t do things EXACTLY as I’d like, I never felt like I was in a position to complain, because again, The Man gives me money, sometimes for things like writing bad catalog copy, where as Not The Man does not. The Man sort of rules, even when he’s annoying as shit, is what I’m saying, and since Adam and I have both historically chosen jobs/careers that we’ve (sort of) liked, selling out to him hasn’t been all that painful.

I realize it isn’t this way for everyone, but I’m truly mystified by people who would rather toil away doing something they deplore that makes them miserable and further, doesn’t even pay well (a high paycheck is a totally acceptable standalone reason to sleep with The Man. BTDT, is what I’m saying), for the sake of some kind of INNER SUFFERING rather than “selling out.” And yet I’ve met a surprising number of them! Yes!

And if it were just so that they could work part-time in the salt mines to give them time to pursue whatever it is they truly love then YES, I would be RIGHT BEHIND THEM! Except no! Many of them complain that the mines take up too much time to study Saussure! And having a family is FAR TOO PEDESTRIAN. THEY ARE AN ARTIST. So then I’m left to shrug and think maybe if one’s definition of success is so astonishingly unattainable, then maybe you should redefine it? But I don’t see how knowing 100 ways to refer to Chaucer in conversation helps you, especially if you spend your evenings stuffing envelopes and hating every second of it.

And now that I’ve talked and written myself into a corner that is either incredibly offensive (sorry, if so — I don’t mean to be, I’m just EAGER TO LEARN MORE) or incredibly confusing and banal (that’s where my money’s going), because I DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING AT THIS POINT. I ask you: What do you do for a living? (you can be as vague as you want, and yes, SAHM/D is included here). How do you define success? Do you get it from your job or in your family and friends, or both? Something else? Do you sell out to The Man and like it, or do you sell candles (METAPHOR) so that you can do more thinking about Derrida?

(My answer: While I have things I want to accomplish outside of ManWhore-related activities, I am grateful that I’ve gotten paid to do things that I actually enjoy — not always, but sometimes, and that’s enough. And further, I consider myself lucky to have a great marriage with a dude I actually want to have a family with — which I’ve finally seen as a clear accomplishment, thank you maturity — and when I do finally have a family, I like to think that it will be a significant marker for my own success, if only for the enjoyment I derive from seeing kids grow. I would say the same is true for my relationships with my family and friends. Do I always subscribe to this and NEVER engage in self-flagellation? HA! HA! OF COURSE NOT. The Man is not perfect in his wisdom.)

And herein ends the most ill-conceived piece of writing ever. But it’s late, I’m tired and OH YES, I have had wine.

Happy Tuesday!

*10,000 Maniacs

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61 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susan  |  April 22nd, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I work in the music and entertainment business. Though I love the industry, the hours are long and the pay just so-so. I’m a single mom and I am more proud every day of my kids’ small accomplishments than I am of my own achievements at work. Of course a pat on teh back is a pretty rare occurrence at my workplace. Although SAHM-hood is not in the cards for me, I’d like to be able to find a better balance between work and home, because my job is nowhere near 8 to 5, Monday to Friday. I feel like I’m selling out to The Man for a paycheck, but there are many days when I wish it was a different Man.

    I guess success for me is just keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table and happy and healthy children. I’ll do whatever The Man wants to ensure that type of continued success.

  • 2. jonniker  |  April 22nd, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    Also, Shelly, I totally know what you mean. I am all about the small things in life that add up to a big impact on someone else’s , if that makes sense.

    I guess I meant that we all can’t do something extraordinary in the traditional sense, like write the next great American novel, challenge Baudelaire in our daily poetry readings and cure cancer. You know? But the nurse, the one who helps a patient get through his/her day better? She’s making a big difference. The catalog copy I write for that little perfume house determined to make it? Well, it makes a difference to the family who owns the store, that’s for sure.

    That’s what I meant. So yeah, I totally agree with you.

  • 3. Morrigan  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 6:12 am

    This is something I have thought a lot about over the past few years. My first career was with a regulatory body where it was my job to help protect the public interest. It was fascinating work for a cause I believed in, and I was content to work long hours for no overtime pay and even less appreciation. Then there was a change in regime and I was fired and learned that it didn’t matter how well I did my job, how dedicated I was or how passionately I believed in what I was doing — the organisation I worked for didn’t think twice about taking away my livelihood and a job that defined me more than I would like to admit.

    My new career is decidedly more Man Oriented. I am an executive assistant in a large financial institution and may actually work for The Man Himself. But I love it! I believe in the values and leadership principles of the organisation, have a wonderful boss and amazing colleagues, stimulating work that suits my skills and interests, better work-life balance than I ever though possible AND I get paid for it.

    My job allows me the financial security and external validation I crave (yes, I like being good at what I do and having the respect of my colleagues) and allows me to focus on the other things that make me feel successful in life: my relationships with my husband, friends, family and my cat, my hobbies and interests, and creating a home when people feel welcomed and comfortable.

  • 4. Alyce  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 7:49 am

    My brain is whirling. I want to tackle every topic, every comment, but I think I wouldn’t do justice to all of the awesome things that others have said.

    I work for an IT firm. My title is Consultant Coordinator. I talk to clients, manage projects, handle supply chain issues, tell the consultants where they should be and what they should do, and handle the payables and receivables. Basically, I’m the boss, but without the salary that should come with that (bitter? who me?).

    I am excellent at what I do, although it is nowhere near my dream job. I taught for a number of years, and while that was fulfilling it was also heartbreaking and demoralizing; I worked at an underfunded Catholic school in Harlem. Administrative work was my out.

    I hope to go back to school as soon as family issues permit. While I wish that I had something about which I was passionate, I don’t. Work is work. If I’m going to have to work for The Man, or be The Man, at least I should get paid well for it so I’m aiming for an MBA.

  • 5. melospiza  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 9:08 am

    Delurking because I must comment. Such an interesting topic! So many good posts! Also, I can so see–I can so FEEL–both sides, or two large sides, of this polygonal issue.

    1. I have a job. It is a good job: it has benefits, a decent salary, is very flexible; I can bring my kids to work if necessary. I have an office to myself. I write and edit, I give advice, I manage things–all enjoyable activities, for me. I also have two kids, a husband, a dog, and a nice house.

    And yet I would not call myself successful, at least not without caveats. I think this is mostly due to the lingering effects of what Swistle talked about: I am not a famous violinst, therefore I have not “fulfilled my potential” (WTF?). I am not a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful novelist. I am not Bill Gates. Therefore, part of me thinks I am not successful: another part of me thinks that this is poisonous thinking. Life is about being happy, about making other people happy, about raising kids who are comfortable with themselves, about making time for things I love. If I was “successful” as defined above I would have none of this (other people might be able to balance it, BTW. Just not me).

    2. I also feel like I have sold out to the Man, only I wouldn’t phrase it this way. I’d say: “I don’t have the life I want.” I’m not homesteading in Alaska. I’m not raising my kids on a dude ranch in the Rocky Mountains. I’m not living the rich outdoor life of an itinerant field biologist. The fact that Iam not these things make me sad: I had always pictured myself raising kids in a sort of rural paradise. However, to be quite honest with myself, these dreams are a little ridiculous. No health insurance, for one. No stability, for another. Some people can probably raise kids this way and do a good job and be happy: I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. I’d be a nervous raging bitch, freaking about about every little detail. It would be awful. And yet: the sad.

  • 6. Cassidy  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I am a legal secretary by day and a massage therapist by night. I like both of my jobs, but I don’t love them. I make money, more than I need, which is nice and really the only reason I work so much. My success and happiness comes from my relationships outside my work. I have never even had the hope of making money doing something I love, because I still don’t know what that would be. My greatest desire, dream? To be a mom. To stay at home with my kids and love them and raise them to have strong morals and values. It’s what I’ve always wanted. I hope it happens someday.

  • 7. Leah  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 10:21 am

    You have the best comments section on the whole web. First the diva cup, now this, not to mention everything in between.

  • 8. Gwen  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    This is a topic that I spend a LOT of time thinking about. I worked for five years in television as a freelancer before deciding to go to law school, which I’m rapidly learning is in many ways jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    Anyway, I think the real issue is that in America, we all work too much. And honestly, for no good reason that I’ve been able to come up with. If we all worked 35 hours a week and had two or three months of vacation per year, I think it wouldn’t matter nearly so much that we find our One True Calling at work, because work wouldn’t be our entire lives. The commenter above who talked about seeing her coworkers more than her husband really hits home for me — I firmly believe our lives don’t HAVE to be that way, especially not when so many European countries get by just fine with their populations working many fewer hours per year.

    I worked a little bit with a union while I was still in TV, and one thing I learned that I still think about all the time is that the reason overtime pay exists is because people didn’t want to work more than eight hours a day. OT pay was designed to be punitive that employers would be forced to keep working hours reasonable. And now instead overtime is completely normal, and the way many companies avoid paying for it is by forcing employees to work off the clock. I don’t know what changed, but I wish it would change back.

    I know this is totally rambling, but if anyone’s interested in learning a little more about what I’m trying to say, there’s a great documentary called Who Needs Sleep? that’s not a bad place to start.

  • 9. Mauigirl52  |  April 23rd, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Am late to the party here but wanted to put in my two cents. I work in a Big Corporation (the very definition of The Man). Said Big Corporation has been very good to me for lo these almost 30 years (yes, same corporation, although taken over by other companies several times). I’m in market research. For the most part I’ve liked it – and certainly like the money that The Man has provided has given me lots of pleasure in life – travel, ability to help my aging parents and relatives out when need be, ability to pay for my pets’ exorbitantly expensive (but so worth it) vet bills, etc. I agree with your perspective – if these people were actually doing something they loved that paid zilch, then I’d be all for it. But not if they’re basically being ne’er do-wells and not working at all (remind me to tell you about the guy in Hawaii sometime) and living on the kindness of strangers, or even if they are doing something but hate it, I don’t see the point of Not Selling Out to The Man.

  • 10. Kate  |  April 25th, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    I wanted to be alot of different things when I was growing up. Everything from a truck driver to an aeronautical engineer. But one thing that always remained constant as a goal was being a mom.

    Now, I am that mom. To two adorable little crazy offspring that make me alternately pull my hair out and weep with pride and gratitude. In addition to full-time child-wrangling, I also work part time at a hospital as a Unit Coordinator, which required little education and a lot of experience. I am very good at my job, and have earned the respect and appreciation of my co-workers.

    I think success varies from person to person based on what their specific goals are. My goals? To be happy & content. To raise responsible, contributing members of society who value family and are happy & content. To have a long & happy marriage with my husband. To infect people with my zest for life and penchant for positive-thinking. To make sure that the people I love KNOW that they are loved. To laugh often. To be a good friend. To treat others the way I want to be treated.

    Have I achieved success? I feel like it’s a work in progress but I’m definitely in the black.

  • 11. Camels & Chocolate  |  April 27th, 2008 at 7:58 pm

    I’m late to the party — as always! Sans Internet access really, home for a marathon, and you recently witnessed that sensation so you know how it goes.

    I’m a travel writer and entertainment reporter by profession. I’ve never really thought about how I measure success…maybe if my contractors (i.e. magazines) actually pay me within a reasonable time frame? =) e.g. I did a piece for Real Simple in Decemeber, and finally received HALF of the paycheck LAST WEEK. The last few months have been spent trying to get the idiot assistant to put my invoice through. UGH. And as vain as it may seem, I still get excited every time I see my name in print, even though I’ve held journalism jobs for 10 years now.

    That aside, I’m a big family gal, so if I please the family, I’m generally happy myself!

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