HE CALLED FOR AN INTERVIEW. He said he was a student, which was sort of the truth, and he had a project, which was the truth, and the I was the project. He wanted to interview me, ask me some questions about myself, and it was only after we got into it did we realize that we had stopped talking about me and had started talking about hime and that he, lucky guy, was going to be a columnist. Nobody interviews me for free.
He started with the usual questions -- my education and my job experience and that sort of thing. He was in his 30s and married with no children and he made a good buck working for a firm here. Never mind which one. His wife, he said, had a career and he had a job, and now he wanted a career too. He needed one. He sounded a bit desperate.
The lust for a career had ome late in left -- a mid-life passage or something. For years, he had thought it was all right just to have a job -- nothing more. He had a plce to work and worked at something and he got good money for it and that, he thought, was what it was all about. His father had told him that that's what a man does. He rents himself out. You give your boss a certain amount of hours and he gives you back a certain amount of maney and then you go home -- "your own time," as they used to say in the Army.
He said he can't do that anymore. He said he has to have career.His wife has one. His wife works hard and loves it. She works all the time -- weekends and at night. She loves it. They have a good marriage, he said -- a good relationship. Money's no problem, eight. Just one thing missing. It's his career. He doesn't have one.
It's his career.
You can understand. People think they have to have a career now. A simple job will no longer do. To some people, a career has become the last panacea -- a frontier beyond religion or sex or love, something that won't let you dwn. It is not something you do, but something you are. It gives you a sense of identity, justifies your existence, answers that numero uno question: Why are we here? To some people, it's the latest Big Answer. If love doesn't work and religion hasn't worked and sex has lost its kick, try a career. All this asks a bit much of what, in most cases, is just a job.
The man on the phone knws this. Nevertheless, he wants career. At work, he notices that most of the people hate what they do. People with careers don't he thinks. He gets transferred. They put him in a room with little to do and they pay him good money and he hates it. It's rough just getting out of bed in the morning. He's not being punished or something -- it's just the way his firm works. He's doing terrific at his job. He gets promoted. He makes money doing nothing. After a while, even to money means nothing. It's given. It's just always there. The Depression ethic of his father is outdated. He needs career.
His wife gets a job offer. It means big bucks, he says. It means incredible money -- risks, sure, but the money is there waiting and, more important, the chance to advance her career. She'll have to live in another city for a while, but it's only for a while and, besides, it's for her career. He understands. He enrolls in a career counseling course and after a while he decides he wants to be a newsman, a news commentator -- a columnist. Light a candle for this man.
So he calls me and he tells me his story and as we talk this image comes into my mind. He is suddenly all the housewives who become freelance writers or photographers simply because they feel inferior, unworthy, naked in some way without a career -- something to call themselves. Writing and photography are good because all you need is a camera or some paper and you don't have to show any money. Everyone knows that the really good writers never make big money until after they're dead.
But something else is at work here and it has to do with how people want to be something, not necessarily do something. You can hear it in the language of kids, high school students, who want a position, not jobs. They have no stomach for work. You can sense it in people who want to be writers but not necessarily to write, photographers but not really to take pictures, dancers or painters or anythings but not really to want to do the thing.
It is sort of like treating a career as yet another possession -- like having something or owning something.
It's kind of pressure that middle class kids have felt since the day they were told they had until college to choose a career and it's the pressure housewives feel now and Id would be the last to say that a career is not something worthwhile. But boy, it would be great to have days to do nothing and have the freedom to leave the work at the office and maybe even the time to do something else. When I said that to the guy on the phone, he seemed puzzled. I had to explain. I have little free time.
I have a career.