A Facebook friend wrote the other day that he isn’t where she thought he would be in her career when he was younger. I had to confess I felt the same – not that I really had any idea of where I would be, I just would never have guess it wouldn’t be where I am now. If that sounds vague, I suppose it should.
Boys are asked at a ridiculously young age what they want to be when they grow up. Long before a boy can begin to imagine what the range of possible careers might be, he is asked to make a decision. It’s an absurd practice, but it doesn’t show many signs of going away. The message it sends is actually destructive: Don’t be a child, grow up now and be a man because all you have to offer of value is your career. To add to the problem, unless you are one of the few who actually sticks to one of the four childhood choices – fireman, police man, astronaut, or pimp (just seeing if you’re paying attention) – the choice you make early on is completely irrelevant. The message, however, comes through loud and clear.
Inherent in cultural expectations is that a boy will grow up to make a good living, though a good living is never really defined beyond the general expectation that he will earn an adequate salary. The rest of a man’s life appears to not matter. Whether he is a good partner, a good parent, a good friend, is in touch with his feelings, or feels fulfilled is completely irrelevant as long as he makes good money. If that’s not a recipe for life crisis, I don’t know what is.
I believe there is a good chance that a good number of Western men are on a path for a head-on collision with crisis – and it matters little whether they bring home a big paycheck or not. If the big paycheck is in their pocket, they may well be estranged from their families because of the long hours they have worked to earn that paycheck. They they have managed to be a good partner, parent, and citizen but don’t have the paycheck, they may come face to face with feeling inadequate because they don’t measure up to society’s expectations of what their career projection should be. Notice, I didn’t say they didn’t measure up to their own expectations, but to society’s expectations.
Consumer capitalism is a dangerous, destructive system. It destroys women by relegating them to status as second class citizens through wage and employment discrimination and it destroys men by forcing them to make a choice that can be criticized regardless of which path they choose. As a spiritual teacher, I believe the problem is only intensified by the failure of the Church to provide spiritual grounding for those caught on the horns of this dilemma. The most important question is never, “what are you going to be when you grow up?” but rather is, “who will you be when you grow up?” Let’s get it right.