succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, November 19, 2007

On growing up and working and bringing home the bacon*

A while ago, Amelia briefly mused about the whole work-life balance thing and linked to this lovely post about the need for affordable, quality childcare, and the bigger picture things that happen to the community when such care is lacking (e.g., the loss of quality employees). I've been meaning to come back to this, and then today, via Feministing, I found this letter about being in a couple where both partners are in academia and the under-valued-ness of adjunct positions. All of which finally brings me around to my point - I have always said that money is pretty low on my list of priorities. Certainly, I want to be valued, and in our society the 'value' of work is most often calculated in dollars, but I'm not interested in choosing a job or career path based on money. In fact, assuming that some threshold of reasonableness was reached, the salary of a position would really only become a deciding factor after things like ethics/morality of work, types of research conducted, colleague-environment, opportunity to teach (in a broad sense), opportunity to influence policy, and geographic location.

But it's easy to think that way right now. Right now, the only mouths to feed are my own, and the cat. And given that I've been living off of about $20,000/year for several years now, and I am lucky enough to be interested in a lucrative and in-demand field, any threshold of 'reasonableness' in terms of salary seems to me like suddenly becoming rich, so it's pretty easy to imagine being choosy about the other aspects of my job rather than the details of the salary.

But then there's this other thing I've always thought. I've always thought of myself as the breadwinner of some sort of family unit. And while that unit is still totally hypothetical, and should it one day happen I would certainly not be opposed to a two-income family, I'm rather attached to the feeling of security that (the hypothetical) we could make it just fine on what I bring home. That he could be the primary parent or write the next great novel or fulfill his lifelong dream to sculpt or get the band back together. I'm cut out for work, I'm made for it, and I'm lucky enough to have fallen in love with something that our society values in a monetary way (and that not many other people want to do). If my person turns out to also be made for work and in love with some money-earning activity, that's awesome, but if he isn't, I love the idea of being able to free up that option for him.

Which is sort of antithetical to my ideal notion of doing some of the more interesting to me but less valued in a dollar sense work in my field. Even though average salaries in my field do seem like riches to me, I'm realistic enough to know that once you start tacking on a few other mouths to feed and a mortgage and tuition and everything else that comes with that lovely little unit some of those salaries would require a little extra help from a second wage-earner. Which isn't to say that I'm suddenly going to work for Big Pharma (it's the right fit for some, but not for me) but rather that someday I'm probably going to have to stop being so selfish when it comes to career goals. And that's probably worth preparing myself for, rather than suffering some huge identity crisis when my chosen unit starts to make demands of me.

*but seriously, if I ever say, "I'm a lot of woman" remind me to stop talking.