I'm "launching" a new series of posts on this blog called "Is This It?". "Is this it" is what a good friend of mine said to me one night when we were discussing where our lives have taken us and what our futures held. I've been thinking about this a great deal lately; the question of what we are here for or what we are supposed to do with ourselves or what we are trying to accomplish in a general sense. I'm not so concerned with the overall question of why we are here, at least not the spiritual stuff, but I am very interested in what the American Dream is and what we value these days. We say that we should all engage ourselves in the pursuit of happiness, but I just know too many people who seem to be pursuing things that aren't really making them happy. I've been there too and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about this stuff lately.
What I'd like to do is present a fairly subjective description of someone's life, always a person I know, and pose some questions and see if anyone else has anything they want to say or add to the conversation. Being subjective, I may miss something about another person's situation that helps to make sense of things and you might be the person to point that out. So, with no more delay, let me start off with someone that .
I won't be using real names, of course...
We, the wife and son and I, visited with an old college friend (of my wife's)and her daughter recently. We would have seen her husband, but as is often the case, he had to work this past weekend. I have only seen him three times: at their wedding, at another person's wedding, and once at their apartment for dinner several years ago.
It is pretty clear that they are conservative in their politics and I assume there is a moderately strong religious component, but I can't really say much about it because the friend has basically said that she doesn't like to discuss politics with her friends. That may simply be a nicer way of saying that she doesn't like to discuss politics with her liberal friends because she would find our views detestable and it would permanently damage the friendship. Frankly, if my views on abortion or a living wage or the War in Iraq are enough to devalue a relationship with someone, then maybe there really wasn't much to the relationship.
In any case, the wife is an attorney who recently dropped off the partner track to work more moderately normal hours as general counsel for a large, amoral corporation. Maybe she has gone from 100 hours a week to 60 hours a week. The husband who seems to still work something like 100 hours and doesn't get home many nights until 10PM, works in creative management for a large ad agency. He works long hours to help produce television commercials for things like Mountain Dew and crappy, watered down beers. These long hours make it possible for them to do lots of things, I imagine, but mostly all I can see is that they always have a new and fancy luxury car and a beautiful house in New Jersey filled with nice stuff. Their kid has more toys than any child I've ever met, but they could be the result of gifts or something.
On paper, it is a great life. In photographs, it is a beautiful life. In conversation, it is a very interesting and admired life. But, in reality, is it a happy life? Does this family get to spend enough time together? Are they really enjoying what they do and are the long hours and sacrifice worth a large old house filled with fancy and expensive things? What is driving them?
Is it familial expectations that drive them to this? I have gotten a strong sense that this life they are creating is partly what they want because it is what they know and have come to expect from life. And, it is what their parents may expect of them to achieve. They also may travel in social circles that exist in an elitist arena in which this lifestyle is the the minimum level one must attain to continue to operate.
I know I couldn't do it. I can barely stand a job that needs more than 40 hours of my time at this point in my life. What would I get for an additional 20 hours of effort a week and would it make up for the time I'd lose with my family? In the decades to come, will it matter more that we've got lots of money or that we invested lots of time in our children's lives? Will it matter that I decided to spend my free time running instead of working on a graduate degree or doing additional work in the office?
Don't get me wrong - I like these people. And I'm not looking to judge anyone. I just wonder if they are really getting what they want...and I can't help but start to see in them what it is that I don't want for myself.