Riding the DC Metro, I saw a billboard advertisement for Calvin Klein underwear featuring two perfectly sculpted and bronzed young men, who were wearing nothing but briefs and evidently smuggling kielbasa in them. My first thought was: Wow, I hope their grandmothers don’t take the same train I take. My second thought was: I wonder if those guys are fulfilled in their careers. Perhaps this suggests that I am a little too preoccupied with this whole career issue; in my defense, though, I will point out that I have to stare at a Victoria’s Secret ad for twenty minutes or more before career satisfaction comes to mind.
Still, I think it is a fair question. I am a well-educated professional; most of my friends are well-educated professionals; I work in a career center whose clientele are by definition well-educated professionals. When I give a presentation or write a blog post about a career issue important to me, I should not really be too surprised when my friends or students or readers tell me I have hit a chord that resonates with them. But would it be presumptuous of me to assume that the nearly naked Adonai of Calvin Klein would feel the same vibe? What if my musings on the life lessons we can learn from Nabokov’s career path have as little interest to them as a debate about hair conditioner would have to me? Maybe their career vision only extends so far as their next photo shoot. Maybe for them shaving their chests is the occupational equivalent of going back to school for another degree.
This train of thought is not limited to male models. What about the grizzled man vacuuming the carpets when I leave the office late? The bus driver, the stay-at-home mom, the monk? Yes, there are individual examples of each whose background and outlook overlap with mine — plenty of professional women, for instance, have transitioned into or out of stay-at-home motherhood — but many or most of these folks have a very different life story from mine. I wonder sometimes what they would (ideally, do) think of this blog. Is this level of philosophizing just an extravagance?
Perhaps in a way it is. At the most basic level, employment is first and foremost a means of survival, and only after we have taken care of the necessities can we even begin to consider more. Still, while well-educated professionals live in a culture in which dialogues (and monologues) about career fulfillment are facile and even expected, it is only the depth of discussion that is a luxury, not the passion that prompts it. After all, the drive behind seeking career satisfaction is grounded in the human and universal — the need to feel worthwhile, the desire to develop competency, the pleasure of doing something we love well.
These are things that mean just as much to impossibly attractive underwear models as they do to possibly attractive career-counseling lawyers. So even if I don’t quite grasp how fashion folk, janitors, and seminarians think about their careers, I’m sure that they do. Maybe even when they are hanging out in subway stations.
P.S. — If you’re a model, mommy, or monk who wants to enlighten me — or anyone who wants to share a story about how you sought, found, had, lost, explored, discovered, or created career satisfaction — write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or to my partner at email@example.com) and tell us about it!