Society and Pressures Archive
June 21, 2011 | File under: Society and Pressures
“What do you do?” It’s the ultimate small-talk conversation starter in social situations. What is no doubt an innocent attempt to elicit chit-chat has always seemed rather silly to me. What do I do? Well, I do all kinds of things: I run, I spend time with my husband, I bake delicious muffins, I clean my house, and I read, to name a few things.
Why must people always define what they do in terms of their means to make a living? Few people are lucky enough to have a job that allows them to pursue their life passions. For the rest of us, it is what we do outside our time at work that defines who we are.
When I was a lawyer, that aspect of my identity was a very small facet of who I was. In fact, I tried to disassociate myself with my profession as much as possible because I felt it was such a poor match for my personality. My time outside of work is what best illustrated my personality.
When you tell someone your job title, it creates instant associations. For example, the moment people hear “lawyer,” they may assume I am aggressive and/or serious. They may draw inferences about my life such as how much money I have or even my political beliefs. None of these conclusions are necessarily correct, nor are they the business of cocktail party strangers.
It also strikes me that asking someone “what they do” is rigged to favor traditional careers with the greatest degree of social caché. Careers valued by society as prestigious such as doctors and lawyers are recognized as having high “worth,” and thus are the ideal responses to the question. These responses evoke certain stereotypes that are easily processed in casual conversation. On the other hand, responses indicating a non-traditional career, a period of unemployment, or no professional career at all do not lend themselves to definite stereotypes and often provoke awkward explanations, delve too deeply into personal matters, or elicit unwarranted social judgments based on people’s conception of a social hierarchy.
November 30, 2010 | File under: Schooling • Society and Pressures
Zero money down! No interest for two years! We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to “buy now, pay later.” The concept of living life on credit has become so accepted, and to some degree, encouraged, in society that many people rarely think twice about purchasing items they would not otherwise be able to afford without the assistance of Visa or American Express. And given that our economy largely depends upon the constant flow of consumer credit, borrowing money even for non-essential goods such as plasma TVs or luxury cars has lost much of its stigma as irresponsible personal finance. So it is no surprise young people willingly take on tens of thousands, or even close to two hundred thousand dollars, in educational debt without as much as a second thought. I mean, that’s a necessity, right? Everyone is entitled to an education! But assuming such a massive obligation with no certainty as to future income is a huge mistake.
Social acceptance of consumer debt is but one of several factors that encourage people to sign over many years of their life to credit companies. There are also the common beliefs that one must earn a college degree to acquire the skills for respected jobs, that college is a rite of passage that every young person deserves to experience, and many other pressures that provide easy encouragement to sign on the dotted line. The debtor mentality provides the perfect rationalization: everyone else is doing it, right?
What happened to saving for college? Some people still do it, but in addition to the challenge of saving an amount of money equal to rapidly rising education costs, there is also a disincentive to amassing substantial savings because doing so disqualifies one for financial aid. Colleges dole out grants, or free money, to students demonstrating financial need. Someone coming from a family with an income equal to that of a student qualifying for aid will not receive an equal benefit if that person’s family made sacrifices to establish a college fund that qualifies as an “asset.” The student with no savings may live among many consumer good luxuries and enjoy frequent expensive vacations, but with no money in sources that colleges measure when determining need, they have an advantage over the student with a college fund that is reflected on financial aid forms. Why try so hard to save when free grants and low-interest loans are so plentiful? Why forego the luxury goods that everyone else enjoys? If you’re going to borrow some, you might as well spare yourself the hassle of saving money and borrow it all, right? “Go big or go home” is the motto many live by.
October 18, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons • Materialism • Society and Pressures • Well-being
Career perceptions are largely a function of one’s environment. The setting in which a child is raised profoundly shapes their understanding of how the world “works” and causes them to view certain lifestyles or values as inherently good or bad. Or, if certain characteristics are not distinguished as either good or bad, they are accepted as just the way that something “is” in any particular environment. These influences inevitably factor into how people perceive careers as enablers that will help them to achieve the lifestyle to which they aspire. In this way, one is careared from an early age to view certain careers as desirable for the monetary benefits they offer, not necessarily for the day-to-day tasks involved in the performance of such jobs.
October 11, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons • On the Job • Society and Pressures • Well-being
Growing up, I was always a bit uncomfortable in my own skin. I was constantly trying to live up to some social ideal, simultaneously pursuing notions of intelligence, beauty and overall worth that I believed would make me valued and special in society’s eyes. I thought acceptance from sources outside of myself would fuel my happiness, oblivious at the time that real happiness would remain elusive unless it came from myself, not from other’s affirmations of my embodiment of any ideal projected by society.