Careerbuilder recently posted this article on Job Goals for Every Age. The suggested progression of goals throughout the decades of a lifetime is somewhat traditional. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - tradition becomes tradition for a reason, right? The notion of starting off by building a positive work record, and then moving to establish yourself as a leader seems to make sense. But the idea that mid-life crisis hits at 40 seems a bit outdated. I am neither a boomer or a Gen-Xr - I'm smack in the middle and claim neither as my posse. And it seems to me that those in "my generation" experienced a "mid-life" crisis in our early 30's when we were having our children and trying to figure out the work-life game.
Phyllis Moen and Patricia Roehling do a great job of exposing why the traditional career path just doesn't make sense for many of us in The Career Mystique: Cracks in the American Dream. The authors deftly articulate how the convergence of family growth and career growth during our 30-something years is at odds with social structure in the United States. I've read a lot on this topic, and their exposition of how converging trends in history bring us to the state we are in today is one of the best I've read. They note that:
"What is key is that both the breadwinner/homemaker gender divide (of paid work and unpaid family care work) and the life course as a three-part sequential age divide (education, employment, and retirement) are social inventions, products of industrialization, urbanization, suburbanization, and bureaucratization. They have become a taken-for-granted part of the landscape of American culture, shaping the institutions that sustain the American way of life."
From an individual perspective, it is easy to feel guilty or frustrated when it seems like it's impossible to fit work and family neatly into one lifetime. This book does a great job of normalizing those frustrations. Who wouldn't feel stressed trying to orchestrate a two-worker household in a society that is set up on the assumption that someone is always home (think school schedules, service providers, doctors office hours, etc.)? The artificial gender and age divides super-imposed on our society affect our reactions without us being aware of it most of the time.
The authors aren't able to offer solutions to the work-family conundrum at an individual level. Those are nuanced, complex decisions that families have to make together. But they do provide a perspective on the broader context in which we are living our lives that is useful for helping us frame our daily challenges. It's also a perspective that helps us be more careful when reading career advice and to take articles like the one from Careerbuilder with the proverbial "grain of salt."