Let’s do a thought experiment.
Meet Tom. Tom is a nice guy; a hard worker. He grew up in the suburbs of some central location – could be New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles; ultimately it doesn’t matter, because they all mean the same (in Tom’s case). Tom went to college like all the other guys in his town – majored in business, minored in history (because he really is a history buff); when he got out of college he went to work inputting. He does reports, he files claims. He gets married and has kids, so (quite obviously) he commutes an hour each way from the suburbs to the city (because it wouldn’t be right to raise his kids in the fast-paced environment of the city). He isn’t really sure about everything in his company – he has his place and he neither deviates nor excels beyond it. But he knows he is committed to productivity; he is committed to the company; and stops at nothing to be the job.
Meet John. John is Tom’s son; he is nice too, and a hard worker, but also likes his time off. John went to college like Tom did – majored in history and minored in business. John waits until his career is established to get married; but when he does, he moves back to the suburbs, has kids, commutes every day just like his dad did. John takes his kids to the typical vacation spots on his two week’s vacation every year (camping trips, Grand Canyon tours, and the like). John is very much into productivity; he is into innovation as well. He sacrifices for his job, in fact he sacrifices a few of his two week’s vacations when a last minute deadline comes up. Much like his dad, John never really knows much about the company other than the job he does – but he strives to be the job as well; in fact, when asked who he is, he makes sure to always include his job title.
And then, of course, there is Todd. Todd is John’s son; Tom’s grandson. At this point, it is probably obvious what Todd is all about. The fact of the matter is that Todd is so all about it, that he waits until he is almost forty years old to get married and have kids; he is that afraid of other things affecting his job. When Todd went to college, he majored in something that he was idealistic enough to think he would get a job in. When he didn’t, he decided to put all his effort into the new job, convincing himself that was where he really wanted to be anyway. Todd learns everything about his company; he is not only the job, he is the company. When he eventually does get married and has kids, they inevitably interfere with Todd’s ability to be all about work all the time. So (for a while) his life falls apart. His finances go out the window, because before he had only his own expenses and could pay little attention to them, spending all his time thinking about work. As a matter of fact, everything of Todd’s had been thrown by the wayside for work for so many years that when Todd gets married, just about everything falls apart. Because he has the new perspective of life outside of work, he realizes that many of his friendships have been lost while he has kept his feet cemented underneath his desk. Tom and John are surprised to see him more often once he is married and has kids; but every time they do, the only thing they ever hear about is how Todd’s career is going. Upon realizing all of this after getting married, Todd immerses himself even more in work – he figures that at least he will hold on to his successful career. Todd’s kids don’t know him very well; less so than he knew John, or John knew Tom growing up. Eventually, he gets divorced.
It is quite obvious where this thought experiment is going – at the end of it we are left with a myriad of questions, none of which I believe I have truly satisfactory answers.
There seems to be a disconnect between Tom and John, and Todd; most obviously in the way in which their lives have turned out. In the cases of Tom and John, while they do sacrifice a lot for their careers, it is never to the extent that Todd does. They still have a balance – they still take vacations to the Grand Canyon; still have a life outside of work. And yet, it seems that Tom and John are to blame for Todd getting the idea that life should be about the job and nothing more. But how?
Another question that comes to mind when running through this thought experiment is just exactly what will happen with Todd’s kids? Will they cease to have any lives at all outside of work once they enter the career world – ever? Or will the fact that they never knew Todd growing up inspire them to be the complete opposite of him in terms of career, so that they do not do the same to their children?
The real point in all of this is that somewhere (somehow) in the timeline of the 20th and 21st centuries, we became so much about where we work and what we do that we lost a little bit of the balance that is essential to living a happy life. We could speculate all day as to what this is the result of – it could be the natural consequence of a capitalist economy; it could be a product of a culturally evolved mindset. Regardless of what this is the cause of, the important thing to consider is the result: by and large, people today do not have balance in their lives. Todd is the prime example of this – he sacrifices (literally) everything for his career, and in the end he creates more problems as a result (financial problems, lost friends, family tensions, etc.).
And yet, there is a thin line that made Todd’s example so obvious – we knew before we even began to think about him that he would be all about the job, just as his dad and his dad’s dad were. So then, perhaps this is the root of the problem: rather than capitalism, economic issues, or other cultural changes between Tom, John, and Todd; perhaps it is just a long line of work-a-holism that has made Todd the way he is. In other words, as generations have gone on, the company man has just built upon the last version of himself to be even more so. Thus, could it be that we have finally actually (literally) become the job?