Some Thoughts on Crafting Your Life

Many young graduates do not immediately dive into their chosen career after college. They may take advantage of being single or being healthy or some other facet of this time of life to travel or pursue daring projects. They may take a retail, service, or other lower-paying job, either because they are unable to land a job in their preferred field or because they want the time and flexibility to pursue other projects, seek additional education, or figure out what they want to do long term.

But then there comes a time — maybe they get married, are expecting a child, or finally decide they need to move out of their parents' home — when they feel like it's time to Settle Down. They need to find a career path that is going to be stable and well-paying and devote themselves to it. They need to follow in their father's or mother's footsteps, working those long hours and making the big bucks to support themselves and their family.

I have a serious aversion to this way of thinking. I don't believe that there's One Right Way to have a career or provide for a family. Money is nothing more than a tool that helps us to determine what our day-to-day lives can look like.

Even if you had the experience of growing up in a suburban house with two parents who worked full time or one parent who worked full time and one who stayed home full time, this does not mean that this lifestyle is your ultimate goal. Many people are choosing to rent long term in part because people don't expect to keep the same job forever. Childcare arrangements can have many configurations — my husband's grandmother lived with his family and worked during the day but was there to greet him and his brother after school each day, and now my husband's schedule has so much flexibility that we don't anticipate having to use daycare full time.

The point is this: Don't start from the assumption that your life needs to look a certain way or that you need a certain type of job to make that happen. Start from a place of determining what you want your life to be like. If you're partnered, talk with your partner about what you both expect your life should look like. What standard of living do you both expect? Do you plan to have children, and how do you plan to educate them (public, private, homeschool)? How often do you want to go on vacation?

Then let these answers drive the type of job you look for. Does your chosen field allow for the kind of life you want, both in terms of compensation and in terms of schedule/hours? If you're not sure, this is a great opportunity to do some informational interviews and find out what work/life balance looks like (if it exists) for people who are doing what you hope to do professionally. Make decisions about your career based on how it will actually shape your life, not on assumptions about what your job or life ought to look like.

For more on crafting the life you want, I highly recommend Laura Vanderkam's book 168 Hours.