Author Topic: Article: America’s professional elite: wealthy, successful and miserable (nyt)  (Read 3830 times)

bigfoot

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https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/02/21/magazine/elite-professionals-jobs-happiness.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur

The article talks about finding fulfillment in work, and how those who take the smoothest paths thru their professional career are often miserable while those who struggle and/or take risks are more fulfilled.  Granted this is among Harvard business school grads, not exactly a typical cross section of society.   

The reason I’m posting this here is because of the “miserable” grad the article profiled.   Quoted below

“It was insanely stressful work, done among people he didn’t particularly like. He earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office.

“I feel like I’m wasting my life,” he told me. “When I die, is anyone going to care that I earned an extra percentage point of return? My work feels totally meaningless.” He recognized the incredible privilege of his pay and status, but his anguish seemed genuine. “If you spend 12 hours a day doing work you hate, at some point it doesn’t matter what your paycheck says,” he told me. There’s no magic salary at which a bad job becomes good. He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.”

A job paying 600k a year was not enough due to his family’s lifestyle choices!!


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TheGrimSqueaker

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Golden handcuffs...

marty998

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Sorry, not sorry.

Am I supposed to feel sympathy for these guys?

Bloop Bloop

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I admire them for having the ability to make huge salaries in professional fields. I suspect the reason they're not happy is because they're always striving for something better, and competing against similarly miserable people. It's a hard rat race to get out of. And I do sympathise with that. They are talented people stuck in a rut. I can sympathise with that more easily than I can sympathise with talentless people stuck in a rut, which is probably most of the country.

It just goes to show, it's important to pick your friends wisely - pick those that are successful, but also well-rounded, non-workaholics and those who have positive lifestyle attributes. Hang out with losers/drunks/workaholics and you end up just like them.

I work in a high-stress, high-earning field but I make a conscious effort to socialise with "normal people" outside my field. Aside from meaning that I'm never tempted to keep up with the Joneses, it also makes for a more pleasant existence.

bacchi

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Sorry, not sorry.

Am I supposed to feel sympathy for these guys?

They paid a lot for that Harvard MBA. They deserve a fulfilling and lucrative career. Seriously, there may be some entitlement going on.

Really, though, this is par for the course for any ~20 year old starting out in the "real world." They ask themselves, "This is it?!?"

To paraphrase Drew Carey, "Sick of your job? There's a therapy group for that. They meet at the bar."

Linea_Norway

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He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.”

A job paying 600k a year was not enough due to his family’s lifestyle choices!!

Maybe someone should just tell him the concept of FIRE. It might resonate for some of these people. And tell him to find another wife.

Just Joe

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There is far more to life than achieving status and acquiring luxury goods. If I were surrounded by the Kardashian type I'd be miserable too.

Go for a bike ride or a hike. Wash the car. Make a tasty dinner. Be happy.

Malkynn

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Sorry, not sorry.

Am I supposed to feel sympathy for these guys?

I do, I know a lot of them.
Not this particular NY set, but I know A LOT of seriously burnt out high income professionals who feel the need to work at full tilt and who are so miserable that spending their money is one of the few ways they know how to make it all feel worthwhile.

The pay cuts that come from cutting back are almost unbearable for them to ever consider. So instead they just keep grinding themselves into the ground and spending and spending to try and feel like they're "living", when really, it's literally killing them.

It's hard to spend your whole life grinding for a goal only to slowly realize that that goal was toxic and rather pointless all along.

That's some seriously hard shit to swallow, and many just can't do it. I see it all the time. It's a big part of what keeps me from falling into that trap, even though the pressures to do so are astronomical.

sol

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A parallell article from the Atlantic:  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/

The rough summary is that Americans have idealized "work" as their defining purpose in life, as the way they self actualize.  For a certain segment of the population (mostly older white males) they have no sense of self aside from their professional accomplishments and they pursue ever increasing amounts of wealth as a way to find value in an otherwise meaningless existence.  For them, work has become like a religion.

As supporting evidence, he mentions that Americans have less leisure time than ever before, and less leisure time than comparably successful westernized economies in other countries.  He talks a little about the impact of social media on younger Americans, and how young people today (aka "Millenials") in particular have been trained to seek "purpose" and "fulfillment" in their jobs at exactly the moment in history when they enter the workforce with historically unprecedented levels of debt.  They are the most educated generation in history, which should normally help assure their professional success, but they are instead the most economically insecure in part because of the educational debts.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2019, 09:41:25 AM by sol »

jinga nation

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Sorry, not sorry.

Am I supposed to feel sympathy for these guys?

I do, I know a lot of them.
Not this particular NY set, but I know A LOT of seriously burnt out high income professionals who feel the need to work at full tilt and who are so miserable that spending their money is one of the few ways they know how to make it all feel worthwhile.

The pay cuts that come from cutting back are almost unbearable for them to ever consider. So instead they just keep grinding themselves into the ground and spending and spending to try and feel like they're "living", when really, it's literally killing them.

It's hard to spend your whole life grinding for a goal only to slowly realize that that goal was toxic and rather pointless all along.

That's some seriously hard shit to swallow, and many just can't do it. I see it all the time. It's a big part of what keeps me from falling into that trap, even though the pressures to do so are astronomical.

I know quite a few too. @Malkynn hit the points I was drafting.

The first time I'm told of the rut by person feeling it, I don't feel bad, but ask questions hoping to find a way out to ease things. We come to an agreement what they could actually do to make things better.

The next time I see them (happens to be 6-12 months later usually) I ask if they make any changes per our discussion. If they say no, I bluntly say I'm sorry that I can't help as an advisor, but as a friend/acquaintance, I already gave you my feedback.

The 3rd time I hear... I suggest they see a therapist/counselor/financial expert. I'm none of these "officially" so I guess that's why my initial advice was ignored.

As @sol posted, these folks see their work as their purpose. I'm talking about doctors, lawyers, accountants, business consultants who have these issues. Those friends who are engineers, teachers, nurses, retail workers don't complain and deal with their shit internally.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2019, 09:32:28 AM by jinga nation »

mm1970

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A parallell article from the Atlantic:  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/

The rough summary is that Americans have idealized "work" as their defining purpose in life, as the way they self actualize.  For a certain segment of the population (mostly older white males) they have no sense of self aside from their professional accomplishments and they pursue ever increasing amounts of wealth as a way to find value in an otherwise meaningless existence.  For them, work has become like a religion.

As supporting evidence, he mentions that Americans have less leisure time than ever before, and less leisure time than comparably successful westernized economies in other countries.  He talks a little about the impact of social media on younger Americans, and how young people today (aka "Millenials") in particular have been trained to seek "purpose" and "fulfillment" in their jobs at exactly the moment in history when they enter the workforce with historically unprecedented levels of debt.  They are the most educated generation in history, which should normally help assure their professional success, but they are instead the most economically insecure in part because of the educational debts.
I'm not sure how you define older, but...

I remember reading a similar article a couple of decades ago.  I kind of want to say that I was in my mid to late 20's. I think it might have actually been in a newspaper!  I'm a dinosaur. It feels like this whole idea of everyone being "defined" by their work started (or at least accelerated) in my gen - Gen X.  Several of my college classmates agreed that it was a conundrum.  The point of the article was that for our parents, "work was work".  I mean, it was good if you liked it, but the point of work was to make enough money to support your family.  And that's it.  For most people, you left it at the office (or for my dad, at the auto repair shop).  Nights and weekends were for family, kids, household chores, friends, etc.  You vacationed because you wanted to see things, not to "get away" from your real life.  For our generation, we expected to enjoy work, live it, define ourselves by it. 

"What do you do?"  I'm an engineer.  It's such a big part of me.  When really, these days - I'm a mom.  That's the biggest thing.

I even have a book on my shelf: "It's called work for a reason".  Because: I'm not loving my job right now and I'm stressed out.  My husband loves his job, but he's so freaking overworked that he cannot enjoy the house, the kids, or vacation.  He's super stressed out about BOTH our upcoming trips because: SO MUCH WORK.  I suppose in many ways it was easier for our parents because our moms did not work, or only worked part time - the burden of ALL THE THINGS (laundry, groceries, meal planning, doctor's appointments, yard work, car repairs, bills to pay, school drop off and pick up etc) were not on our dads.

I won't say we are miserable though. I've proactively made changes to my lifestyle to deal with stress and peri-menopause (lots of sleep, regular exercise, healthy meals, reduced work hours, time with friends, meditation).  He has not.  I waffle back and forth between trying to help him with the stress and not wanting to take on MORE because I've found something that works for me.

Edited to add: the Atlantic ariticle was really spot on.  Right down to the timing (I graduated in the early 90s) and discussion with sorority sisters.  My sorority sisters include at least 2 CEOs, several VPs at major companies, plenty of regular Janes like me, and a bunch of friends who quit to SAH.  Partly because they weren't super excited about their careers, and also partly because they followed their husbands' careers - which made growing their own kind of difficult.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2019, 10:24:48 AM by mm1970 »

bwall

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MM1970;

You concisely describe the inherent trade off of the 20th Century. In exchange for spending your days doing repetitive, meaningless, soul crushing work at the factory, you were given enough money to make your evenings and weekends enjoyable. Disposable income allowed a worker to pursue hobbies, travel, etc. that could provide what they could not get at work.

In the 21st Century, we see that trade off is beginning to change. Technology is blurring the line of where and how work is performed. For a variety of reasons, disposable income is not increasing at a level to allow people to pursue their after work activities as in the past. Unhappiness is the symptom of the broken system.

ChpBstrd

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MM1970;

You concisely describe the inherent trade off of the 20th Century. In exchange for spending your days doing repetitive, meaningless, soul crushing work at the factory, you were given enough money to make your evenings and weekends enjoyable. Disposable income allowed a worker to pursue hobbies, travel, etc. that could provide what they could not get at work.

In the 21st Century, we see that trade off is beginning to change. Technology is blurring the line of where and how work is performed. For a variety of reasons, disposable income is not increasing at a level to allow people to pursue their after work activities as in the past. Unhappiness is the symptom of the broken system.

If we lived like people lived in the 1950's, we'd have quite a bit of discretionary income and perhaps a 50-80% savings rate. But few people are willing to give up their iPhones, 2nd cars, air conditioning, extra bedroom and bathroom, twice-a-week restaurant meals, large refridgerators, dishwashers, TVs and Netflix, etc. If a person lived our great grandparents' concept of the good life today, they would be considered some sort of extremist. All these extra "needs" are now factored into our cost of living and poverty indices.

Our lack of free time is related to long commutes, oversized houses, and suburban sprawl. It's also related to a healthcare insurance system that discourages companies from offering part-time positions. Thus, many families who wish they could have 1.5 jobs instead have two. Also, it's a workism arms race out there. The people willing to sacrifice weekends and work on vacations get the promotions, or at least get to keep their jobs. In a world whereso many people have college degrees, long hours are the differentiator.

mm1970

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MM1970;

You concisely describe the inherent trade off of the 20th Century. In exchange for spending your days doing repetitive, meaningless, soul crushing work at the factory, you were given enough money to make your evenings and weekends enjoyable. Disposable income allowed a worker to pursue hobbies, travel, etc. that could provide what they could not get at work.

In the 21st Century, we see that trade off is beginning to change. Technology is blurring the line of where and how work is performed. For a variety of reasons, disposable income is not increasing at a level to allow people to pursue their after work activities as in the past. Unhappiness is the symptom of the broken system.

If we lived like people lived in the 1950's, we'd have quite a bit of discretionary income and perhaps a 50-80% savings rate. But few people are willing to give up their iPhones, 2nd cars, air conditioning, extra bedroom and bathroom, twice-a-week restaurant meals, large refridgerators, dishwashers, TVs and Netflix, etc. If a person lived our great grandparents' concept of the good life today, they would be considered some sort of extremist. All these extra "needs" are now factored into our cost of living and poverty indices.

Our lack of free time is related to long commutes, oversized houses, and suburban sprawl. It's also related to a healthcare insurance system that discourages companies from offering part-time positions. Thus, many families who wish they could have 1.5 jobs instead have two. Also, it's a workism arms race out there. The people willing to sacrifice weekends and work on vacations get the promotions, or at least get to keep their jobs. In a world whereso many people have college degrees, long hours are the differentiator.
Meh, I think you aren't being completely fair or reasonable, though I've made the same point myself.  I grew up in the 70s (my sisters in the 50s and 60s).  No cable TV, small-ish house, two cars, one job.  No computer, no cell phone, no eating out, etc.

But...
- Smaller houses are harder to find
- Two jobs now almost always require 2 cars
- Lack of job stability means that you have less control and less flexibility.  Are you going to buy a house and keep it forever?  Are you going to avoid long commutes? Not if you change jobs. With 2 jobs to consider, it makes it even trickier. 

Our grandparents' "good life" or even my mom's "good life".
- I don't want that.  I want a job.  I want financial control.  I don't want to end up in a bad marriage with an abusive man because I cannot afford to leave.  (It took a LOT for her to leave, it was not fun, and in the end her life was still not awesome).
- I don't even want the kind of jobs that were available to women back then.  Bank teller.  Lunch lady.  A nurse here and there.  I don't want to go back to where you could be fired for getting pregnant.
- I simply don't have the kind of job that I could do without internet.  I don't want to live without plumbing either.  Sometimes you make advances and they are good for all.  My children require internet to do their homework. 
- I don't want to go back to the medical care of the 1950s either.  My sisters' mom died during surgery.  They were kids.  Kids!

(I live in a house built in 1947.  2BR, 1BA, no garage, no attic, no basement.  I DO have a dishwasher, and you can pry it from my cold, dead hands.  Have AC too but we didn't install it.  Our 17 year old fridge is almost dead and do you KNOW how hard it is to find a 30" wide fridge?  That's the space we have.  We don't eat out except for special occasions and travel.)

There's such an interaction between 2 incomes and housing prices that it's hard to tell which came first, the chicken or the egg.  The whole "Two Income Trap" and all...

SwordGuy

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If we lived like people lived in the 1950's, we'd have quite a bit of discretionary income and perhaps a 50-80% savings rate. But few people are willing to give up their iPhones, 2nd cars, air conditioning, extra bedroom and bathroom, twice-a-week restaurant meals, large refridgerators, dishwashers, TVs and Netflix, etc. If a person lived our great grandparents' concept of the good life today, they would be considered some sort of extremist. All these extra "needs" are now factored into our cost of living and poverty indices.


But...
- Smaller houses are harder to find
I suppose that may vary with where you live, but I've travelled a lot and there are plenty of smaller houses in this country.   I own 5 of them.

- Two jobs now almost always require 2 cars
This is a fair comment.   But a second income should pay for the car needed to earn it plus some, so it's a moot point.
- Lack of job stability means that you have less control and less flexibility.
And for most of the country it's always been an issue.   Nothing new.

Are you going to buy a house and keep it forever?  Are you going to avoid long commutes? Not if you change jobs. With 2 jobs to consider, it makes it even trickier. 
Yes, it does make it harder.

Our grandparents' "good life" or even my mom's "good life".
- I don't want that.  I want a job.  I want financial control.  I don't want to end up in a bad marriage with an abusive man because I cannot afford to leave.  (It took a LOT for her to leave, it was not fun, and in the end her life was still not awesome).
- I don't even want the kind of jobs that were available to women back then.  Bank teller.  Lunch lady.  A nurse here and there.  I don't want to go back to where you could be fired for getting pregnant.
- I simply don't have the kind of job that I could do without internet.  I don't want to live without plumbing either.  Sometimes you make advances and they are good for all.  My children require internet to do their homework. 
- I don't want to go back to the medical care of the 1950s either.  My sisters' mom died during surgery.  They were kids.  Kids!
This  is just foolishness.   No one in this discussion is proposing that anyone living in a smaller home and minimizing expenses by living more like folks in the 50s and 70s did should not avail themselves of advancements in science and social mores.

Our 17 year old fridge is almost dead and do you KNOW how hard it is to find a 30" wide fridge?  That's the space we have. 
Fiddlesticks.   Took me mere seconds to find a page full of refrigerator options at Lowes.com.    Bet I could do the same at Home Depot, too.   

I suggest you re-read the MMM article on Cure Yourself of Tiny Details Exaggeration Syndrome.

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/12/26/cure-yourself-of-tiny-details-exaggeration-syndrome/
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mm1970

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Fiddlesticks.   Took me mere seconds to find a page full of refrigerator options at Lowes.com.

I only found two.  (That are <30 inches wide when the door is fully open.)  At Home Depot because we don't have a Lowe's.  It just means a LOT fewer choices on a 30" fridge.  I still keep thinking my husband can fix it (when he tried though it got worse.  We have repaired it at least 3x already.  It's an energy star!!  It should live forever!)

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This  is just foolishness.   No one in this discussion is proposing that anyone living in a smaller home and minimizing expenses by living more like folks in the 50s and 70s did should not avail themselves of advancements in science and social mores.

Aren't they?  Unspoken in the "be willing to live like the 50's & 60's", to me, means "they were so great!" and "really live like the 50s and 60s".

For my mother, and my grandmother, that was a lot of really hands on, hard work.  They didn't have jobs outside the home (until the 1980s, for my mom).  So...baking bread from scratch, having a garden, washing laundry by hand, hanging it up, doing dishes for 7 children for 3 meals a day by hand.  Canning every summer.  You cannot REALLY talk about "living like back then" without being realistic about what it was like back then.  YES, people did a lot more manual labor inside and outside the home.  And PART of that was because there weren't as many opportunities outside the home for women.

Living like back then requires...a lot more time.  If you've got 2 jobs, then you don't have a lot more time.  It's all inter-related and inter-connected.  Ya can't just pick the things you like and ignore the rest.

Then again, everything is a sliding scale.  I'm MUCH more a fan of baby steps than face-punches - because it's just easier for a lot of people (if not most);   You might find it really hard to convince someone to give up their 4000 sf house, meals out, minivan, and vacation to Aruba all at once.  I think starting with "stop upgrading" is a much better method.

I also don't think it's as bad as people make it out to be.  I live in So Cal, and for sure - there can be an amazing amount of consumerism here.  Fancy cars, meals out, iPhones, "the right after school activities", etc.  But I still know a metric ton of people who only replace things when they die (cell phones, cars, fridges), live in small homes because its all they can afford, don't have AC, and have their kids in whatever activities are free at school.

golden1

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"What do you do?"  I'm an engineer.  It's such a big part of me.  When really, these days - I'm a mom.  That's the biggest thing.

This really struck me.  I was an engineer, then I stayed home with my kids for eight years before returning to work.  When I was a SAHM and I would be in a group of professionals, the first question people would ask was "What do you do?"  If I said "I am a stay at home mom", you could watch the light die in their eyes.  They immediately lost interest in you.  I learned to say (if I wanted to actually have a conversation with an adult that wasn't a SAHP) "I am an engineer going to school to get my masters, but currently I am staying home with my kids".  After going back to work when my kids were elementary age, I still felt more like a mom than an engineer and it is just now that my kids are teenagers that my identity has flipped and I feel more like an engineer and "mother" is less of my defining characteristic. 

The whole "What do you do" question really shows how workism has ingrained itself into our culture.