4 min read

Choosing Work or Choosing Love

Choosing Work or Choosing Love
Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

It’s foreign to me to write about relationships. I don’t feel that I’m qualified — I’m no psychologist or charismatic charmer. I’ve simply seen how they’ve operated in my life, and I’ve learned a lot about how to choose the right ones.

The sad reality I see repeated in my life is that older people don’t really have friends. They may have a partner and they may have kids, but outside of this narrow domain — they don’t really have anyone who’s close.

I think one reason for this is an increasing sense of careerism. While there’s certainly some explicit messaging that we should value our career over our relationships, it’s often more insidious. Erin Callan, the CFO of Lehmann Brothers, describes how she slowly gave more and more of their life to work:

I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list, and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.

Slowly but surely, work can become more and more of your life. And maybe you love it, and that’s great, but do you love it more than the people around you?

I set a loose rule for myself in my first year of college. It was the no-work-after-7-pm rule. I could work all I wanted up until 7 pm, but I needed to stop then. I needed to dedicate those last 5 hours of my waking consciousness to something other than work.

I wanted to dedicate it to my relationships, reading, and enjoying life. When someone close to me heard of this rule, they weren’t so enthusiastic. “Isn’t college the time for pulling all-nighters to do work?” they asked. Well, no, not for me. If doing a homework assignment was going to get in the way of my relationships, I’m not going to do it.

Of course, there’s balance in all things. But, without this rule? I would have fallen deeper and deeper into work and farther and farther from the people I love.

Future Career, Future Relationships

A teenager’s aspirational career 20 years down the line is praised. “They’re on the right track!” But once a teenager announces that they plan to be with their current partner for their lifetime, woah! That’s idiotic. You’re going to meet new people, change as a person yourself, and there’s no way you will stay with that same person.

I don’t believe these examples are that different. This teen may find new subjects that they enjoy and switch their major. Similarly, they may meet a bunch of new people and decide their current partner isn’t the best one for them.

The messaging for their future life choices is clear. While most everyone has had a change in heart for what they want to do in their career, it seems a whole lot less evident to them than any deviation in a relationship in their past.

There seems to be some twisted logic in that most people are fine applying their own past experiences to relationships (”Your high school boyfriend never lasts.”) but not so much to careers (”Well, in spite of changing my major 5 times, never knowing what I wanted to do, and falling into a job, it’s great that you’ve decided to dedicate the rest of your life to the study and practice of engineering!”).

Covering the ApplyingToCollege reddit forum are adults advising students to follow their dreams, not their loves. I think this idea has merit at such a young age, but there has to come a point where you say, “I may be making a sacrifice for my career by not taking this job, but I’d rather be near the people I love than give that up for better work.”

Or maybe it doesn’t. But here’s the thing: I’m skeptical that leaving the people you love for a better career would actually lead to better career outcomes. Sure, you have a new challenge that can propel you further in your career, but you’re also not going to be with the people you care most about.

I don’t have a way of piecing apart this question and coming to answer. I think we all need to evaluate our circumstances for ourselves, but I want to at least make you ponder: when you’re choosing a career versus the people you love, consider whether a choice for your career may actually hurt your career. Consider that, without the people you love, you’ll lose a sense of purpose and drive. Consider that, without the people you love, you’ll lose the support that you need to get you through the tough times.

I can’t answer for you, but I’ve come to a point in my life where the people I care about are more important than my career — that’s a practice I’m working on every day. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my career. I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive. I think they feed off each other. When I do my best work, I can be most present in my relationships. When I can spend time with the people I love, I do my best work.

I don’t see why you can’t have both. In fact, maybe we need both to have either.