When I started writing about careers we were at the beginning of a huge revolution.
It makes sense, then, that I spent so much time trying to not write about careers. If you start at the beginning of a revolution you look like a crazy person. The revolution hasn’t started yet, which means that everyone is trying to hold on to what they know.
You can see this best in the American Revolution. The colonists were making plenty of money, so the Americans went to great lengths to accommodate the annoying demands of the British government so as to not disrupt the American economic and social order. There was no American Revolution until King George made such a mess of colonial taxation that Americans could no longer lie to themselves that it was a tenable situation.
Historical writing about the Colonial Era almost always charts gradual recognition that old European structures were inappropriate for the New World. Which means you can’t write extensively about the American Revolution without writing about sex.
For example, in Colonial America European rituals of courtship were no longer useful. Harsh conditions and long distance between homes meant that a man traveled a very long distance to meet a girl. Also, it would not be possible for him to make many trips to meet the girl. So the parents allowed the suitor to sleep over at the house.
But, like all revolutions, the sexual revolution of Colonial America has common tropes of denial, like the practice of bundling, which was putting a board between the two parties so, in theory, they could have physical relations within a context of restraint.
And like all revolutions, there were those who wrote diatribes to justify the inevitable ways of the future. One poet advises to just forget about policing the couple in bed and instead just save money by admitting that you don’t need to heat the room they are in.
Since in bed a man and maid
may bundle and be chaste
it does no good to burn out wood
it is needless waste.
The full poem is such a good read, especially if you think your kids should not have pre-marital sex. But it’s also a good read because writing that tells us a truth about our life that is hard to hear is always brave, honest writing.
Which is probably why I was such a failure as a sex writer.
The sexual revolution happened in the 70s. I read books by Judy Blume and Erica Jong, and I wanted to be like them, transforming how we thought about sex. But that opportunity had passed, which is probably why my best writing about sex was really about other stuff.
Like, I got a teaching position in Boston University’s writing program by submitting a story about being bulimic and using a blow job to make myself gag and then going to the bathroom for a quick, furtive vomiting session before popping in my diaphragm to finish up.
After graduate school I kept writing, but it wasn’t the writing about bulimia that paid the bills. It was the writing about careers. Which was an accident, really. I didn’t mean to be a revolutionary thinker about careers. I was just trying to survive financially. And that is how most revolutions happen.
My career advice ran in 200 newspapers, I got a book deal for $150K. Yahoo Finance paid me $1200 a week for a blog post. You know why? Because I said things no one else would say but it was hard for anyone to argue that what I wrote was not true.
The thing is, today what I wrote back then is common knowledge.
My own company, Brazen Careerist, told me to tone it down in 2007 so that the company didn’t get so much controversial press from me. But in the last few months I’m seeing more and more of my blog post topics on the company site, like skip college and ignore typos.
I know my ideas are not at the forefront of a revolution when people appropriate them.
I want to be writing the ideas people read late at night, with a glass of wine, to dull the searing impact of the life they’ve already chosen.
When I started writing about careers, the internet was coming, all gatekeepers were changing, and Gen X was entering the workforce with nothing to lose. If you have nothing to lose you can ignore all the rules. Which is what Gen X did.
Gen Y finished up the workplace revolution; they want the same things as Gen X and you can’t ignore Gen Y because there are so many of them.
So we are at the end. Gen Z is not revolutionary. They need to hold things together. Societies are cyclical and not all generations can be revolutionaries. Society is held together because some generations tear down and some rebuild. Generation Z is in a time of shoring up institutions.
So I look around, and I think: where is the revolution now? The answer is that it’s in education. In 1994, when I started writing about careers, the workplace was completely failing the people it was supposed to support. That is not true today. But it is true of schools.
So what do I write on my career blog then?
I couldn’t find a Christmas gift for my husband, so I googled “best Christmas gift for an ISTP” and I found a forum for ISTPs. There was only one person in the forum. Of course. ISTPs couldn’t care less about other people. And the person said the best gift she ever received was when she moved into a new apartment and her mom gave her a doormat that has fancy swirly letting on it and said “Go Away”.
My husband is a very practical guy. What he really wants for Christmas is sex. I want to say to the kids, “You know what? I’ve got Christmas covered this year. Just leave that gift to me.”
See? I never stop pining for the career I wanted in my 20s. And I think that’s a common ailment.
But what we really want is to do something that is brave and honest and has impact among people we care about. At any point in time, there are sectors of our society where we are more likely to have that impact.
And right now, that sector is education. Fortunately for me, education transformation is a workplace issue. Because education transformation requires family transformation. And family transformation starts with workplace transformation because we’ve set up our lives with the assumption that someone else is taking care of our kids for the majority of each day.
We do not have evidence that kids of middle-class educated parents benefit from going to school. But we do have evidence that middle-class educated parents like not having to take care of kids all day long. So we are at a new frontier, where the realities of education clash with the realities of work.
Thank god. Because otherwise I don’t know what I’d write about on my career blog in 2015.