Like my parents, your parents probably raised you with big dreams of career success, reaching heights previously reached by only a few big achievers. My own father told me that I could grow up to be the president of my country and, if he’d asked me to, I would have tried – no questions asked. Success is the cornerstone of neoliberal dogma. Raised in the heart of neoliberal times, we twenty-somethings have been taught to aim for career and financial success as one of life’s major goals.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up? A lawyer? A doctor? A teacher? An engineer?’ Parents would often answer their questions back at us, forcing us to choose glamorous career titles at very young ages. I always chose actress, and my cousin always said he wanted to be a crocodile. Luckily, he later revoked his judgment, choosing to become a superhero instead. Despite choosing passion over paycheck, my cousin never reached his career goals.
Many of us are worried about being successful. We want to stay in the field we’re passionate about but sometimes that doesn’t always pay the most. Growing up, the myth of the starving actress, or the destitute writer followed us everywhere, but the economic crash of 2008 expanded this myth-iverse. There is now talk of the struggling design student still working as a barista at Starbucks. Language students have no jobs to practice their verbs, to put their learned grammar to use, or to earn a decent living. The greatest myth of all, that STEM jobs provide a secure paycheck, is a bare-faced lie, with many STEM professionals also ending up unemployed.
When I was nine, I gave up my dreams of becoming an actress. It was the second major career decision of my life. Although I had wanted to be on the stage, I decided instead that my uncle was right, and I was better off backstage, writing. I gave up the idea of a steady, secure or bountiful paycheck when I choose passion over paycheck. Although my mother wanted me to become a pharmacist, I knew I would end up overdosing on my own supply just to numb my ever-dying soul, starved of creative fulfilment. I have made peace with my decision. Of course, in our present socio-economic climate there is no great guarantee that going after a paycheck will result in financial and career success, so really, we’re all screwed either way.
A doctor once told me that he’d have been happier working as a humble teacher in a Third World village in the middle of nowhere. An art student friend still finds fulfilment working on her art, despite working as a barista to pay the rent. And an engineer neighbour finds great joy in living the high life, spending, spending, spending and flying business class, all at the company’s expense. Like all major life decisions, choosing whether to go after a paycheck or follow your dreams is just a great, big gamble. Some we win, some we lose. Really, it’s up to you.