Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Big Careers. Monetary Nomads

I went to a deposition the other day at which, upon its conclusion, the other lawyer, whom I really don't know, told me about what all of his adult children were doing career wise.  He was obviously very proud, and had reason to be. They all had advanced degrees or were working on them, and they were all in high paying careers. Even the one who was working on an advanced degree still was presently in a high paying career, and no doubt set for an even higher paying one.

Now, this deposition took place in a law office in a Wyoming city, the largest of which is still only a mid sized, at best, Mid Western city.  I note this as its an interesting feature of Wyoming life, and perhaps of American life in general, that people are from somewhere, but of nowhere. And in the West and Midwest, it seems a common progression is from lower middle class, to professional class, to "you have got to get out of here and make a big career" class.  That strikes me as odd.

Perhaps it strikes me as odd as I'm one of that collection of Wyoming natives, not uncommon  here, who has that attitude expressed in the film variant of Doctor Zhivago, in response to the comment by Komarovsky to Laura when Zhivago is late leaving for the train out that "He'll never leave Russia".  Zhivago, we're made to understand, is so Russian, and loves Russia so deeply, indeed is so much apart of Russia, that he can't leave it.  A section of Wyomingites are like that, and I'd put myself in that category.  When I was young and contemplating careers, although I did ponder a career in the Army, I never really considered anything that would have separated me from Wyoming permanently or at least, given economic realities (which I was more realistic about back then, than I am now), which would have separated me from the greater Rocky Mountain Region.  I would not have even considered moving to Denver, which is a big city in the Rocky Mountain Region.  I guess that's just a pronounced part of my character.

As I've grown older, and of course as I've worked for what is now a very long time as a lawyer, I've traveled a lot.  That's something I was frankly very much unaware that lawyers did. This year alone I've been to Toronto, Tampa, Santa Fe, Anchorage, Denver and other distant localities.  There's more travel to come.  But in spite of that, my view hasn't really changed.  Indeed, I feel a lot like the guy who runs the Old Picture of the Day blog, where he notes:
I grew up in West Texas, and could not wait to get away. I got away, and went to the University of Texas, and then on to Stanford. I saw the world, and decided what I really wanted was to be in West Texas. So here I am, right back where I started. I had it all, and found it was not that great.
I'm not quite that jaded.  But I never wanted to get away either, and I can't say that I've ever "had it all".  I can say that I haven't gone far from where I started.  My observation here is, however, that I'm not sure why so many do and why that's a measure of success, unless a person measures success only in money, which is a very shallow measuring glass.

Now, I can understand why some do, as some people's passion, vocation, avocation, or at least their interest, mandate that. If a person loves, for example, high finance, they're gong to a location where you can do that sort of thing.  I've known people who loved military life, and indeed as noted I contemplated such a career at one time, and of course that means going where you are sent, and always has.  A person can given any number of such examples.

But the one I really don't quite grasp is the one in which people have followed a dollar sign career, and let them take them wherever.  Indeed, I don't quite understand why some people seemingly undertake no further analysis than that.  It's quite common.  I've met lots of people who move from one large city to another, due to their career, and its quite clear that only the dollar aspect of matters to them.  They form weak attachments to everyone and everything, except their pay.  And I've met more than one person, and this is common with Wyoming ex-pats, who leave to pursue an education, get a job, and then work in big cities, only to return when their career is over and they are old, claiming they missed the state the entire time.  Well, then, why did you leave? And if that thing was so important to you, should you have come back?

The worst examples I find are when people move some place which is nearly incomprehensible to grasp the attraction to.  In some instances, I find some people stating that "I hate this city, but . . . ".  But what?  I love money, and I could live anywhere for that?  I guess.  I fairly recently had a conversation with a very successful, by monetary standards, lawyer who told me about his youth in the Mid West, how he went to our state frequently, but as his career was based in a Gigantic City Elsewhere, which he did not like, he must stay there. Thirty to Forty years of commitment based, apparently, on cash.  He sounded depressed about it.

Some of this must absolutely be me.  And I worry about it. I'm probably a bad example to my kids, as I just don't think some of these worldly achievements mean very much.  In that fashion, I guess, I'm more in tune with the Gen Xers than the Boomers.  But then that's how my father was too.

This isn't, I should note, an argument for poverty.  When I take the depositions of men who came up from Chihuahua to work in the oilfields, I know why they came and understand it.  Rather, however, it's the seeming belief, so common in American life, that upwards mobility means that some generation must live in a series of huge cities and base their value on a paycheck that I don't grasp.  It seems hollow to me.

No comments: