I’m not talking about a pocket watch. And this isn’t something like The Watch in the movie Pulp Fiction (although getting to do a scene with Bruce Willis would be some sort of fabulous, I’m sure).
No, I’m talking about the once-coveted “gold watch,” the reward for loyalty, the recognition of a life’s work, a career of dedication, the old American work ethic “If you stick with something long enough, good things happen.”
Yeah, that’s over.
Those days, that dream, that side of Americana has gone bye-bye. Being steadfast isn’t good enough anymore. This Life is a Highway culture values change. Covets it. And quick.
When I graduated from college a year or two ago (bear with me), new statistics proclaiming the fate of my generation were out: there were few jobs and we were doomed. A girl had good reason to feel anxious. There was no arguing these facts, faithfully reported as they were by Time Magazine–the end-all-to-beat-all before the omniscience of Internet. Time reigned supreme and predicted Generation X would change jobs roughly every five years and, in their lifetime, change careers a minimum of three times.
How shockingly irresponsible! What else could one expect from such a bunch of slackers–which, also according to Time, we all were (until Tianamen Square–but, that’s another blog).
No, back then on the verge of my career, expectations were that those who followed the work ethic of the generation before were “good” and those who didn’t were “slackers.” Not bad, exactly. Just really disappointing.
Then we got Dot Coms.
All of a sudden, the professionalism of American Suburbia burst forth in change. People skipped from office to office like flat rocks on a glassy pond. The more bounces a person’s rock made, the more successful he or she became. It got to the point where those who weren’t in six figures by the year 2000 were viewed as “under performers” or, if you were savvy enough to claim the label, “artistic.”
For we females there was a third option. Flexible family hours came back, thanks in part to the re-recognition of the Family Leave Act. Scheduling got creative. SAHM became a thing. So, if a girl had babies, she at least had an “out.” But not guys: guys got hit even harder and any feller without a job became an automatic “less than.” Ah, karma.
“Hmpf!” scoffs my late Grandma, “About damn time.”
Change was out there. People parleyed “life experience” into career goals. “The next best thing” became not an altruism, but a career path. To not hop within five years or less was a stigma.
What a reversal of fortune. Now in job interviews, one might find herself asked, “Why have you been at this company for over a decade?” In fact, I once had an Administrative Officer confess to me she was worried about one team of engineers. “They’ve been here almost ten years,” she said in a nervous whisper. “What’s wrong with them?!”
“Maybe they’re happy,” I offered. She laughed at me and walked away.
It’s not without a sense of irony I look back on my career. I’m literally between jobs: yesterday I left one; tomorrow I start another. This is something I haven’t done for a really long time. I went directly against the main. I defied the pull of populous doing what none of my compatriots did. I stayed in one job longer than I spent going to college, building a family, or growing up. The job I’m leaving is the longest thing I’ve ever done.
What did that loyalty earn me? Skepticism. There were plenty of interviews between then and now where I was looked at sideways, my choices scrutinized. Why had I stayed put? I could have said I was raising a family, I had young kids, my husband didn’t want to move–all of which were true facts about my lifestyle. But they weren’t the real reason. The truth was what I always answered, “It’s been fascinating with new challenges all the time.”
Change without changing.
But it wasn’t good enough. Push came to shove; my hands went up in surrender. I give. I’m out. It’s over. I have a ton of new stories, knowledge, experience, and excellent friends.
Just no gold watch.