Metrics of Success: On the importance of non-career-based dreams.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Every kid is asked to imagine their future through a job. You can be six or 16, and the question feels ubiquitous. And while it sounds harmless, it sends the message that you are only as worthy as the job you aspire to have.
We’re taught that we need well-paying jobs in order to be seen as respectable, upstanding citizens. The myth of meritocracy tells us that some people have “better” jobs than others because of their behavior alone, and not due to any societal factors or institutional biases. That is: obedient, hardworking individuals get the best jobs.
The careerism I’m talking about is a luxury, not rooted in the same experiences and financial anxieties which demand poor people overachieve just to survive. This careerism is meant as a better alternative to the conformity of low-wage, exploitative labor—dream big; be your own boss; be a CEO, an entertainer, a politician. Those are exciting goals to have if they’re what you want! But by making exceptionalism the only means to individualism, one suggests that non-career-based dreams are not worth having.
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