This article first appeared, Friday February 2015 in The Ottawa Citizen
Here’s one more good reason to join the camp of those who hate Valentine’s Day: it’s a sugary corporate symbol of the worst cultural ideas on love, dating and relationships – which, in addition to negatively affecting your personal happiness (think unrealistic expectation and the tyranny of trying to find “The One”) is also probably hurting your career.
Our general collective “Western” frame on love and romance has been built around the ideas of: love conquering all, opposites attracting and love at first sight – all of which are more romantic when we spontaneously and impulsively act on them.
True love doesn’t care about consequences!
While this is great for Hollywood, it’s actually a terrible template for how we should be encouraging people to think about and plan for their own long-term relationship happiness – and even more, their careers in the new world of work.
Until very recently, conversations on relationships and careers tended to be much like the aisles in a bookstore: neatly isolated in separate sections – when in reality, what happens in one area directly and continuously impacts the other.
For instance, a recent study from Washington University found that a person’s spouse has a direct correlation on their job satisfaction, salary increases and eligibility for a promotion.
While having a supportive spouse was one key for success (regardless of gender) it turns out that who they are matters as well.
“Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouses personality matters too.” Says, Joshua Jackson, the lead author of the study that examined the lives of nearly 5,000 married people over 5 years.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has led the way in starting to have this “unromantic” but deeply practical discussion, asserting that “the most important career choice you’ll make is who you will marry.”
(For those of us that have grown up around arranged marriages, this idea is significantly less groundbreaking.)
Sheryl Sandberg’s comment was generally interpreted as being directed to women and working mothers, but in actuality, it applies to everyone looking to successfully navigate this new world of work: one where social networks are key economic drivers, the traditional lock step career is increasingly irrelevant and the benefits and security previously associated with work is rapidly disappearing.
A 2010 Intuit study estimates by that by 2020 more than 40 per cent of the American workforce will be made up of “contingent, freelance, contract and part time workers as well as individual suppliers” or a mix of all of the above.
Even if rates are not that high quite so fast, it’s clear that just as new skills are needed to build a successful career so too are new ways of thinking about our personal lives.
While encouraging people to take a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to their relationships from the lens of their careers goals might initially sound a bit gloomy, it really it shouldn’t.
We are actually in a good-news situation.
When it comes to structuring and creating the relationships, careers and families we want, we have more choice than any time in history – but to do it successfully, we need to drop the idea that any of these happen in isolation and instead, recognize the impact that choices in one area have on the others.
So go ahead and send that out that Valentine – but before you do, maybe pause and really think carefully about who you are going to be giving it to.
Reva Seth is the best selling author of The MomShift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children (Random House: February 2014.) She is also the author of First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice From The Wisdom Of Arranged Marriages (Simon & Schuster: June 2008).
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