If Your Career Is Your Life, You May Want to Rethink Your Life

In her 2000 book Ten Things I Wished I’d Known—Before I Went Out into the Real World, Maria Shriver wrote the following: “Even though you think your career is your life and your identity, it’s not and it shouldn’t be.”

I used that citation in the first book I ever wrote—about both the value and the demands of motherhood—to drive home the point that putting career before family is a mistake.

I had grown up with a mother who tried to combine a career as a stockbroker with raising two little girls at a time when few women did so. She ultimately quit to stay home with my sister and me, and unlike so many women of the modern generation who were taught to make a career the center of their lives, I got a different message.

“The needs of children are endless,” my mother would say. “You cannot do everything all at once.”

She was right, of course. But what my mother didn’t experience in her day was the double whammy modern women do. Not only is it just as impossible today to combine full-time work with motherhood without something (usually the children and the marriage) being shortchanged, America no longer values family.

That wasn’t the case in my mother’s day when family was first on everyone’s list—women’s and men’s. Indeed, she was an outlier for the times: most folks in her day settled down in their twenties. My mother was 34 when she married, and her decision to quit her job at 40 (ish) to stay home with us was not viewed as a subversive act. Today it would be, which is one of the reasons many women who want to stay home don’t. Who wants to be an outlier?

Yes, there’s also the money factor. But when we truly want something, we find options. Problem is, many refuse to entertain those options—or to even examine how they ended up in the boat they’re in in the first place so they can set about rerouting the boat.

At the end of the day, we all make choices in life, and no doubt the greatest one is when we decide early on whether to create a life that centers on family or to create a life that centers on work.

This is true of both women and men. There are many men, for instance, who are passionate about professions that aren’t particularly lucrative. Ergo, if they want to have a family they may be forced to choose a different career path—one that can comfortably feed a family. There are also men who work around the clock at big jobs in order to provide their wife and children with a nice lifestyle but who, as a result, forgo having any semblance of what the rest of us might call a life.

Still, it is women who get hammered with the message that a career should be first in their lives.

“I went to an all-girls high school,” writes one woman in this video earlier this year about motherhood and careers. “Massive pressure to perform. We had to get top grades so we could get into a good university and have a good career and, as they say, “be set for life.”

I remember distinctively being told by multiple teachers and mentors that having kids would hurt my career. Don’t you want to travel? See the world? Buy a house? Family was not even in the picture.”

As a result of this pernicious message, women—and by default, men—ignore their desire for love and family. After all, men take their cues from women, and women take their cues from a culture that tells them not to prioritize love. Before you know it, everyone’s putting love on the back burner.

Alexandra Solomon, a psychologist who teaches a course at Northwestern University called Marriage 101, says her students have absorbed the idea that love is secondary to academic and professional success.

“Over and over,” she writes, “my undergraduates tell me they try hard not to fall in love during college, imagining that would mess up their plans.”

This approach to life and love is completely backwards. Life’s deepest meaning isn’t found in our accomplishments but in our relationships. A happy marriage and home life (for those who want it) is the single greatest investment you’ll ever make. It literally affects everything else you do.

Countless women have learned this the hard way. They’ve put their career first and foremost and as a result are either divorced or unhappily married. Or their kids are a mess. Or they forgot to even have kids and are mired in regret. Many of these women don’t know what they’d do if their career disappeared tomorrow—they are that dependent on it. Bottom line: they’ve given work far too much space and meaning in their lives.

Don’t let this be your fate.

Instead, put love and family at the center of your life. Stop placing so much stock in the pursuit of a career. Most careers are all-consuming and will take over your life until you don’t have a life left to live. Instead, find a job you enjoy, or think you’d enjoy (because unlike a husband or wife, your work path can change many times) and make it part of your life rather than your entire life.

Take all that energy you pour into getting degree upon degree into narrowing down what you want and need in a life partner. Because if you marry to the right person, it will add to your life immeasurably. The stability, companionship and intimacy of marriage will allow you and your life to flourish. No one ever talks about marriage in a positive light because as an institution, it’s dying. 

That may be. But why should you have to go down with the ship?

Those who put off love and family to focus so obsessively on their education and career often wind up regretting it. They find in their 30s that all those plans they made collide with trying to settle down. It’s much harder, especially for women, to find a spouse later in life. Not only must they compete with younger women, by that time just about everyone is carrying a decade’s worth of break-ups, trust issues and disappointments. That’s not a good place to start any relationship.

To be clear, this is not an argument for when, exactly, people should marry. What it is is an argument in favor of flipping our priorities as a nation.

Who you wind up with for the long haul and the family you will presumably create will have the single greatest effect on your happiness and well-being than anything else you do.

So the important question is, Have you created a life that reflects this?

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist and radio host known as The Feminist Fixer. She helps free women from feminism so they can find lasting love with men. Suzanne's newest book, WOMEN WHO WIN at Love: How to Build a Relationship That Lasts, will be published October 2019.

Reader Interactions


  1. If your career is your life, then your life ends with your career. What’s wrong with this picture, daddy?

  2. Suzanne- what guts you have. You are talking about “the wall”, that women hit in their thirties. Men like to marry younger women, as women like to marry richer men. Both are strategies for healthier babies. Women in the USA cruise at 120 mph, through their 20’s, and have no idea that they are going to hit the wall, in their 30’s. I see a guy in my town, who is clearly 55 or so. His wife is 30-32. They have two kids. So many American women think they will find a guy willing to commit as easily as they found guys in high school, when they are 38. Men who are available to 38 year old women are either much older, or very wary.

  3. “If I can’t afford a home, I definitely can’t afford kids,” said Joy Brown, 32, a Chicago renter who’s single and who earns $75,000 a year. She also owes $102,000 in student loans and $10,000 in credit-card debt. “Myself and a lot of my peers still feel like we’re playing catch-up in the game of life.” //$10K in credit card debt? Huh? You’ll never catch up, unless you get a card with no interest for a year, and pay it down. What was your degree in? Something marketable?

    At the end of the day, all of this happened as a result of misplaced priorities. Millennials are the first generation ever to view marriage and family as secondary to professional success. It’s no coincidence they’re not married with kids and free of debt: They purposefully created lives that undermined this goal.// Plant of seed the very best, would you seek a blissful harvest

    • Consolidate your student loans, and wipe out that credit card debt. Make this your major goal. If you don’t do this, the debt will eat you alive.

  4. Your career is your priority? Great. Have at it. Plunge. Put in the 80-100+ hours per week necessary to be a high powered lawyer, and be available at 2 AM, 7 days a week. Enjoy it. You may even keep a boyfriend, who will see you as a booty call, which is really all you can be. Marriage is a lot of work, for both partners. Life is a series of choices. Everything comes at a price. You get to choose. You’ve come a long way, baby!
    And you’ll want to marry up. A friend of mine has a cousin, who is drop dead gorgeous, like this. She now has a husband, who has no idea how much she plays around at work. She works for a university now. No law firm will hire her. She sued 4 law firms for sexual harassment. I wonder how her husband will react, when he finds out how many times she’s cuckolded him.

  5. One thing people in their 30’s have to come to terms with is that the media is full of lies. Big lies. One lie is that your kids will be safe, in a child care facility, with 300% turnover in a year, of staff. Another is that junk food is good for you. Another is that drinking alcohol in any quantity somehow makes you cool. The half life of a college education is shrinking. It used to be every 5 years, half of it became invalid. And with another 5 years, another half was superseded. Mark Twain noted that he never let school get in the way of his education. One of my professors, in 1981, assured me that genetic modification of plants was impossible. Real education is asking intelligent questions, and being open to receiving the answers, and putting the answers to work. The curriculum of most schools is very deficient. How many schools teach the ideas of Napoleon Hill, for example? Or Joseph Murphy? Or Neville Goddard? I wish I had understood their lessons in high school. My life would have been very much better. You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you share, and inspire, and help, and bless. I have a deep spiritual connection. It has greatly helped me deal with stress. How many people use algebra in their adult lives? Where are the courses in relationships, in high school, a time when the students most need them? When I was in high school, they had this system where the boys asked the girls to dance. What flesh eating alien thought that up? Old cultures in many parts of the world have circle dance, where everyone has a place. The Lebanese dabka, as one example, is open to all, 8 to 80. It is a physical metaphor of the community in flow. What sadist thought up the idea of students having casual sex? The average 18 year old has no idea how to deal with something that powerful, and certainly can’t evaluate risk. The military offers classes, for young men and women, in relationships, laws such as open alcohol in a car and DUI, and other things to keep recruits out of trouble. I don’t know of anywhere else this is done. Colleges tell parents to let their children make their mistakes. This is unbelievably stupid. In many foreign countries, parents advise their children up to the time they are married, and beyond. And their kids welcome the guidance, because they know life has pitfalls. And when your life is your career, you have far fewer opportunities for growth. American mass culture, and mass media, are like one vast mental institution.

  6. If native born Americans do not value family, they will be replaced by people who do value family.
    This nasty tendency dies out in 1-2 generations.

  7. In Japan, the secret to living a longer, happier and more fulfilled life can be summed up in one word: Ikigai. In Japanese, iki means “to live” and gai means “reason” — in other words, your reason to live. This ideology dates to the Heian period (A.D. 794 to 1185), but only in the past decade has it gained attention from millions around the world. The ikigai way of life is especially prominent in Okinawa, in a group of islands south of mainland Japan. (It has also been nicknamed the “Land of Immortals” because it has among the longest lifespans and highest rates of centenarians in the world.)
    ‘The reason for which you wake up in the morning’

    In a 2009 TED talk called “How to Live to Be 100+,” award-winning journalist Dan Buettner explores the lifestyle traits of five places in the world where people live the longest. Of all the “blue zones,” as Buettner defines them, Okinawans have the highest life expectancy. (The video has since been viewed close to four million times.) “In America, we divide our adult life into two categories: Our work life and our retirement life,” he says. “In Okinawa, there isn’t even a word for retirement. Instead there’s simply ‘ikigai,’ which essentially means ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning.’”

    Buettner cites the ikigai of several Okinawans: For a 101-year-old fisherman, it was catching fish for his family three times a week; for a 102-year-old woman, it was ****holding her tiny great-great-great-granddaughter**** (which she said was “like leaping into heaven”); for a 102-year-old karate master, it was teaching martial arts.

    Woven together, these simple life values give clues as to what constitutes the very essence of ikigai: ****A sense of purpose, meaning and motivation in life****.

    The reasons behind a long and healthy life include finding meaning in life. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY DO THAT VERY WELL.

    In a 2008 study from Tohoku University, researchers analyzed data from more than 50,000 participants (ages 40 to 79) and found that those who reported having ikigai in their lives had reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases and lower mortality rates. 95% of respondents who had ikigai were still alive seven years after the initial survey compared to the 83% who didn’t. Having a sense of purpose helps one to build a happy and active life.

    Finding your ikigai starts with asking questions:

    What puts joy in your life?
    What are you good at?
    What and whom do you value?
    What motivates you to get up in the morning?

    Here is one way to progress on the path:

    1. Start small

    Starting small and executing every step with care applies to everything you do in life.

    Artisanal farmers, for example, devote all their time and effort into creating the best and tastiest produce. They get the soil right. They prune and water their produce with care. Their sense of starting small propels them to go incredible lengths.

    2. Releasing yourself

    Releasing obsessions and seeing things that matter to you in a more clear and positive light.

    Practicing self-acceptance is vital, and one of the most difficult tasks we face in our lives. If you can be happy with who you are, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

    3. Harmony and sustainability

    You can’t achieve your goals if you’re constantly fighting with the people around you. Cultivating and maintaining a sense of community will provide you with a strong support system to carry you through life’s most challenging moments.

    4. The joy of small things

    Finding joy in the small things, the smile of a spouse, the morning air, a cup of coffee or the ray of sunshine helps motivates one to get up each morning.

    In high school, I would take the same 6:20 a.m. train to class every day. The sight of the same familiar faces enjoying a game of shogi (Japanese chess) always gave me immense joy.

    5. Being in the here and now

    This is the most important. To be in the here and now, it’s important to focus on the present and practice mindfulness every day.

    Many sumo wrestlers testify that being in the here and now is absolutely necessary in preparing for and fighting in a bout. They claim that immersing themselves in the present helps sustain their state of mind for optimum performance.

  8. Making one’s career one’s life is like making your car your home. It can be done, however it is very confining.

  9. Suzanne, everything you say here is golden. You speak from a deep spiritual perspective. It would be a good idea to back this up by talking about how to reprogram the subconscious mind, for success. Joseph Murphy’s methods come to mind: taking a few highly positive statements, and stating them, in a very relaxed state of mind, for 5-10 minutes at a time, morning and evening. Napoleon Hill talks about this, also. Spiritual goals require spiritual methods. Materialistic methods always come up short. Talk to a master in any field. Eventually, you will find their spiritual methods, which they did not learn in college, but which are the core of their success. It really is possible to come out of impossible debt, and get a house, if one really wants this. It requires working in a spiritual way, though. Working at the material level, vs. working at a spiritual level, is the difference between walking, and flying in a plane.

    Verily God will not change a people, until they first change themselves from within- from the Holy Quran.

  10. Consider this,maybe these women were raised in a narcissistic household.Where having money,having a safe environment-free from abuse,etc didn’t exist.So these women view having an education is more of a priority,which gives security i.e.income,better lifestyle,money in the bank, investments,etc.Maybe it’s not the right time in their life to get married.Nothing against men,I respect them!The only person looking out for you,is yourself…

  11. I am the last single person in my friend group. Now suddenly everyone is scouting for wedding venues upstate—except me. Being single feels in your 30s is isolating. Our 30s is also the decade where we spend time and money celebrating other people’s getting married.

    Seeing my friends usually means being the one single person amid a mob of couples.

    Dating itself gets harder. I don’t want to waste time on someone who isn’t “the one.” How do I learn that in one date?

    We discriminate more in our 30s. We know more about what we want. And almost no one is good enough. “someone better might be just around the corner”. Maybe I should’ve picked someone when I was 25 and stupid, and then just made it work.

    As we get more picky, the pool of soul mates shrinks. Now, when I meet a cute guy, he’s often already married.

    A male friend of mine said “I think that women, modern feminist and independent, still may want to get married in a Disney way. Women who are my age, still single, are leftovers. They’re crazy.
    Even guys notice that couples hang out with other couples.

    I spent my 20s wondering if I even wanted marriage, and a family is something that I even want. A few years ago, I didn’t want kids, I wanted mediocre sex parties. How can I connect with another human being on a level deeper than “I’m drunk and you are there?”

    Lorie Gottlieb says compromises are important, in relationships. Your marital value is higher in your 20s and early 30s. They longer you wait, the less the odds favor you. That is tough love. It’s not fair, but it is real.

    Jordan Peterson said: “Women: I know you are told to prioritize your career, and put off marriage and family until later. But the reality is, just because you’re a woke feminist with a trendy loft apartment who’s passionate about her career doesn’t mean that you’ve somehow transcended your biology. Most people—women especially—who don’t end up forming a family unit will live to regret it.” Was that misogynistic? or real?

    Some people see themselves as always about to make it, and have better choices in men. I have been thinking that for 10 years. We may all end up more mediocre than we thought. The magical pool of super-boyfriends might never manifest. And when they do, most of them will already be married.

    I am becoming a leftover. I refuse to believe in the Disney happy ending. Maybe I will settle. And meanwhile, I eat steak alone and RSVP to orgies. I should probably freeze my eggs.

  12. My Dad was one of 7 children. 6 boys, 1 girl. My Grandmother was an amazing lady. All her kids were born at home, before the midwife could get there. My Grandfather had that rare college education and held good jobs, even during depression. He too, was steadfast and a good provider. He made sure my sweet Grandmother had the tools needed to cook, garden, run the household, orchard, etc. Like so many women of her day, she never got her drivers license. Growing up we had many family gatherings. One big, close family. 36 grand kids.

    This was her primary belief: Her heart, so to speak, passed on to me and all her granddaughters.

    We believe: That right living should be the fourth “R” in education. That homemaking should be regarded as a profession. That on the home foundation is built all that is good in state or individual. That the most profitable, the most interesting study for women is the HOME, for in it centers all issues of life.

    Oh. One other note I’d like to add: There are NO divorces in my Dad’s family. And, none in my family either. Going on 3 generations. That issue alone just makes me so happy/thankful/blessed beyond word!


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