Tell Me About It: He has career restlessness, but there's a baby on the way

Posted: July 26, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I did a lot of career-shopping in my 20s (just turned 31) and, after spending two years in an unstimulating desk job, I'm feeling the itch to try something new, again. I am becoming obsessive about the idea of applying to law school.

The problem? My wife is pregnant with our first baby, and she is strongly opposed to my giving up a decent, stable income for loans and instability.

I see her point, but in a few months I will be miserable where I am. Does fatherhood really mark the end of my right to make decisions based on what makes me happy?

Answer: Did you read your own question? And see how whiny and self-centered it makes you sound?

No, the beginning of fatherhood doesn't mark the end of your chance at happiness. It is the end, however, of your seeking happiness without regard for the way your choices affect your family.

In fact, that whole me-me-me jig was up with "I do," but apparently your wife didn't hold you to it or hasn't been as reliant on your stability as she's about to be. Maybe she assumed you'd "settle down."

So, a couple of suggestions for making unselfish but personally sound decisions.

1. Think more broadly about your restlessness. Since you've also become "obsessive," there might be a diagnosable third party here, maybe an attention-deficit or obsessive compulsive disorder, or similar. Please get screened; chadd.org is a good place to get started. Also consider that your restlessness is as much an emotional habit as a professional one. When the going gets tough, the tough don't look for immediate gratification. Not as catchy, but I like it better.

2. Treat your wife as your teammate, not your opponent. Brainstorm together about careers that offer stability and stimulation.

If you resent wife or kid for cramping your professional style, then you're more likely to need an attorney than become one. You made these choices, and produced a dependent - so, you signed up to place your child's needs above yours and your wife's equal to yours.

"Equal," for what it's worth, doesn't mean she keeps your ambition in a jar. It means you find a way to scratch your career itch that isn't just about you.


E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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