by Julie Vick
Thirty years ago this fall the Phillies were winning in postseason playoffs and I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I owned our little house in Center City and I was working at Penn (although in a different department than my current one), and though we didn’t have much money we both had careers with promising futures. The Phillies won the World Series, the city went crazy and a few weeks later I had a baby girl. Fast forward to today, my three children are in their twenties with one still in college and the older two working in their own careers.
When I reflect on my career and look at theirs as well as those of their peers, I know that the times are really different and I don’t just mean that there were only three TV channels plus PBS and a UHF station. The necessities of housing, food and transportation took up a smaller portion of the paycheck then than they do today. It takes much longer for most people a few years out of college or out of graduate school to establish financial security. However, financial security is only one factor of happiness.
As I’ve gotten older I have realized that although you can have more than one career (I’m in my second one) you have only one life. Now this may seem obvious but for many people in their twenties the future seemed huge — almost infinite — and with the opportunity for several possibilities. In the current economy fewer people feel that way. Most people who will receive their degree this year feel some anxiety about what they’re future holds. So I will offer that in any economy, but especially a bad one, one of the most important things you can do is build and maintain relationships. There have been so many times when people told me that someone they met by chance gave them an unexpected job lead or career advice that resulted in a job or some other career change. But I’m not simply talking about networking on behalf of your career or a job search, although that is important, but about life in general.
So I urge you to not miss events in the lives of your circle of people. In a couple of years don’t RSVP “no” to the wedding or commitment ceremony of your freshman year roommate because you would have to leave work five hours early to get there. You can make up those hours of work but events that take place only once can’t be repeated. For the very same reason, don’t pass up the opportunity to drive across country with your cousins. In spite of all the life and career planning you are encouraged to do, in so many cases it’s the unexpected opportunities that can shape your life; hence don’t pass up those opportunities.
Much of the best work that is done in this country is done by happy people. Happy people have friends, family, associates, acquaintances, relatives, neighbors and book group [or other groups] members in their lives. They may be happy for a variety of reasons but one of them – one important one – is surely because they are connected to people. Their people provide friendship, fun, love, new interests as well as support and advice in difficult times. As the Girl Scout song said, “Make new friends, but keep the old.” Nurture those old relationships and cultivate new ones. You will be enriched and will enrich the lives of those around you.