Helping front office teams grow better

The Midas Mindset - #375

There seems to be two opposing ideas in our approach to career. On the one hand, there's quiet quitting and balancing life with career, exemplified by Anne Helen Peterson's work over the last decade or so. You can find any number of mid-career columnists decrying the lazy, entitled youth's approach to the workplace. On the other hand, there's how we actually live, which may be more concerning. American culture places its highest value on social advancement, educational attainment, and successful careerism.

This week, Brad Wilcox's new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization popped up on my radar. He made the rounds of a few podcasts in my feed and then was interviewed by Jane Coaston in the Times. As a sociologist, Wilcox study of social trends with regards to marriage aren't surprising (fewer people are divorcing because fewer are marrying, the average age of marriage is older, etc.). His "Midas mindset" theory on why marriage is trending down is worthy of consideration.

(To remind yourself of the King Midas myth, there's no better reading than Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 version of the story.)

The summary of Wilcox's causal theory:

many people suffer from a "Midas mindset": the idea that careers, education, money or other pursuits are more important than marriage and family life

It's pretty easy to see the virtue of advancing in education, money, status, career, and the other trappings of upward mobility. Who doesn't want a better life? The Midas mindset breaks down not because those things aren't important, but because they aren't more important than the bonds of marriage and family.

Wilcox put it slightly differently in another talk earlier this year, we think that "freedom from family life is the key to happiness." While the freedom to be upwardly mobile is awesome, we are paying a steep price: separation from marriage and family. This may be where the anti-career approach from the quiet-quitting crowd and the career-only approach of their boomer bosses converge: both assume human happiness is based on complete autonomy. Wilcox and most sociologists argue, from the data, that this assumption is a complete reversal of reality: happier people are marriage, happier kids live with their parents, etc.

King Midas learned the hard way. It may seem cool if at every moment we can make the marginal decision to optimize exactly what feels good. But all of those late days at the office, solo trips to the spa, overtime hours turned into bonuses, and impulse purchases of exactly what we want don't turn into lasting happiness. It can seem cool if everything we touch turns to gold. But a life of  complete freedom turns into a cold, heartless reality.

Back to Hawthorne's Midas, who finally discovered happiness when he rid himself of the golden touch and reanimated his precious daughter. We discover happiness when we deprioritize autonomy, making commitments and families.


Brad Wilcox Thinks American Culture is Undervaluing Marriage

"I Said, 'What's Your Plan About Marriage and Dating?' And There Was Silence."