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Expectations vs. Reality: What “Going to Work” Is Really Like

Filed in: Your Brain

When you were a kid, did you ever imagine what “going to work” would be like? We did—whether it was pretending to be teachers, channeling astronauts, or just trying on our mothers’ sensible pumps. Below, we asked women (including a few MM-ers, and even a couple of MMen) to tell us what their expectations of “going to work” were when they were kids—and what their reality is today.

“When I was little, my mom didn’t work and my dad traveled every week for his job, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to what working actually looked like. I definitely planned to have a career, but the exact nature of the work was hazy. One thing I was sure of: I would become extremely rich, very quickly. I had heard that you could make a lot of money in the ‘stock market,’ so I assumed my work would be loosely tied to that. But I also wanted to be a jockey and a movie star. Regardless of which path I chose, I knew I would live in New York City and carry a briefcase.

Nowadays, I do indeed live in New York, but I have never owned a briefcase. I’m a writer and marketer, not a stockbroker or jockey. And the whole ‘getting rich’ thing doesn’t seem quite as inevitable as it did when I was seven.”

— Tory, MM.LaFleur Creative Director of Brand

“My dad was a voice actor, which means I grew up thinking being a working adult meant: sleeping in, putting on the sweatshirt with the fewest holes in it, going to a studio where you record the words ‘Coming up next on Animal Planet’ seven times, taking your money, and going home to play with your kids.

So when I started working full time, I really wasn’t prepared. The concept that I was suppose to wake up early and get dressed up and shuttle myself to an airless dungeon just so I could sit in the same room—nay, the same cube!—for eight hours was appalling. Thankfully, I now work remotely, which means spending many hours in the sweatshirt with the most holes.”

— Emma, Editor

“When I was a teenager, I got really into shows about super-dedicated people in extremely tough professions, like The West Wing and Grey’s Anatomy. The characters’ lopsided work/life balance was weirdly aspirational to me: I would think to myself, ‘I can’t wait to constantly sacrifice my personal life at the altar of my professional ambition!’

Now that I’m actually in the workforce, I’ve come to my senses a bit. And while it sometimes might be necessary, I am no longer under the delusion that staying late at work is ‘cool.'”

— Sarah, MM.LaFleur Content Director

“When I was younger, I thought ‘work’ exclusively meant going to a boring office to do boring things and wear boring clothes—that it was all ‘deliverables’ and ‘stakeholders’ and ‘TPS reports.’

I truly had no idea of the breadth of industries out there. It turns out there are so many jobs, and the same type of role can vary widely by industry. But there’s no way you could really know that until you’re in the workforce.”

— Adelle, Account Manager

“Both my parents worked, so I’d spend sick days at one or the other’s office. The truth is, at that age I didn’t have much of a concept of what work was really like for them—my mom was an editor and reporter and my dad was a college professor—but I found their offices to be romantic and exciting places, where there were typewriters to play with and endless office supplies that smelled great.

I think that’s the biggest difference: working life for me isn’t about stationery and hole-punchers and special glue. It’s just people and their computers. There aren’t even phones that ring!”

— Reid, TV news writer

“My early dreams of work were primarily about wearing really great professional clothes (mostly wide-leg pants and power dresses with heels) in some big, fabulous city. Between my childhood and now, I worked as a research scientist in Norway and a teacher in Texas, and had many moments where I thought my power dress dreams would never materialize. Luckily, I eventually ended up at MM.”

— Ruth, MM.LaFleur Senior Marketing Analyst

“As a kid, I toyed with being a pediatric oncologist (this was around the time I got really into Lurlene McDaniel books), a psychologist, and a veterinarian. But more than anything, I thought I would grow up to write books: novels that took your breath away, that grown-ups toted around in their backpacks and purses and showed to friends, asking ‘Have you read this?’

Suffice to say, working in advertising is not the same thing as being an author. But I did ultimately grow up to be a writer (especially if you count my prolific Instagram captions). And of course, I could still write a book—or books—someday.”

— Sarah, Advertising Creative Director

“Growing up, I couldn’t wait to start working! I loved the idea of making money and becoming an independent and fierce businesswoman, and was determined to build my own successful company where I would be the boss. Of course, I had no idea what that enterprise would be, but that was a minor detail. I also didn’t spend too much time thinking about what would actually make me happy.

After I grew up, I took two years off to figure out what my true passion was, and find a way to make that my work—and that’s exactly what I did. Managing photoshoots and directing videos became my new dream, and I’ve learned the importance of never giving up until you find the right field for you.”

— Rina, MM.LaFleur Photo & Video Production Manager

“I thought it exclusively involved going into an office and talking on the phone.”

— Dan, Foreign Policy Advisor & Writer

“When I was growing up, I had the idea that work had a defined ‘beginning’ and ‘end.’ Oh, how foolish I was! My parents would get work calls from time to time at home, but I don’t ever remember them going into the office on the weekend. And, even if they stayed late at work, once they were at home, they were done for the day.

I don’t think I was really prepared for the reality that I will never be completely off the hook from work. I think it’s harder to have a work/life separation these days.”

— Sarah, Surgeon

“As a child, I remember facing continuous disappointment on Take Your Child to Work Day. While my classmates skipped school to spend the day with their parents curing cancer and going to the moon (or so I imagined), I was told to go to class, because I would find my parents’ jobs (in finance and fundraising) ‘boring.’ I vowed then and there that I would never have a ‘boring’ job—I would grow up and do something that would impress all of my children’s friends.

Over the years, I toyed with the idea of becoming a professional horseback rider, a mystery novelist, and a wedding photographer. Funnily enough, my career has taken place exclusively in offices, and I commute to work on the subway, not by horse. What hasn’t changed, however, is the promise I made to myself to never deny my children the right to participate in Take Your Child to Work Day—even if they do end up thinking my job is incredibly dull.

— Alex, MM.LaFleur Editorial Associate

“When I was young (single digits), I told my dad’s receptionist that I could never have a job working at a desk. She was slightly offended.

Fast forward about 15 years: I finished law school and started working as an attorney in private practice. Where I spent my days sitting at a desk. All day long.

After three years practicing law, I switched careers to photography. Now I don’t even own a desk.”

— Sharlene, Photographer


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