Bullish: What Do You Really Owe Your Family? (Also: Solving Problems Without Sacrificing Yourself)


Jennifer Dziura writes career and life advice weekly on TheGloss. Here is an archive, and here is an archive of Bullish columns from our sister site TheGrindstone.

Today we have a letter from someone whose story is so typical of today’s economy — jobs are scarce, your degree doesn’t get you that far, and even the military isn’t always hiring.

I just had drinks with a friend who is a career coach in her sixties. She hasn’t read any Bullish columns, and when I told her that I often suggest that young women totally forget about work/life balance until at least age 30, she was visibly startled. I told her that it’s hard out there, and if you follow the crowd, there will not be any Social Security for you when you need it, and you don’t want to be in the same boat as the rest of the crowd. I’m not sure she believed me.

In any case:

I have been living in China for two years teaching English which has been really awesome and has opened up a lot of interesting opportunities which I would never have thought of before. I started teaching in China because I graduated from journalism school at the height of the recession with thankfully no debt but also no good career options. (The only opportunities were writing for free.) I tried the military, because they are always hiring (right?) and I wanted some discipline, benefits and to learn to finally make my bed and wake up at a reasonable hour. However, apparently the military isn’t always hiring, which was a shock. Fast forward a year and I found myself in a small town of 3 million+ teaching English. Now I live in Shanghai and while I enjoy my job, I want to aim higher. Therefore, I am going back to the US to get my MA in International Education and hopefully get certified as a teacher. Then I plan to go to Saudi Arabia, Oman or the UAE because they pay really well. So overall, I am pretty happy and set in my current life trajectory. I am working on a blog and I will be writing a How-To guide about living and teaching in China which I hope to see to confused and freaked out undergrads who need a job.

My question has nothing to do with any of this. Basically my question to you is about how much you should let your family influence your life choices. I was raised by my grandparents who did the best they could with limited resources and I don’t have parents. This hasn’t been an issue until my grandmother started having really bad health issues and now my grandfather is wearing himself out by trying to care for her and his own not-awesome help. I am purposely coming back to Kansas City next fall to help out but I have no desire to live an hour away from my school so I can wipe my grandma’s butt at 3am. The environment is not at all conducive to studying or for being independent. I am also not keen about buying a car because I will probably need to take out some loans already and want to keep at number as low as humanly possible without looking like Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. My initial plan was to make a bunch of food during the week and on Sunday take the bus over and give them a weeks worth of food and do several hours of chores. However, my grandfather has been subtly hinting that he’d like me to move in (rent free) to my old childhood bedroom. I should mention that I have a younger sister who is already living with them but doesn’t help at all and doesn’t even speak to them other than to ask for favors. I am the responsible one and it is making me feel like a horrible granddaughter for not being there.

So if you could give me any advice about how to think about my family situation in a way that benefits everyone and makes me feel less rotten, I’d appreciate it.

The Prodigal Granddaughter

Dear Prodigal Granddaughter,

First off, I’m so glad you’ve hit upon something that works. Teaching English in China could easily keep you employed for the rest of your career, if you wanted. And you’re right that the Middle East pays even better. I tutor students in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. online for the GMAT and SAT. Not only do they get reverse taxation from their governments, this level of socialist largesse actually makes them, in some ways, surprisingly liberal: my teenage Kuwaiti student was horrified when I told him that Mitt Romney had suggested that, if the poor lacked health insurance, they could just go to the emergency room. In fact, my Kuwaiti student called this “cruel.” So, there’s something to be said for that region of the world.

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    • Jen

      This article is so brilliantly full of actual good advice, and is exactly my sitauion right now. Thanks so much for saying all of the things that I feel so selfish about, and making them make perfect sense!

    • Lyd

      Long-time reader here! Commenting for the first time to say that I mostly agree with this. Just wanted to speak up in defense of the Masters route. TESOL is one area where a Masters will significantly up the odds of getting a well-paid, secure position – which usually includes perks like paid flights (some schools provide one flight home per year) and accommodation, in addition to a salary that would allow her to pay off her student loans quickly and easily. Unlike qualifications in other types of teaching, this degree is not region specific, and if one wants the top-tier jobs, it’s a necessity. Plus this would allow her to charge more for the tutoring. But it all depends of course on what she wants to do.

    • D

      This is the most disgusting, selfish trash I have ever read in my life. The author of this article is destined to become a lonely, judgmental, cold wench without a friend in the world. Take care of your grandparents, be there for your little sister, and make the most of your situation. Nurture your relationships with family and you will find balance, harmony, and love, which is far more valuable than money. Money does not solve 90% of problems. It solves 90% of the problems consuming the AUTHOR, who is a sociopathic, soulless ice queen.

      • http://www.theepicadventurer.com/ Julia

        And you seem like a very compassionate soul.

    • Karen

      I think Jen’s advice brings up several good points, all worth their own articles. For instance, women’s idea of self-sacrifice — I feel women are much more socialized to feel this way. Ask any man if they would give up their career to take care of their parents. Also, women’s notion of making money, as directly related to the previous point. I don’t think the advice is selfish. Jen is encouraging the young woman to give more money than time to her family. If she goes back home she ends up giving her time but not money and costing her own opportunities. Who knows, maybe the girl can make a racket with online tutoring from Kansas and then everybody wins. The bottom line is communication. If this young woman’s grandma just wants her to achieve her dreams but the girl assumes grandma wants her at home, nobody’s gonna be happy.