Be a little selfish - for your family's sake

“Do it for her”, from The Simpsons

The the 90s show The Simpsons, before it got awful, there is an episode where Homer quits his soul-crushing power plant job and starts working at the bowling alley.

Then, his wife becomes pregnant with his third child and realizing they can’t make ends meet, Homer goes back to work at the nuclear power plant. But he has to crawl through a door called “Supplicants” and then gets a sign at his desk that says: “Don’t forget: you’re here forever.”

But he covers it up with pictures of his new baby and it instead says: “Do it for her.” It’s an uplifting message. I think it’s trying to say: Sometimes we have to do jobs we hate to provide for our family. But I think it’s oversimplified and potentially dangerous for the readers of this site, and here’s why:

Excessive sacrifice hurts your family

When you sacrifice too much for the material benefit of your family, it will negatively affect your mood, self-confidence, and health. You may become short-tempered or spend too little time with your spouse or kids.

That’s not a good trade for your family.

  • There are plenty of happy families that don’t have much.
  • But there are even more unhappy families that are swimming in material wealth, but where the kids and spouse lack adequate attention and joy.

Moreover, this can have other negative downstream effects that can destroy what you’ve been working for if:

  • Your spouse gets fed up with the lack of attention and divorces you.
  • Your kids act out to get attention, get on drugs, etc.

Excessive sacrifice closes your mind to solutions

The TV episode presents Homer’s only option is to quit the job he loves at the bowling alley, and go back to a job he detests at the nuclear power plant. It might be true in The Simpsons that those are the only two options, but most Americans live in big metropolitan areas with a lot more than two options.

Believing that excessive sacrifice is normal can close your mind to outside-the-box streams of income or alternatives. Since Homer was so happy doing the bowling alley work, it’s likely he could have generated side income or started a side business in that space.

Moderation: Hard work still required, but misery probably not

Please don’t read the above and think I’m suggesting that everyone follow their passion and become a yoga teacher (unless you have a great business plan). I don’t think anyone reading this would mistake my point, but to clarify:

  1. Excessive sacrifice of your personal goals and interests is the problem.
  2. Some unpleasant work is still required to do anything in life.
  3. But if it’s getting so bad that you really dread your work, it’s time to move on.

This is also written from a position of privilege, assuming that you do have alternatives. The advice is best targeted towards people living in economies with a lot of varied opportunity, like developed countries.

Now with that caveat: Go out there and get it!

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