As I See It: Leave It To Cleaver
November 28, 2016 Victor Rozek
The grand paradox of humanity’s quest for wisdom is that the truly great questions have no definitive answers. Age-old questions such as: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? And does the recent election prove that God exists, or that He doesn’t? These are the eternal questions that haunt us and rob us of sleep. But once in a while, like the proverbial blind squirrel bumping into an acorn, we stumble upon an elusive answer.
The question in question is: What single quality in a spouse will be most useful to advancing your career? It’s a deliciously self-serving question, and short of marrying a guy or gal who owns the company and will promise to love, honor, and let you start at the top, the answer might be useful for career-challenged Millennials. After all, why marry for love when you can wed for advancement?
You would think there would be many spousal qualities that could prove useful to the striving careerist. Patience, understanding, unconditional love; having a spouse who is encouraging, autonomous, self-entertaining, forgiving–those are just some of the helpful qualities that come to mind. Not to mention marrying someone with enough money so if you want to start a non-profit you can still live indoors. Or maybe your dream is to dabble in astrology, or paint ostrich eggs, or write the Great American Novel in hex. Well, nothing aligns the stars in your favor like a giant wad of cash.
But if you’re like me and guessed any of these obvious things, you would be wrong.
According to psychological scientist and academic Brittany Solomon there is one, and only one quality that reliably predicts a partner’s support of your career. (Academia, incidentally, is another great way to kick-start a career–where else can you get paid to research all sorts of esoteric minutia and then write a voluminous treatise only your mother will read?)
But in Solomon’s case, she actually discovered something fascinating: the spousal trait most significant to an employee’s career outcome is. . . drum roll please. . . conscientiousness. All right, so it’s not glamorous. It’s plodding and void of excitement. Kind of like driving a 10-year-old Camry. It ain’t flashy but it’s reliable and no one’s going to steal it. And here’s the unexpected power of dull: conscientiousness in a spouse not only provides career support but, according to Solomon, also predicts income, the likelihood of promotions, and the degree of job satisfaction. It doesn’t explain why people watch Duck Dynasty, but there’s only so much conscientiousness can do.
Solomon offers three reasons why an ambitious single might want to snare a conscientious spouse. First, you can delegate all the crap you don’t want to do at home to your diligent partner. Think of the advantages of freeing yourself from all those unpleasant household chores so you can concentrate on what’s really important: your career.
Finding someone who will take care of life at home may be desirable but it’s also dated. June Cleaver passed away some time ago. Now, there was a model of conscientiousness! The late 1950s-early 1960s TV mom on Leave it to Beaver had the house clean and dinner on the table when husband Ward came home from the office. And, for extra style points, she always managed to be decked out in a fashionable dress, sporting heels and a charming little apron. Talk about making America great again!
Well, I’ve got some bad news for Solomon: that ship sailed with the advent of something called “feminism.” Like June, my wife is also very conscientious, but one of the things she’s very conscientious about is ensuring that household chores are evenly shared. On the other hand, she does say I look hot when I wear my apron.
Solomon argues that “this benefit does not arise from partners doing their spouses’ work; rather, it is due to partners creating conditions that allow their spouses to work effectively.” But in reality those conditions require one partner doing the things the other partner doesn’t have time or energy to do. On the bright side of diligence, the more responsibility one spouse is able to outsource to the other, the greater the potential for increasing income.
Solomon’s second argument is that conscientious partners make their spouses feel more satisfied in their marriage. Makes sense. From all appearances, the Crowley’s marriage was chock-full-of satisfaction, but that’s because they lived in Downton Abbey and had staff. I mean, the under-butler ironed the wrinkles out of the morning paper. As conscientious as I am, even I stopped doing that three years ago. My wife has had to learn to live with her disappointment.
“When you can depend on someone,” said Solomon in a recent interview, “it takes pressure off of you.” Well, sure, but it helps the relationship if the conscientiousness is bi-directional. Even angels ignored too long become demons. If one partner profits excessively from the conscientiousness of the other, that virtue becomes an onramp to resentment.
But Solomon offers a third argument to minimize that concern. Her research suggests that the working partner learns from his/her partner’s example and becomes more conscientious over time. That, in turn, further improves workplace performance. Or, as Solomon puts it: Your partner may not come to work with you every day, but his or her influence does. So if you’re one of those people who go to work to escape their spouse, the joke’s on you.
If you don’t already have your conscientious partner locked in like a good interest rate, the study strongly suggests that folks with ambitious career goals may want to look for partners who are organized, supportive, and reliable. Who could have guessed June Cleaver was so far ahead of her time? It seems that like fashion, we’ve come full circle: independence and empowerment are out, servitude and diligence are in. Oh, wearing that little apron–that’s optional.
So in summary, and with apologies to Jimmy Soul:
If you want to be happy for the rest of your life,
It screws up the meter, but a conscientious person would fix that.