yellow.jpg“How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams?”

That question is asked by Ryan Bingham — a smooth-talking, layoff expert played by George Clooney in the movie “Up in the Air” — of Bob, a man he just fired played by J.K. Simmons.

Bob is just another corporate minion with two cute young kids. They look under 14 from the photos he shows Bingham, in an attempt to gain some sympathy. Alas, Ryan has to give Bob the boot no matter what Bob says and of course Bob is pissed off.

In an attempt to mitigate the layoff fall out, Ryan launches into a soliloquy on how Bob, based on his resume, let go of his dream of going into the culinary arts long ago in exchange for this job he never liked. At least that’s Ryan’s premise, and Bob eats it up hook, line and sinker.

Is this just the simplistic, elitist, Hollywood view of the realities of work?

People couldn’t possibly just be working for the sake of a paycheck and be happy. Children couldn’t possibly be proud of a father who didn’t follow his dreams and took a job just for the security and providing for his family.

It seems a lot of people are in Bob’s career hating position. Earlier this year, the Conference Board released a survey that showed only 45 percent of working stiffs are happy with their jobs, the lowest number ever recorded by the group.

These numbers are disheartening for sure, but job satisfaction is actually a pretty new phenomenon. I know, everything career experts talk about today is based around finding career bliss, but up until a few decades ago, a job was just a job for most folks.

Even my parents never talked about doing something fulfilling. My dad was a furrier who seemed to hate fur coats, and went to his grave wishing he had become a restaurant owner in Manhattan; and my mom was a seamstress and then a boutique owner who dealt with a lot of pretty obnoxious customers. She’s a brilliant woman who could have done anything in her life.

Both got on the do-something-important bandwagon once they got indoctrinated in this new work concept that began to sweep the nation in the 1970s, but for their children. It was too late for them. My two sisters and I, however, would go to college and become something. What that was, neither of them knew for sure. But they’d be satisfied with lawyers and doctors.

While the 1970s may have ushered in the age of career fulfillment, the concept goes back to the 1940s, said Ben Dattner — an Adjunct Professor at New York University where he teaches Organizational Development in the Industrial and Organizational Psychology MA Program in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — with psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “self-actualized” theory.

Maslow believed that only a few people could find this so-called self actualization, probably about 2 percent of the population. Everyone else was consumed with the regular challenges of life, such as putting food on the table and keeping warm in the winter.

These are needs that do not involve balance or homeostasis. Once engaged, they continue to be felt. In fact, they are likely to become stronger as we “feed” them! They involve the continuous desire to fulfill potentials, to “be all that you can be.” They are a matter of becoming the most complete, the fullest, “you” — hence the term, self-actualization.

I get wanting to do something worthwhile and loving your job, but sometimes the reality is you work just for a paycheck.

I think Bob’s kids would be proud of him for that. Don’t you?

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