Key to Career Success: Divorce

by Vicki Larson


Not too long ago, I ran into a friend hanging around a downtown coffee shop. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so I asked him a question that just a year or so ago was a pretty simple one, but now, given our economic realities, is much more complicated and often cringe-producing: “How are you doing?”


“Great!” he said with genuine enthusiasm.


In a way I wasn’t surprised; he’s one of a handful of people I know who have not bought into the American Dream. He makes a living, but just enough to get by; rents instead of owning; drives a beater car; forgoes fancy vacations and dinners; pays with cash instead of credit cards, and uses his various well-honed skills to hop from job to job. And he makes no apologies for it; he loves the freedom.


So he’s barely impacted by the economic meltdown.


In the not so distant past, most people may have looked at that sort of lifestyle and ridiculed it. No career path? No Ivy League degree? Loser!


But oh, how things have changed! The sure-bet careers are disappearing, and as Wall Street Journal “Work & Family” columnist Sue Shellenbarger writes in “Raising Kids Who Can Thrive Amid Chaos in Their Careers,” “The recession is driving home a bitter truth about the 21st-century job market: A tidy, linear path to a secure career is increasingly hard to find.”


It’s hard for middle-aged people like me to deal with that without reinventing ourselves, and many do. But, as Shellenbarger suggests, the skills needed to “ride the job-market surf” — not only the technical and professional skills, but the “squishy” ones — should be taught starting in childhood.


But as I read Shellenbarger’s “squishy” skills— adaptability, exploration, entrepreneurialism — I realized that, as children of divorce, my kids are already way ahead of the game.


Could it be that having to navigate the world of divorce has prepared my kids for the 21st-century job market? Perhaps.


We’ve all heard the doom-and-gloom stories about the legacy of divorce, most notably Judith Wallerstein’s landmark study chronicled in “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.” It’s true that children of divorce often tend to fear commitment, have abandonment issues and are conflict-avoidance in matters of the heart. Divorce, with all its chaos and changes, can also put kids at academic risk.


But there’s an upside to divorce, too, as Robert Emery, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Children and Families and the Law at the University of Virginia, says.


If their divorced parents handle things well, children can learn resilience, says Emery, author of “The Truth About Children and Divorce.” And resilience will go far in the changing job market Shellenbarger describes.