About a year ago, I wrote a post about the importance of liking your own work. The post was about how writers should like the work they are writing enough to believe in it and stick to their vision of what that work should be, but that idea isn't limited to just writing. You should take ownership of whatever it is you're doing in your life, believe in it, and not submit it to the constant whims and validation of others. But, if you want to read more about that, go back and read the post.
In that post, I touched on an idea that proved to be somewhat more controversial than I'd anticipated. Well, since I had not thought it a controversial point, I was surprised to find out that it was. So let's talk about aspirations.
I grew up in the South in a state that had and continues to have one of the poorest education systems in the country. It is both poor in that it is bad, and it is poor in that it doesn't have the kind of funding many other states are able to devote to education. I grew up knowing a lot of kids (teenagers) whose greatest aspiration was to, maybe, one day be a manager at Wal-Mart. Or something like that.
Now, before I go on, this is nothing against retail employees or any denigration of them. I spent time at Toys R Us among other places, so I'm not putting anyone in retail down or claiming greater status than anyone who is in retail. In fact, for a long time, my goal was to work retain, in comic books and games, and I've worked in various capacities in those environments, too.
What I am saying is that it's unfortunate when teenagers, due to their circumstances, cannot dream anything better for themselves than to one day be a manager at Wal-Mart. Being a kid, a teenager, is time when you ought to be able to dream big. To aim for things that may not be probable but could, actually, be possible with the right toss of the dice or enough work. Working at Wal-Mart is the thing you do in the summer or at Christmas while you strive for bigger things. Sure, some people will never make it past Wal-Mart, but you certainly can't if you never had aspirations bigger than that to begin with.
And here's the trap:
The goal of "one day being a manager at Wal-Mart" is a lie. Not that the goal itself is a lie but the possibility of it becoming a reality is a lie. At least from the standpoint from which I'm approaching this, that of the teenager (the teenager who is not going on to college or any form of higher education) right out of high school entering the workforce by picking up a retail job planning to stay there indefinitely.
Here's the thing about being a manager at a place like Wal-Mart or Toys R Us: "Regular" employees cannot be promoted to manager. It doesn't matter how long you've been there or how good you are at your job; they don't promote up like that. I know, because there was a point where I was under consideration for management training when I worked at TRU. Here's the process:
1. Be really good at whatever low level job you enter in.
2. Get promoted all the way up to Department Head (the equivalent of assistant manager (and I don't think they call it that anymore).
3. Be so good at that, at being a Department Head, that the regional or district manager takes notice of you.
4. Be sent away to management school which is the equivalent of getting a degree in business. And you have to pay for it, so it's just like going to college. And, sure, if the company (TRU, Wal-Mart, whichever else follows this model, but my understanding is that it's most of them) thinks you're worth sending, they will give you loans and stuff to pay for their school (sometimes you might even qualify for some scholarships, but that's difficult), but, then, you have to pay them back.
5. Be transferred to some other store other than the one you were working in to avoid issues between you and people you used to be equivalently employed with.
So let's look at this a moment:
If you are good at your job as a Department Head, the store you work at is not going to want to put you up for management training. If they value you, they don't want to lose you, so they won't recommend you. You have to get noticed by someone higher up than the store director, and that's tough to do. Especially if you don't know you need to (which I didn't). So, then, if you're approached for management training (as I was), the first thing they're going to tell you is that you will have to go away to school. TRU, at least, has training centers, and you have to go to one of those. You don't get paid while you're off doing that, so that's the loss of your income (such as it is) to your family while you're off at school. Then there's the fact that you will be transferred to some other store once you've become a manager.
The point of all this is that you don't go to work at Wal-Mart or Toys R Us and work there long enough to finally, one day, become a manager. That's not their system. There was a woman that worked at TRU as a department head while I was there who had been there in that position for something like 15 years. That was as far as she was ever going to go.
Of course, the other way to get to be a manager at Wal-Mart is to go to school for a business degree and apply for a management position. You can do that without ever having to work at Wal-Mart or TRU as a "regular" employee.
The whole system is rather deceptive and designed to make people believe they have something that they're working toward when, in fact, in almost all circumstances, they do not.
It's not completely unlike the way the traditional publishing industry works these days: The want to find already successful authors before they're willing to look at publishing them.
[Note: All of this is based on how things worked about 15 years ago. That's when I experienced all of this and discovered TRU's system and that it was based on Wal-Mart's system, which nearly every chain store had adopted. Things may have changed since then, but I sort of doubt it.]