The Family Weekly: When ‘Follow Your Passion’ Isn’t Enough

Plus: the complexities of female friendships, and how to parent an angry adult son

Marcos Brindicci / Reuters

This Week in Family

‘Follow your passion’ is pretty common professional advice, but, as the authors Elizabeth Wallace and Hana Schank argue, it may not be enough to keep women in the workforce. In interviewing women about their career and family choices, Wallace and Schank noticed that many of the women they spoke with who didn’t need to work to make money were inclined to give up on having a job if they couldn’t make a career out of their passion.

“We suspect that the idea that one should feel fervently about one’s work disproportionately affects women, who may already feel that their job is a hardship for their family,” the authors write in The Atlantic, in an excerpt from their new book about women’s ambition. “For women who don’t inherently see their role in the family as ‘economic provider,’ staying in a job that might not pay much and that they’re not crazy about feels frivolous and selfish.” And this often leads women to miss out on another kind of fulfillment—the satisfaction that comes from getting really good at a job.

Other Highlights

Sometimes, friendships end abruptly, with nary a word offered as explanation. Such splits can be mysterious, but sometimes there are patterns behind them: According to Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor who recently wrote a book about female friendships, women are less likely than men to communicate their reasons for ending a friendship. In her talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Tannen said that this lack of knowing can be particularly painful for the women on the receiving end of this silent treatment, because they tend to be “competitive about connection”—for many women, it’s very important to know the intimate details of friends’ lives.

Dear Therapist

Every Wednesday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, a parent writes in with concerns about their adult son who struggles with ADHD and who they think might have anger-management issues. “I know that he could benefit from therapy, but I don’t know how to bring that about,” the parent writes.

Lori’s response:

To convert your son’s vicious cycle into a virtuous one, he’s going to need some support in the form of a metaphorical aquarium: A fishbowl is too constraining and an ocean is too vast, but an aquarium provides a balance of freedom and structure. You’ll need to leave some choices up to him—within certain manageable parameters.

Since it’s your house, only you can decide what’s “out of the question” for these parameters. If he’s so explosive that he can’t have a calm conversation, you can start by writing him a loving letter, letting him know how much you care about him and telling him how sorry you are to see him suffer.

Send Lori your questions at