On girls and women and careers and balance and having it all
By Karen T. Smith on October 19, 2012
Many different factors keep pointing me to the need to write this. 72 (75, 77, whichever study you look at, it does't matter) cents on the dollar. Having it all. Girls in tech. Women's issues in this election season.
There are several matters I don't wish to touch with a ten foot pole, but the girls and women and careers and balance stuff - that I do. For whatever reason, I've spent a lot of time considering this lately, in large part due to a newsweek article I've been reading in snippets here and there.
But also through conversations with different mom friends, and different friend friends, some of whom aren't moms, some of whose life paths have taken them on different roads entirely. And yet for each of us there is this overarching question, this overarching narrative - How can you have it all? How can you be a woman and, you know, have it all? Family, career, marriage, all.
There is a very very simple answer to this very very complicated question. You can't.
Depressing? Well, I don't think so. I'll let my other friends pipe in with their answers, while I give my longer version.
So here's the thing. The one constant in life is CHANGE.
By the way, I swear there is relevance to a picture of food in a post about women and careers. I shall make it ALL clear.
I sit here in middle age at a certain place in my life, career, and time on this earth. There are certain realities to this era of my life. Choices I've made. I've fought for some of them. I've accepted others. At the moment, I am the primary at-home parent.
Earlier in our life together, before children while my husband was still finishing his graduate degrees, I was the primary wage-earner.
I could feel boxed in, limited by my role right now at home, but I don't. There's something actually quite freeing about it. We used to argue about things like getting the car's oil changed (who am I kidding? We still argue about stuff like that!) and it boils down to this: For me, the at-home parent, time horizons are long. For my husband, who lives the immediacy of the business world, the fast pace of a traveling lifestyle means things that need to get done must get done NOW. For me, things that need to get done will get done, eventually. It's a kind of life I think I was meant to live, at least some of my life, because it's led me to discover that I really notice the way things smell outside. That growing food makes me feel proud. The different kinds of birds that frequent our area. That I absolutely love to watch hawks soar. That there's a kind of meditation to be had in the everyday tasks of life.
This is a very strange post about career, isn't it?
My main advice to you, my younger friends who are in the process of seeking careers, defining yourselves, entering new life stages, or even just considering what to major in or which college to go to, is this - find something to be passionate about. For now. And then prepare for that to shift over time. Some of my passions have not shifted. See: Science Fiction. Some have evolved. Most don't make me any money, but I've never once regretted knowing how to cook. Never once regretted loving to read (or investing in the time to get a library card.) Or regretted knowing enough about music to be moved by a song, wanting to play it over and over and over on the iPod (somehow that sounds weirder than saying "the radio" but saying the radio doesn't make sense anymore because how would I make a song of my choosing play over and over on the radio unless I hooked my iPod into it? Tech these days…)
I think what I'm really saying here is to spend the time getting to know yourself so that you can make the compromises that are right for YOU based on what will make you feel the best, feel the most whole, the most complete.
You will know whether leaving your kids at daycare each day will rip your heart in two and leave you a weeping useless mess or whether being home with them will make your eyes bleed and cause you to become a weeping useless mess or whether both things will likely happen (this is entirely possible) and thus you need to choose the most economically feasible solution for your family for now, realizing you might change positions after 6 months, a year, two. (For us it was after 2 years. Surprised the shit out of both of us, lol.)
I wasn't at all passionate about parenting until I had kids, and not then until enough time had passed so that I could see things clearly. But my passion about family and home and creating space for *us* led me to parenting and opened me up to new interests.
Because when it all comes down to it, it's completely fine not to have it all right now, because I can be very satisfied with myself as a person because I feel confident in my passions. Mine are currently an eclectic mix of personal (parenting, gardening, birds, dogs, food) and business (tech, STEM, writing, books <- those last two cross over into personal again.) So while the career thread of my life, that era has the pause button pushed, I can make space for the passions, and find ways to try to express the other parts of me while still doing the drudgery, going through the motions, doing the everyday.
And living with the long view. That I don't have to have it all right now. Because later, I can get to it.
What about you? Have you compromised? Are you satisfied with your compromises? I don't think I was until very very recently. I guess that's why I want those yet to face these choices to know they're coming. Though would I have done things differently knowing that I would have to put aside dreams and goals? Perhaps not.
I write on Suburban (In)sanity. I have two kids, two cats, two dogs, a husband and a minivan. I live in the suburbs now and try to stay sane. Some days, I succeed.