Friday, July 27, 2012

Having It All Is A Matter of Perspective

A firestorm of controversy has erupted over a recent Atlantic Magazine article,  "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter.  The controversy is whether or not a working woman who wants or has children can be successful in her professional life.  The impetus for the article stems from Ms. Slaughter's resignation as the "first woman director of policy planning at the State Department" and her subsequent reflections.  Her observations cast a wide net of responsibility:  inflexible work environments, the economic need to be a two-income family, child care/child rearing realities and impossible standards we may set for ourselves.
...many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination...The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs...

In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. 
Boy, did this resonate.

As Sales Manager of a successful large market radio station,  I felt constantly guilty.  It was a daunting thing to raise two little boys, 14 months apart, have a husband who worked 80 miles from home, living away mid-week and be "there" for my babies.  The pressure was enormous.  I was full of doubt in every area of my life and nothing gave me pleasure.  I kept asking myself, "What's wrong with me?"  I didn't realize, at the time, I was simply overwhelmed, overworked and burning out; and this without  cell phones, laptops or various other
24/7 on-call devices.

About a year after losing that job and returning to the "justa salesperson" category, I turned down a big job, a major advancement with Gannett Broadcasting.  I'd been asked to interview with a competitor as a General Sales Manager, to oversee and re-make their flailing FM, the losing half of a powerful AM/FM combo.  I competed with General Managers for the job in a down-turn economy and I was chosen.  I had to be vetted by the big guy @ Gannett.  But when I was brought in to officially receive the news and discuss my compensation, I balked and said I couldn't take the job; I wasn't up to it, I had two small children at home and I doubted my ability to give my all to the position.  I don't know exactly how I put it but I know how I felt.  I was scared.  I walked out of there and burst into tears.  One of the salespeople, whom I trained at another station, grabbed me and said "You have to take this job!" and convinced me to go back in and recant.  I actually listened to her, went into his office and tried to explain my reaction while telling him I really did want the job.  He practically threw me out saying it was "too late", he'd already called Gannett headquarters and it was on to the next candidate.  Talk about humiliation.

I've thought about that moment for 22 years, beating myself up over my failure to embrace opportunity.  I really was the best candidate.  I knew my stuff.  I'd been trained by the best and my ideas for the turn around were superior to those of my competition.  Why did I turn it down?

Reading the Anne-Marie Slaughter article gave me a perspective I've never before embraced.  It's okay to feel this way.  Somehow, my instincts were to resist doing something I thought I wanted, to advance my upwardly mobile career and create a serious new contender in the market.  Success would propel me into the upper echelon of radio management where I could potentially achieve national success.  It was a dream job.

But was it?  I believe now I had reached a point of no-return, a point where I knew, deep inside, I'd have to give 150%.  What would be left for my family?  I'd already had nannies come and go, none of whom came without their own baggage.  My boys were 3 and 4, in private day school and happy.  But I was always there to pick them up, take them home, make them dinner, bathe them and tuck them in.  I could no longer count on that luxury because I knew if a day required 8 hours, 10 hours or more, I'd be stuck at work.  And it wasn't workable.

Twenty two years later I can finally accept my decision.  I have two grown, wonderful sons and I'm still married to the same guy.  It hasn't been easy but at least I'm no longer filled with self-recrimination.  However, I still feel guilty.

What I realize now is how lucky, how fortunate I've been.  I was not a single mother raising children, I was not paid minimum wage, I did not live in the projects.  I could afford a nanny, a private school; I had it good even when I didn't know it.  Some of us are luckier than others and I don't know why but I know it is so.

It's all a matter of perspective.



Anonymous said...

I made a similar decision - we moved to a foreign country where I really couldn't work, and my husband traveled extensively, so I stayed home. It was the right decision for everyone but me - the trouble is that 20 years later, everyone is doing well, but I am at loose ends. I haven't had a job in so long that it would be impossible to start again, but I'm incredibly bored with do-gooder non-profits and never feel llike I'm living up to 25% of my potention.

Are there others out there with this dilemma?

California Girl said...

I've often thought "What would I be doing now had I stopped working?"

As much as I tire of getting up every day to slug it out in broadcast sales, I am good at it and our household needs the money. That Social Security check won't be enough.

The media reports women are more likely to be hired now during the recession. No idea why but they've moved ahead of men in employment. All you can do is explore organizations designed to help you in the employment counselors, that sort of thing.

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

I think, for many of us, particularly women coming of age in the early 70s with the advent of the Women's Movement, Women's Studies classes, etc., there was a great deal of pressure to get out there and do something, have a career, not be Justa Housewife.  I wanted a career and money and all the trappings.  I felt I could get it myself and I did.  I had my children later, mid-thirties and found the "trappings" were not as compelling as the joy on the faces of my sons when I came home.  That was the greatest reward in the world.  

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

Yes.  It only took 22 years to figure  it out :)

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

I don't want to crowd the hero bench here.  I had help and the income level to afford it.  That said, being able to afford the help doesn't necessarily alleviate the stress. It may, in fact, increase it because of the guilt feelings leaving the children and or wondering what's really going on at home while Mommy isn't there.  

lisleman said...

I'm glad you shared that story.  I don't know how our culture got to the point of discounting the value of parenting work and skills.  The business world tends to be all about the immediate results and parenting is just the opposite.  The results of time spent or not spent in the early years don't show up until 5-10 years later.  I don't believe parenting by absentee works.

Nancy, aka BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Your story is a perfect illustration of the tensions women experience...who wouldn't be tempted by a chance to make a huge impact career-wise? Good for you choosing your family, even though you didn't fully appreciate your choice at the time!  

DJan Stewart said...

That is truly a profound realization, Cali. I think nobody could have done the job you DID take the way you did: raising those two boys to be the fine people they are today. Congratulations and I'm glad you made the right decision way back then. 


by Cole Scott