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.