Tuesday, January 29th, 2013
Today, one of my best friends embarks on a new adventure. After spending nearly two decades in a high-powered Wall Street career, she’s starting her own business. She’s hoping to achieve a new kind of success, one that includes plenty of quality time with her kids.
She was the last holdout among our group of friends—the last one with traditional, benefits and 401K kind of career. Every single one of the seven women who started our book club nearly a decade ago has dropped out of the corporate life to forge a new, more flexible career.
I left my fancy-office and expense-account editorial job six months after I became a mom, tired of the political intrigue of the office and too many nights where I didn’t get to kiss my baby good night. And as kids came into the picture, more and more of us grew tired of a dictated 9 to 6 (or in my friend’s case, often 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.) schedule, of missing out on preschool parties and arguing with our mates over who was taking the day off to tend to a croupy kid. And so, one by one, we bought into the 21st-century version of having it all—sacrificing job stability and benefits for the greater flexibility and autonomy that freelancing provides. We are now all guns for hire—a TV producer, a writer/editor, a personal chef/caterer, a grants writer, a content strategist, an instructor and now, a corporate communications consultant. (By the way, this isn’t just a “mom” thing—even our childless-by-choice member ditched the corporate career a few years back.)
I think we all finally realized that all that time we were sacrificing in pursuit of our ambitions wasn’t necessarily going to pay off the way we hoped. In fact, Forbes columnist Meghan Casserly pointed out that women are often are viewed as workers who value their home lives more than their work. “To prove this notion wrong, women often feel compelled to demonstrate their commitment to the extreme.” And what comes of that extra time we were putting in, to the detriment of our families? Often, nothing more than exhaustion and burnout. It’s no wonder that Forbes reports that nearly a third of women who graduate from the Harvard MBA program drop out of corporate work within 15 years of graduation. (Most of them, because of the inability to get a good work-life balance during their kids’ formative years.)
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had an interesting post last week, about the work-life balance we lost in the decades as women entered the workforce. While in countries like France, more women in the workforce has meant that everyone’s working fewer hours and enjoying more vacation and time with the family, here in the U.S., it’s just meant that everyone’s working more hours outside the home. And more hours of work means fewer hours for living—less time for the day-to-day drudgery of cleaning and cooking and caring for our families, and much less time to squeeze in something fun with our kids, as fellow Parents.com blogger Nick Shell pointed out yesterday. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the previous generation of feminists was aiming for when they wanted us to have it all.
I’m thankful that I have a supportive spouse (with some excellent health insurance), a person who believed in me and my talent enough to gamble our financial security on a dream of greater flexibility. And it paid off in spades—as I’ve been even more successful as a freelancer than I was as a full-time editor, and I still get to slip away on occasion to read to my daughter’s kindergarten class. But sometimes I wish I had simply pushed for greater flexibility and kept the stability of that full-time gig. Because if so many of us simply drop out instead of pushing for the changes that will make work-life balance better for everyone, it isn’t going to happen.
So today, I’m celebrating with my friend. But I’m keeping an eye on what our choices may mean for our sons and daughters tomorrow.
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