What is Lost

Monday, October 13, 2008
I know some incredible women. They are intelligent, thoughtful, and hard-working. They went to top schools, worked at prestigious places. They were on the path to career success, fortune, and in some cases, fame.

But then they got pregnant. And one by one, led by an invisible instinct, they put their careers on hold. They opted for the part-time job, or the one that let them work from home. They stopped obsessing, as they once had, about how to advance in their field and challenge themselves. Now, they obsess about a work-life balance, better hours, shorter commute.

This story is old. We all know it, and though we may not be able to rationalize it, it makes sense on a deep level. We are doing it for our children, and we will be rewarded with their happiness, sense of security, and general well-being.

But for a moment, I want to acknowledge what is lost. A generation of young women who did better than their male counterparts all the way through graduate school. Women who dreamt of breaking the glass ceiling, who didn’t think teaching at Harvard or being a federal judge or winning the Pulitzer was out of their scope. Women who travelled to different countries to work with the poor, and who thought they were going to make a real difference. Women who never flinched at late nights in college, or weekends at the office. Women who, had they continued on their trajectories, really could change the world.

Of course, there are women in our generation achieving true career success while raising children. In my life, they seem to be few and far between. In fact, talk of career advancement is almost absent from our conversations, unless it’s about our partners. When we talk about career, it’s mostly about how to get a job that will allow flexible hours. It’s rarely about getting to that next level or finding something that is more challenging. And it’s almost never about finding something that we really want to do. That would just make things harder for us than they are.

It will be okay. I personally believe that we will all experience a career renaissance when our little ones get older. They will create their own spheres of busy-ness, spend more time with friends and at after-school activities, and amazingly, need us less. At that point we’ll refocus on our careers and throw ourselves back into doing what we really want to do. And it will be all we talk about.

Let's be prepared for that day. Let's not be so distanced from what it is we really want to do that we are at a loss. Let's still take the time to say, "If I could do anything right now, it would be...." It's a little painful to do that, as are so many what-if scenarios. But just a little bit of thinking might lead to something now. Perhaps not a full career change, but a side project involving a labor of love. It may be a far cry from the Pulitzer, but in a certain way, it just may make us feel alive again.
deepa said...

Check out this article--"What Will We Tell Our Daughters"--that hits on many of these issues and, in particular whether--if given the chance--we, as mothers, would choose the same careers we chose back in college and grad school or, rather, if we would have chosen career paths that offered more flexibility from the start. http://www.mommytrackd.com/Teach-Daughters?page=0%2C0

Sonia said...

This is SO true. But it's almost too depressing to think about right? Because how do we fix this now??

monica said...

Sonia, I've often found that even doing something small helps. Maybe if we ask ourselves the question, "If I could do anything,what would that be?" would be a start. For me, the answer was, "write what I really want to write." This blog came out of that examination, and though it's nothing huge, it's something.

Shanti said...

Just being able to talk honestly about a "lost" career is a step in the right direciton, in my opinion. I find that many women--for better or for worse--convince themselves that they are "happy" with the choices they have made, even if they would "happier" with different choices. When did we lose the ability to doubt ourselves in public? Aren't our friends supposed to be our sounding boards? Why are we always keeping up with the Jones/Patels/Shahs?

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