My mom likes to email me links to interesting articles and stories, things she knows I'd like to read. Quite a few of these articles have ended up featured on Something Ivory (remember this post?), so she now jokes that she has to be careful what she sends me!
Yesterday, she emailed me this New York Times opinion piece called "Is There Life After Work," and the subject of the email she sent was "Chilling." I knew what she meant as soon as I read the piece. The author is a woman named Erin Callan who devoted herself to her career above all else and has now found herself divorced and desperate to have her first child at the age of 47. She re-surfaced after years of being submerged in a high-powered corporate environment and is now living with deep, intense regret, from the sounds of it. Her writing is brutally honest and I admire her for taking what must have been a very hard look at her life and her choices.
Mostly, I feel very sad for this woman. We hear so much about the dilemmas facing women when it comes to work and family and the balance we all have to strike. This piece references Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, all of whom are successful career women with different approaches to their own work-family issues. We hear from women like these that it's very possible to have a career and a family; that sacrifices will need to be made on both sides; that it is imperative to have a supportive husband; that there will be guilt, and you just have to do your best. That you can be a very good executive and a very good wife and mother.
But this is the first I've heard, at least to this degree of honesty, about a woman who completely gave up family life for the sake of her career (she admits this--I'm not putting words in her mouth) and who is brave enough to write about the regrets she now has. This story is just as important--if not more so--than the stories of Sandberg and Mayer and Slaughter. While not everyone will agree with each of their approaches, these women have stayed married and had children and maintained high-profile jobs. I don't know if they have reached a good balance in their lives or not, but they are clearly thinking about balance, writing about balance, and they are trying for balance, from what I can tell.
Erin Callan's story is so important because she shows us what can happen when you don't try for balance. She writes:
"Sometimes young women tell me they admire what I’ve done. As they see it, I worked hard for 20 years and can now spend the next 20 focused on other things. But that is not balance. I do not wish that for anyone. Even at the best times in my career, I was never deluded into thinking I had achieved any sort of rational allocation between my life at work and my life outside."
I really do pray that this woman finds and holds tight the things that really matter in life, and I respect her for her willingness to share such hard truths about her choices and experiences. Her story is one that we all need to hear and learn from, remembering that time is precious and we can't get it back.