Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Balance

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.



13 comments:

  1. Kate - 1. I feel like I am been big time commenting in your blog lately, so I apologize for the incessant comments and 2. I think this is an excellent article that your mother sent you. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section this morning that hits on this topic in it's review of Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In"
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735304578356643109954604.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

    Not sure if you can see the link without a subscription but I thought the last paragraph sums up the author's sentiments well:
    In Ms. Sandberg's ideal world, "half our institutions are run by women and half our homes are run by men." Until this utopia comes to pass, it might be wise to take another look at "society." Society is, after all, a fancy word for other people. And what is society actually telling women these days? It is telling them that they ought to go out and earn a string of degrees qualifying them for hard-charging careers that the majority of them eventually discover that they don't actually want. As a result, many of them quietly cut back their hours and do what they actually want to do and do very well: make homes for their families. Sheryl Sandberg isn't one of them, and more power to her. But she is likely to find that nagging men and women to change their natures is a more daunting task than anything she does at her day job.

    Thanks for the great post today!

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  2. Meg, don't apologize for commenting!! I love it! Your comments are always interesting and helpful, and I've been enjoying getting to know you better. I feel like we're on the same page on a lot of things.

    This WSJ article is fantastic, I was able to read it. Thanks so much for the link. I was actually reading earlier today about Sandberg's new book, which I'd like to read (though I probably won't agree with much of it!). From what I've seen of Sandberg's arguments, she forgets a very important fact that many (even most) women don't want her life, don't want to be corporate executives, which is exactly what this WSJ article also concludes. In fact, I think she belittles women by saying that we aren't ambitious enough--well, who is she to say that wanting to raise children and be home with them during the day is not ambitious, not enough?

    I am happy that Sandberg at least strives for balance in her life, and hopefully she won't end up with regret like the woman who wrote the NY Times piece.

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughts!

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  3. Kate, I love your blog. You always manage to articulate in to words what I can't, I completely agree with you. I have struggled with this for a few years. I'm 34 now and I feel that I'm finally starting to understand what really is important in life. My husband and I now want a family. I understand it gets a little more difficult as we get older but I don't ever want to regret not hearing a little one call me Mom or Grandma. Thank you for making me think and cry a little. Lol. I needed this.

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  4. Rachel, this is such a touching comment. Thank you for writing it. I'm so happy to hear that you and your husband would like to start your family, and I'm so glad that this post resonated with your current thoughts and feelings and mindset. Comments like yours bring me a lot of joy, and remind me why I love to blog. Have a wonderful day :)

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  5. wow, this is an amazing perspective (albeit, a sad one) on how putting a career first can bring so much emptyness. Thanks for sharing Kate!

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  6. I agree, I'm glad that she wrote with such honesty, but at the same time I really feel bad for her. Thanks for stopping by, Katie!

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  7. While I recognize your point (that some women don't want executive-level professional positions like Sandberg's) I disagree with your assertion that she's forgetting that fact. The book has absolutely zero to do with women who elect to stay home with their children. It is not a commentary on staying home versus working in a traditional workplace. Rather, it’s a conversation for a specific type of woman – one that is already working outside of the home and wants to advance her career.

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  8. PS: Though I may disagree, I do appreciate your perspective. The beautiful thing about our lives is that they are exactly that - our own. The balance that works for Sheryl Sandberg or Ellen Callan or me doesn't have to be the balance that works for you, or your life. To each her own. I think the important thing is making the choice – striking the balance – that fits us best.

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  9. Oh boy, this is going to be a long comment! This idea of balance is so interesting, particularly now that I'm married and assume that at some point in the future we will expand our family with some little ones! The question of having a career never seemed like a question to me-- I just always knew that I wanted one, and now that I am engaged in work that I love so much and get such a sense of fulfillment from, I am especially sure that I want to be a working mom. I don't think I'd be a complete person without that part of my life because the type of work I do is such a dear value to me. However, I know that my sense of identity will shift when/if I become a mother. I hope that when that time comes, I will find a way to achieve balance, knowing that at certain times my mind will be more consumed by work, and at other times I will be more focused on family. It won't be a perfect 50/50, and that's okay-- that's just life. I am very fortunate to know many women, my own mother included, who are fulfilled and happy with their decision to have children and have careers, so I feel optimistic that I can do the same. I think that this is such a personal decision colored by an individual's personal set of values. I feel sadness for Erin Callan because it sounds like she wasn't able to honor her connections with others, and she didn't realize that until she no longer had a job. I think this speaks to the danger of defining ourselves in just one way-- what happens, then, when that part is taken away? Maybe swinging to either extreme is dangerous when it doesn't reflect what you really want in life. Maybe what matters most is allowing ourselves to reflect on what is most important to us and asking if we are honestly being fulfilled in those ways.

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  10. Thanks for this comment, Sarah. I agree with this: "Maybe what matters most is allowing ourselves to reflect on what is most important to us and asking if we are honestly being fulfilled in those ways."


    But would add that we need to also be thinking about our children (when we have them) and what's best for them, and not only about what is fulfilling for us as women.


    I'm sure you'll reach a good balance in your life. Good luck for when that time comes!

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  11. I like your addition about what's best for our children. I think in becoming a mother, the question of what is best for them automatically jumps to the top. I remember when my sister had her son, she was starry-eyed over finally having that full realization what it meant to be a mother and how now her world would be now be about her son. I admire that, but I also know that I can't truly, fully understand it until I have my own little one to be over the moon for. Anyway, these are such great things to think about, and thank you for another thought-provoking post! :D

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  12. That's so sweet, what an amazing feeling that will be! :)

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