I met two of my closest friends (let’s call them The J’s) in grad school. We bonded instantly – none of us were from the East Coast (a rarity for our program), we had all majored in English in undergrad, and loved fitness and healthy living. We were all also totally Type-A over-achievers and often discussed career and life goals. One thing that came up was something I had been mulling over since I had started my professional life two years earlier: how high up do I want my career to take me? The J’s are both successful businesswomen, in the PR/Comm/Marketing persuasion on opposite coasts, but the conversation hasn’t stopped. We continue to ask ourselves this question: do I want to be the boss?
When I graduated from undergrad the answer was a definitive yes: climb, climb, climb to the top, run the organization, be the boss lady. However, by the time I arrived at grad school, I was seeing the tradeoff. My coworkers were working parents, trying to juggle it all, sacrificing either time with their family, a social life, the quality of work they were producing, or their health (like the four-burner theory from David Sedaris’ essay ‘Laugh, Kookaburra’). I can say with confidence I have yet to see someone do it all and do it well. At least without the disposable income to pay for conveniences like housekeepers, and in-home personal trainers and nannies, etc. And I think that is the case for many in my generation, as we have either grown up with parents struggling to juggle or have seen in the beginning of our professional lives. And now, I’m seeing it in some of my best friends.
Many of my friends are parents now, including three of my closest friends. They have all taken different routes. One, (M), is now a stay-at-home for her two young children, another, (C), has cut back to working three days a week to be home with her baby girl more, and another, (T), is the primary, working full-time with her baby girl in daycare. They all face different challenges as well: M is often exhausted after full days of chasing around a 4 and a 1-year old and sometimes feels isolated and lacking adult interaction. C and her husband are missing those two days of salary per week in her paycheck. And T, feels like she’s failing as a wife and mother when they eat mac and cheese and frozen pizza for dinner, while she continues to work remotely when she gets home at night.
Now here’s where Sheryl Sandberg and some feminists will be disappointed in me. I understand the attractiveness and appeal of NOT “leaning in”. And I don’t think that makes me anti-ambitious, just ambitious in a different way. Family has always been of the utmost importance to me. I was very fortunate while growing up that my mom worked part-time. She never missed an extracurricular event, she was always there to drop me off or pick me up and got to chaperone many field trips. My dad, despite working more than full-time was also able to juggle and attend most of our events. That was such a luxury and I’m not sure I understood at the time. My dad has recognized that part of the reason he was able to juggle his schedule was due to the openness of my mom’s.
Recent research has shown that my generation, the often-bashed millennials, aren’t as willing to accept that juggling act as their fate. A recent piece from the American Association for Medical Colleges discussed medical students increased priority on work-life balance and that some students are selecting residency programs to better accommodate that goal. This is definitely something B and I have discussed. Ex. Dermatologists work pretty set, standard office hours, ER docs work wonky hours, but are also scheduled so you know when they will be off, etc. B isn’t at a point where he knows what residency programs he’s interested in, but I know work-life balance is a priority for him. But I also know he’s a hard-working over-achiever who will put in those extra hours. I know that B’s earning potential will someday exceed mine and it makes sense for him to be the primary breadwinner. However, I am offended and frustrated when people assume I’ll quit working once B is finished with residency just because I’ll be a “doctor’s wife”. I want to work. I can’t imagine not working and I know I need the mental challenges it brings me. Plus, I’m no slack; I’m relatively successful, thank you. But I also don’t want my work to be my life. And I want to be able to be there for my hypothetical kids like my parents were there for me. I just haven’t figured out what that balance will be.
Maybe The J’s and I will try to figure it out together:)