Which way to Lean?

Sometimes I feel like the only thing I’m really sure about in my life is my husband and my family. Everything else is a big question mark. The things I say today about career, children, and big life decisions might be completely different from how I feel tomorrow.

Simply put, I don’t have any answers. Only questions.

So, when I came across this article, “Why Women Should Embrace Good Enough,” I couldn’t wait to share it with my friend, Hartley to see what she thought. (You should go read it right now, too.)

I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to think about having children. Hartley is set to be married at the end of the month. So, we’re both at times of transition and wondering how everything fits together in our lives. What ensued was a winding, 50 minute conversation about all sorts of things that I tried to condense here in a way that makes some sense.

Note: Hartley has read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I have not, it’s on my list. (Although I have read enough about it that I believe I have the general gist.)

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Hartley, preparing for the next chapter

Caitlin: So, generally speaking, what’s your reaction to the article?

Hartley: A resounding yes. Finally. Someone is saying what we’re all thinking. I think Lean In had a lot of sex appeal for women. Sandberg is extremely successful and, as a woman, an oddity in her field. But, I was mildly uncomfortable with Lean In, and I didn’t know why until I read this article. The question really is, what are you leaning away from when you’re leaning in?

Caitlin: Didn’t you used to think you could have it all?

Hartley: Yeah, I feel like we were told that.

Caitlin: I don’t even know what having it all really means.

Hartley: At the end of the day, I just want to go home and hang out with the people I love. And I’m not sure that’s included in “having it all”.

Right before he passed away, our elderly next door neighbor he told us that he wished he had slowed down and been with his family more. I feel like that’s a common regret and I don’t want to have that regret.

I don’t have kids and I’m not necessarily planning on having kids in the next year, but I do want lots of kids and I want to be there for them, and I want to have a lifestyle that allows me to do that. My mom was there for us, and I feel like I’m still only realizing just how important that was to me.

Additionally, I’m getting married at the end of this month (!!) and formally becoming someone’s partner in life has made me realize that, well, I really just want to spend time with him, always. Ha, duh, right?

Caitlin: Well, that’s pretty good reason to get married.

Hartley: (laughs) Yes, it really is.

Family has always been super important to me, too — I’m close to both of my siblings and my parents, and I really value spending time with them. I live close to my mom, and she has just been an absolute life saver when it comes to this whole “planning a wedding” thing.

And so I guess I’m realizing that I’m really lucky to have such good relationships with my family, and but even so, placing value on that, rather than, say, climbing a corporate ladder, has been a weird transition for me, mentally.

Caitlin: You know, I’ve had jobs that are very meaningful to me, but at the end of the day, my relationships have always been more fulfilling.

This line in Walsh’s piece struck me as important:

“Success, particularly the kind Sandberg calls for, requires ever more time at the office, ever more travel. It requires always being available, always a click away. Sandberg is almost giddy when she describes getting up at 5 a.m. to answer e-mails before her children wake up and getting back on her computer once they are asleep.”

Hartley: It’s interesting how bragging about how hard you work has become part of a person’s status. Like, the person who is sending work emails at 3am should get a prize or something. You can get sucked into that culture, and it’s a consuming, competitive thing. And I just think how fucked up that is.

I know, in another life, I could be that person. I could have TOTALLY been that person! But, I’m not, and that’s because my career has taken me in a different direction. No one does that in my field — working in the public sector, and I don’t mean this negatively, it’s just the way it is, it is a less intensive field.  I’m so glad that my life has lead me in this different way. I’m not up all night working on emails and projects, no one is. It’s just not expected — or rewarded.

Caitlin: Yeah, I’ve had jobs that call me in in the middle of the night, or jobs where I have to stay an extra five hours with no warning, and when it’s a job you love, you don’t really mind. But, generally speaking, I like to pride myself on how much I can get done during regular, working hours.

Hartley: (Laughs) Exactly.

Caitlin: Another point I loved in Walsh’s piece is this: “I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work.”

I do often feel like the framework is, see how much you can work and achieve in your life, instead of see how much you can enjoy your life.

More and more as my career changes, I do find myself thinking about finding the balance that will make me the most happy. I don’t think I know what that is yet, but I think the older I get the more I’m realizing that I can learn as I go and I don’t need to know what the next move always is. I can go along for the ride and see what happens. It is something I have to constantly remind myself because I can feel the panic set in thinking, “Where is my life going?” I have to remind myself that I don’t need to know the answer to that question.

Hartley: Oh, definitely. Thank god we don’t have to answer that question right now! But, I do want to bring this up, a big underlying issue here is income. You know, if you’re broke, you don’t have a lot of choices.

Caitlin: You know, I was just thinking about this. I was thinking about ALL MY PROBLEMS and I thought, a lot of people wouldn’t even have time to think about these so called problems.

Hartley: Yeah, it’s never like, I need to quit working my two minimum wage jobs so I can spend more time with my children.

Caitlin: Right, so we’re talking about people who are lucky enough to have more options.

Hartley: Right.

Caitlin: You know, I do want to say, too, a lot of people are totally fulfilled by their work. And that’s great. There’s not one single answer to having a happy, fulfilling life. But I guess I just don’t think we should all believe that we need to climb and climb and climb to the point that we don’t know where we are or why.

I think it’s safe to say, we do not have the answers, only more questions. At time of press. (laughs)

Hartley: And I’d be lying if I said I weren’t just a bit jealous of those people, who, like you say, are really fulfilled by their work. So yeah, this is definitely to be continued.

9 thoughts on “Which way to Lean?

  1. One last thought: two men would NEVER conscientiously have this conversation, transcribe it, and then post it. Just sayin’.

    • While my darling husband is immensely supportive of my need to talk things out and desire to blog about such conversations, he does not understand it AT ALL. But I hope there are some men out there willing to talk!

  2. I totally agree! Somewhere along the road being “sooo busy” became a status symbol. If you weren’t “exhausted” you weren’t trying hard enough.

    I think this article reaches a broader issue which is what is “Feminism”. They say that there has been backlash with my generation against the word “feminist”. If you ask a woman in her early 20’s if she is a feminist she is likely to say no. But if you describe feminism to her and ask her if her ideas align with this she will say yes.
    I am one of those people who used to say I wasn’t a feminist because I do want to get married, and I do like wearing makeup and I will most likely want to take time off from working to raise a family.
    I think there is a idea out there that if you aren’t trying to be the CEO of a company and burning your bra that you are slapping the face of all the women before you. Feminism – to me – is more about having the choice and the opportunity – not necessarily having to take it.

  3. Great conversation/ thought provoking. Reminded me of a comment a 70+ woman said to me today & last week (she repeats herself a lot..but it’s a great reminder). “On my death bed, I won’t think I should have spent more time cleaning my bathroom or vacuuming. Instead I will reflect and value the time spent with family.”
    As a full time mommy / part time professional, those are the thoughts I use to keep my priorities in check. Especially when the guilt over not answering the off hour emails or attending weekend events creeps in. In order to define “having it all” people need to recognize their individual priorities otherwise it becomes a keeping up with the Jones situation.

  4. I’ll jump in here. To say that was is true for women is also true for men. If you don’t spend the family time you will regret it. I’m love my work and, at times, I had to work longer hours than I wanted to in order to pay the bills and have material things and sports and culture for us and four kids. But I tried to make sure I never got too swept up in it. As for the workaholic, the world has been both built and put to the sword by them.

  5. I love the initial conversation and the one on-going.
    While my hubs is not a talker, himself, he does love to hear me prattle on and is entirely supportive of each step I’ve taken, from working in college admissions to becoming a stay at home parent (even my initial reluctance at getting married 5 years ago!).
    And I agree that we feel like we haven’t pushed ourselves enough if we aren’t on the verge of a meltdown from lack of sleep or self-care (as I sit at my computer at 1am still working, pregnant, with a toddler who will wake up in just a few hours)… but the truth is that’s not what life is about. That’s not what being a woman is about. And that’s not what livining is about. Balance and respect will go a long way. I, too, was an anti-ascriber to the “feminism” title until I realized those were my ideals. It’s about choice, and utilizing your right to do what you want… as men (not necessarily negatively, just honestly) have done since the dawn of time.

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