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.)
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.
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.