There’s so much I love about this quote – I too, want women to find true meaning, contentment and passion in their lives. I’m also convinced that if women sought balance with their eyes wide open, and were truly honest with themselves, they’d find it. For me, however, I disagree with Ms. Sandburg about the source of that meaning and contentment. While I agree a career is important and provides many (but certainly not all) women with a sense of pride and accomplishment, in my experience, it comes nowhere near the meaning, contentment and passion I feel for my role as a wife and mother. It also reminds me of another quote, one of my favorites of all time …
– Mother Theresa
Before I had children, I had career ambitions … I grew up with a generation of girls and young women who were conditioned to believe that success and happiness required you to forgo motherhood, at least at first, and “focus on your career” … kids could wait, I was told. I was also promised that true fulfillment and a sense of meaning would come from moving one rung after another up that career ladder.
I moved to Washington, D.C. after college, attended law school a few years later, and landed at one of the best law firms in the world. I don’t regret any of it … the critical thinking and analytical skills I learned are invaluable and will serve me well in whatever I choose to do moving forward in my life. But having those skills also led me to question things I’d been told over the course of my life … to challenge the conventional wisdom of what it means to be a “successful” woman in the 21st century. I also started to pay far more attention to the eventual outcomes of this so-called “success” … and I started to wonder, “why, if a high-powered career is the key to happiness, are so many high-flying women professionals so unhappy?”
Now, to be clear, not all of them are unhappy … there are plenty of women who have found an awful lot of joy through their careers, and their success and happiness should be celebrated! But those successes required sacrifice and compromise, as all things do for everyone (not just women). For them, they found a way to balance an array of competing priorities … perhaps they delayed having children, or perhaps they had additional help raising their children … somehow, they managed to find a balance that afforded them the opportunity to place their career ambitions front and center, and most importantly, they consciously chose to prioritize their life that way, they have no regrets about it, and they are content. That’s a success story. And this article should in no way be read to undermine or denigrate their choice of chasing their career dreams. On the contrary, my entire goal in this article is to encourage women to do exactly what these women did … consciously choose … choose what’s most important to you, and prioritize your actions accordingly.
Isn’t it a bit shocking that at this point in world history, we’re at the pinnacle of freedom and opportunity for women, and yet so many women feel overwhelmed, unfulfilled, and just plain lost. My worry is that for many women, they don’t consciously choose to pursue the life they want … instead, they follow the crowd, or they’re made to feel like a failure. It’s not true, and I’m here to tell you, success is defined as living a life that makes you and your family feel fulfilled, with a life full of meaning and joy. And I suspect that quite a few women, much like me, know deep down that that their fullest, most meaningful life looks much different than the ideal portrayed by the media and pop culture. For those of you who live that life — career focused with guns blazing — you rock … if you’re happy, keep doin’ your thing!
For those of you caught on the expectation hamster wheel, and you’re unfulfilled, overwhelmed, and just plain unhappy … girl, step off the wheel for just a moment, and challenge the assumptions … ask why you’re working so hard to achieve things that don’t truly speak to your soul. Stop listening to what your parents, your peers, or what the damn feminist movement is telling you to do … instead, ask what do you want to do?
I, before having children, thought I wanted to do the working mommy thing … I mean, I’m smart, I’m organized … heck, I’ve been told all along that women are the future and we’re going to run the whole damn world soon enough … so how hard can this be? Well, really friggin’ hard … because now, two beautiful little girls later, the only thing I want is to live in a little farmhouse with horses and a chicken coup, and work on a part-time basis in some creative field (yet to be determined, but this blog sure is a good start to figuring it out)! That’s a complete 180 from climbing the legal ladder from entry-level attorney to partner, or law professor, or judge. And sadly, according to the media and pop culture, I’d be considered a failure for it. I don’t care. Because the only measure of success that should matter for a woman, or for anyone, is whether her life is one that brings her joy. A career could never bring me the joy I feel being a wife and mother.
So, in this article, all I ask is that you, yes you, take a step back, and ask yourself … “Am I truly happy? What does happiness look like for me? Have I been trying to live up to someone else’s definition of happiness at the expense of my own?” If the answer is yes, then girl we’ve got some work to do. And believe me, I know, it’s an overwhelming place to be … “what do I do now, how do I fix it, how do I even decide what it is I really want to do!?” Yeah, those questions hit me like a Mack truck, and truth be told, I’m still trying to figure out some of the answers. But I know they’re the right questions, and the answers will lead me to joy I’d never find if I kept going down someone else’s happiness road.
So ask yourself the questions, and just sit with the answers for awhile … and in a series of upcoming blog posts, I’ll help you unpack some of those emotions and figure out why you began working so hard towards something you never really wanted, the lies women believe about how to find true happiness, and finally, how to refocus your time and energy so you can begin pursuing the life you really want. I’ve been through this process … in fact, I’m still going through some of it myself … I’d love for you to join me.
And, just a final, parting thought …
Don’t believe the only way to change the world is through a career … reasonable minds can certainly differ, but I think one of the biggest mistakes we make as women, and human beings in general, is to think that we’re bigger than we are. Mother Teresa was right, the greatest opportunity each of us has to change the world is to leave a profound, lasting impact on those closest to us … our children, our family. They are the next generation … they are your legacy … and if everyone focused his or her time, energy, and desire to “do good” on their own family, the world would be a far more peaceful, beautiful place. And that is real, tangible change.
Wishing you all the happiest Monday … go out there and get em’ this week!
p.s. – links to my dress, Livi & Emme’s dresses, and decor below.