Women are certainly in the news these days. There appears to be a very good chance that we will have a woman President of the United States before long. The female half of the human race is certainly on the move. In honor of a changing world for women a certain meme is circulating on Facebook. It asks parents not to teach their daughters to long for the glass slipper but to develop a desire to break the glass ceiling. Unfortunately this line of thinking seems to insinuate an either or kind of world. Instead I see the opportunities for women as choices along a continuum. Hopefully we are free to choose exactly where we wish to reside.
I’m a hard charging competitive person. Most people don’t see that characteristic in me unless they get to know me very well. I don’t like to lose and I strive to be number one. It’s my nature to shoot for the stars and I often get there. In school I was told that I was not the intellectual equal of my honors class peers and so I set out to prove my detractors wrong. It wasn’t that difficult to demonstrate that I have the ability to hang with anyone. All it took was determination and lots of hard work. Nobody had to motivate me to be my best. It just came naturally to me.
In retrospect I sometimes wonder if I missed out on some more important social and developmental aspects of my teenage years just to prove a point. As an adult I dialed back just a bit and instead sought enjoyment and learning for its own sake as my goal. I found that I did almost as well as I had when I was so driven, furthermore I had much more fun. I developed meaningful relationships that have sustained me again and again. I realized that I don’t always have to be at the top to get great satisfaction. In fact, once I began working it occurred to me that there were certain levels of management beyond which I had no desire to reach. I watched principals in action and saw that theirs was a job focused more on paperwork than people. I needed to stay close to the teachers and the students and being Dean of Faculty gave me the perfect environment. The glass ceiling hovered above me but I had no desire to break through it. I found my niche and enjoyed being there.
What I would say to my daughters or any other young woman is not to look for the glass slipper nor the glass ceiling but to gaze into the looking glass. It is only in knowing ourselves that we women may be truly happy. Some woman are incredibly content to serve their families and do their jobs amazingly well. There is nothing wrong with living a life like that as long as the individual enjoys that role. On the other hand there are women who long to rise as far to the top as possible. They dream of being the CEO or even the President. Still others, like me, find a comfortable place somewhere in the middle. I loved my work and miss it even in my retirement but I never wanted to be so focused that I would not have time for my family. It was a balancing act that I managed to achieve and I felt quite good about myself.
I talk with young women who are quite excited about being a stay at home mom. They feel a certain sense of anger when people judge their work to be less worthy of admiration than their professional counterparts. They have consciously made a choice to give their children the bulk of their time and devotion. They indeed work very hard each and everyday to provide their children with a stimulating and healthy environment. It becomes a full time job.
At the other end of the spectrum are the women who want and even need to work outside of the home either for financial or psychological reasons. The often feel that they are being judged as less perfect mothers because they spend so much time away from their children each day. Even when the evidence shows them that their children are developing into happy and healthy individuals they worry.
It seems to be the fate of women to have to juggle their own needs with those of countless others. They sometimes feel damned if they do and damned it they don’t. Unfortunately they don’t always get the support that they desire from their own kind. There is a whole lot of back and forth criticism and judging going on and not so much encouragement. That’s why that looking glass is so important.
We are each unique. If we reflect carefully we will be able to determine what we really hope to accomplish in our lives. If being at home feels like being stuck in a prison there is a problem. If working brings no joy there is a problem. True equality and opportunity for women will only come when we are able to craft our lifestyles to fit our personalities and our needs. When we are in the right place at the right time it feels good and we feel a sense of joy.
Sometimes it takes a while to determine where we need to be. It’s a matter of making closer and closer approximations to perfection. We have to be willing to change and grow and take risks until the fit is comfortable. Just as we all come in different shapes and sizes we are each different in how we view our place in the universe.
I always tell young women to follow their instincts. I had so many people urging me to be a doctor but there were so many signals that medicine was not the life for me. I disliked biology. I felt faint when I saw blood or injuries. When I worked in a doctor’s office his days appeared to be boring to me. I finally understood that I was inching toward the wrong field of work. Instead, single time that I worked with children I had a sense of exhilaration. I felt creative and my innate need for altruism was satisfied. Time seemed to flash by when I was teaching someone how to do something. At the end of the day I may have been tired but I almost always felt that I had accomplished something meaningful and important. My heart told me that teaching was my true vocation.
I know so many people both male and female who are so dissatisfied with their lives. I once met a man who had risen to the apex of his profession. He was wealthy and respected but he was miserable. He had spent half of his lifetime in a career that was ill suited to his personality. When he finally had the courage to admit his mistake and make a change he blossomed. He gave up a hefty salary and the lifestyle of the rich and famous to do what he had always wanted to do which was to be a high school football coach. Some people thought that he had somehow lost his mind but I applauded him for standing against the tide of opinion and being the person that he knew he was meant to be. I believe that all people, not just women should have the freedom to choose their own lifestyle.
So if you take a young girl under your wing either as a parent, a friend, or a mentor the best advice to give her is to gaze into the looking glass that reveals the desires of her heart. Tell her listen to her own voice and to confidently go in the direction that she knows is right. It doesn’t matter what the rest of us think. It is her life and she should live it as she thinks is best.