Wow, we have a long time to make our mark on this planet. Think about it: the current US adult life expectancy is 78.8 years according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Let’s round up to 80 years. If you think about it, that’s a lot of time given the rampant diabetes, heart disease, and Ebola-ridden world we live in. Imagine if medicine continues to improve, you exercise regularly, and eat fewer cheeseburgers…you could live to 100, no problem!
So why, given all this time, do we (the mostly women dominated “we”) worry about squeezing family-rearing and career-having into one cramped 20-ish year period of our lives? If I’ve got another 60+ years on Earth, then I’ll take my life hurtles one at a time with rest and recuperation between each, thank you very much.
A recent New York Times article revealed a survey of college-educated millennials refusing to approach motherhood and professionalism as an all or nothing decision. “Their approach is…more give and take,” the article describes. These are my people! These are my people! I refuse to have it all or have nothing—I want everything, anything, and some things as a choice during each period of my life. Now, if only society agreed with and supported my choices…
As a self-identified woman in the USA, I see my life in segments. The first quarter of my life was devoted to childhood, education, and learning the rules of society. I was a good girl who got good grades and did not get in trouble or push against the barriers, rules, and restrictions to women in society.
Now, in my second quarter—I’m calling it the Complementary Education segment—my resilience is tested and fortified (in the face of unemployment, self-employment, and general economic upheaval), my personal resources are being strengthened (in marriage, friendships, and self-esteem), and I’m learning when to break society’s rules (you know, the ones I just finished learning in my last 20-ish years). I’m starting to realize that I have options and the time to choose.
The option of being a 20-something year old mother: no economic security for such necessities as childcare, healthcare, higher education, or extra-curricular activities; shame and marginalization for taking governmental assistance; a stalled and biased professional career. No thanks; I’ll wait until conditions improve.
The option of making money, money, money and affording the luxuries of society: a career in finance, ignoring my social conscience, 80 hour work weeks, limited time to cook, exercise, or establish relationships and hobbies. I repeat, no thanks! I don’t want either option, why would anyone want both at once?!
The option to take life in segments: move to a smaller town to live on a meager salary as a trade-off for spending each day learning something new, creating something with my own hands, volunteering in my community, and spending plenty of time on self-reflection.
I’ve still got plenty of time for that other stuff (motherhood, high-paying careers, big houses, fabulous vacations). I’m thinking and planning 5-10 years at a time. I’ll make sure to try it all, but for now I’d rather spend my energy figuring out who I am and what society I want to live in, then learning and engaging in the community to create the society I want. Women can have it all—just piece by piece by piece.