When women entered the workplace in the 1970’s there was a lot of talk about women doing it all and the conflict of having a career and raising a family. Growing up in that era, it seemed we had such a short time to get it all done. We grew up hearing about working 30 years and retiring with a pension. The retirement age was 60. Life expectancy for men was 68 and for women 76.
Today life expectancy is 78 for men and 82 for women. My mother is 89. Baby boomers who were raised expecting to retire by 60 are now retiring at 65 and 67. Baby boomers who are younger than 55, can now expect their full retirement age (based on Social Security) to be 70…at least.
Wow – 50 years – that’s a long time to work!
That’s also long enough to have it all!! Without having to do it all at once!
I find it ironic that as I am thinking about prolonging my working years and figuring out what I want to do for the next 20 years, I read about younger people reaching higher levels on the corporate ladder at younger and younger ages. Even as society extends the years we are expected to work our culture is redefining success by compressing the number of years it should take to reach CEO status.
As I look back over all the time I have to work, to start a career, to raise my daughters, to start a new career, I wonder why younger generations are in such a rush to have it all, do it all by 40? And I wonder what they are going to be thinking (and regretting) at 50 when they still have so much life ahead of them. Will spending 120 hours a week at work while so young have been worth it?
For the rest of us with normal lives it’s time we evolve past the old career concepts and rethink career-family-life balance. And the first thing we need to do is take off all the pressure to do it all, all at once.
I’m glad women no longer feel the need to get married in their twenties and immediately have children. Back in the 80’s and 90’s we heard so much about biological clocks and were warned about having children past the age of 35. (More sources of unnecessary pressure and conflict.) My mother had all of her children after the age of 36. My grandmother and aunts all had children in their late 30’s.
Today we see lots of women having children “later in life” and it reminds us that it is up to us to decide how we live our lives. So let’s fling back open the child bearing window and realize that choosing to have children doesn’t mean automatically create a career – family conflict.
With our empowerment also comes changing our thought that taking off from work or slowing down career advancement does irrevocable damage to our careers. Isn’t it ridiculous to think that someone can reach CEO status by the age of 40 (18 years of working) but someone who is older (45) can’t restart their career and be a CEO by the age of 62??
We can’t let media images set the standards for how we live our lives or define a successful career. And we shouldn’t just be pursuing a successful career – we should pursue a successful life as defined by us.
Maybe we should look at our careers and work life in three stages.
- In our younger years we are learning and gaining experience. This means we don’t know it all by age 30!
- The middle years where we are balancing family life but gaining in experience and wisdom. In these years we learn to see beyond ourselves and our self-interests. This applies to men and to women. Men should have the ability to be good fathers, to be involved in their children’s lives. As a society we should place value on being good parents.
- After the children are older we can put all that experience and wisdom to good use in our careers and our communities.
I know that concept goes against a society that wants to market a culture of doing more and doing it all faster and younger. As I was writing this my 89 year old mother interrupted me with a random thought (she is watching Dr. Phil) – she wants to know how “all these young girls who go off to college but have no experience can go on TV and tell everyone what to eat, what to wear and how to raise kids. They don’t have any kids but they are going to tell you what to do with yours.” Mom, that’s our culture, an image we are being sold.
Well, for those of us who live out in the real world, we don’t have to buy into that image. As women we have the power to redefine the image of a success – measured in a lifetime. Each of us should define what works for us and then empower ourselves to pursue the life we want.
We do no longer need to buy into the image of being superwomen or supermoms. Not doing it all, all at once doesn’t diminish who we are. We shouldn’t look at overachievers and think “I am not worthy.”
Earlier today my Mom had a show on where the guest was introduced as a doctor, journalist, author, husband, father and triathlete. And he is only 42! I wondered how good of a doctor he can really be. He was in training for his specialty until he was 30 and hasn’t really practiced medicine since journalism is his real career! But it all sounds good! It is a media produced image.
As women we need to realize that longer lifespans and longer working lives mean we no longer have to accept images that were formulated in the 1970’s, 1980’s or even the 1990’s. They are obsolete. With at least 50 years to work, we have time to plan our lives, our careers and our families. We need to ignore marketed images and take the power we have to live the life we want, on our terms.
Empowered women define success on their terms.
I want to hear your thoughts and opinions so leave a comment!!
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