Monday, June 25, 2012

I agree... women can't have it all... yet

I am sitting here on my one remaining couch as two large, good-natured black men listen to country music on an iPhone and pack up my household goods bound for Japan, whistling as they work. The two movers did an assessment of the house and came to the conclusion that they should start on the kitchen and the scraproom, since those two rooms appear to have the most stuff in them. I am not-so-secretly proud that my scraproom rivals my (husband’s) kitchen in its contents. And this is after I sold about a third of its contents. Anything worth doing is worth doing right…

And this leads me in to the purpose of my blog post. This morning, I took a quick trip to Sonic (one of the places I am deeply going to miss once I am in Japan) for a breakfast burrito and Route 44 unsweet iced tea. While I drove, l listened to NPR. On the Diane Rehms show, a handful of guests were talking with the host about a new article published in The Atlantic magazine, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It takes about 30 minutes to read the article in its entirety, but I had the time, so I did. And I have to say, I agree with so much of what the author and college professor Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote. She also gave me hope that I can still have a successful career once my kids are grown and my husband retires from the military. That anything I choose to do, I can still do it well.

Military wives and mothers were not discussed specifically in the article. With less than 1 percent of the American populace serving in the military, and not all of them sharing their home with a female spouse, this would be a small fraction of the women facing the work-life balance struggle. Adding the challenges military spouses face when it comes to that balance would have added another 20 minutes of reading to the article and is truly unnecessary to get Slaughter’s message across.

Slaughter offered several suggestions on how American society needs to change so that women, even men, could have it all. Among them were school schedules that match work schedules (she correctly argues that the current school year was designed to meet the needs of an agrarian society that no longer exists), the extended use of technology to reduce the amount of travel and face-to-face meetings required for work, and employers’ understanding of research that has shown that employees who pull consistent “all-nighters” or 60-hour work weeks are actually less effective or productive than those who have regular work hours and good time management skills. I actually experienced a spark of pride when Slaughter said my home state of California has it right: They take leisure as seriously as they take work, and still manage to be the hotbed of innovation in many industries. My primarily California upbringing by two native Californians must have played a key part in making it possible for me to balance family, two jobs and graduate school while on a lean budget these past two years. Land of Fruits and Nuts, maybe, but it sounds as though we may not be the crazy ones after all.

But why should America change? What’s the value? Because it’s smarter and more efficient. It will make us more competitive in a global market where we are losing ground. Employees will be happier, families stronger, and kids will be better off. And both women and men will be valued for their talents and abilities, rather than how many hours they toil at their desks. Who toils at a desk anymore, anyway? As mentioned before, I am sitting on my lone couch, tapping away on my laptop while the strained sounds of country music try to break through the screeches of packing tape being unrolled and applied to cardboard boxes. Thank God I worked in a newsroom for five years and can block out just about anything.

But the most encouraging part of the whole article for me? This line Slaughter wrote: “Women who have children in their late 20s can expect to immerse themselves completely in their careers in their late 40s, with plenty of time still to rise to the top in their late 50s and early 60s.” That single sentence lifted a weight from my shoulders. Since I graduated from college I have fought hard to establish a career despite my husband’s deployments, frequent moves and the births of two sons. I have screamed, cried, thrown things at walls in my frustration to not live up to my 18-year-old self’s expectations of where I should be on the career ladder. I wanted it all but realized I couldn’t. There weren’t enough hours in the day or enough anti-bacterial wipes in the world to keep my kids from getting sick occasionally (and usually on a day that I had an important meeting and my husband could not break from work.) This article makes me realize something that I hadn’t before: that my not being able to “have it all” may be through no fault of my own. A very small portion of American women do, and, as Slaughter pointed out, they are self-employed, rich and/or have 24-hour nannies.

I did not fail. I’m actually still in the race – it’s not over yet and I still have a chance to win. Some people would say that this is part of the journey. I don’t have patience for a journey. It’s a race, okay? My incredibly competitive nature isn’t sure who I am running against – probably my own high expectations – but while some readers are outraged at Slaughter’s ideas and revelations, I find that they have brought me peace of mind. I can pace myself now. I’m not behind the eight ball. I’m actually running on schedule. I still have time to do the things I choose to do “right.”

So, I once again find myself in a period of change where I have to change zip codes, career paths and expectations yet again, due to a military move. The good news is that I will be 39 when my husband is scheduled to retire from the Marine Corps, and 47 when my youngest graduates high school. Just in time to immerse myself in my career, whatever that might be at the time. In the past 12 years since I married my very supportive spouse, I have also learned how to be more flexible, which saves me from unnecessary stress and frustration and my walls from damage. And hopefully, by slowing down a bit, finding a reasonable pace, I’ll be able to continue on my career path and still find time to use the scrapbooking stuff the packers have packed.


Anonymous said...

Jess of all the military wives I have met over the past 27 years there is absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that you can & WILL have it all! I am a huge fan! Hugs - Pam Hatt

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thanks, Pam! I appreciate it!

Jenn Christman said...

My dear friend Jess, you will have it all! You are one of the most determined person that I know. I wish I knew how to balance the life of a stay at home mom with anything and everything I would love to do and yet you have managed school, work, military moves, deplovements, the boys, their activities, your own business, and your marriage! I am in awe of you! You alone give me tons of inspiration that someday my dreams are possible. Love ya.

Jessica Guthrie said...

Wow, Jenn... thank you so much. Truly, I just keep on keepin' on and try to hang on to my sanity.