Monday, May 13, 2013

Having It All

I have been reading blogs about (and by) women with super-successful careers.  Family and children, career and money, ambitions and creativity – they have it all.  More importantly, they appear to be (or at least claim to be) happy and satisfied, having a wonderful time raising their children while pursuing their careers.

A few years ago, when my first-born son was just an infant, my mom and I had a fight.  Well, not exactly a fight, but an unpleasant disagreement.  She said something along the lines of “You can have one child and still maintain your career, but it would be impossible with two.  There is no way a woman can have an intense career and not neglect her (multiple) children.”  I was furious.  I was hoping to have another child.  I had (at the time) no desire to quit my job or to leave science.  So, I told my mother she was absolutely and irrefutably wrong.  My mother got mad.  We dropped the subject and never discussed it again. 

The seed of doubt, however, had been planted.  Could my (intelligent, well-informed, strong-willed) mother really be wrong – or was this the case of “Mama knows best”?  She is a piano teacher. Some of her students come from homes with stay-at-home moms and others come from two-income families.  So, you see, she gets a glimpse of both worlds – and the effects different arrangements have on children.   Mom claims that there is a visible difference between these types of children (and this difference does not favor the kids of career-moms). 

Since that conversation with my mom, I’ve had my second child, quit my job, stayed home for over a year and then came back to work.  As of now, I don’t have a super-ambitious career but I have a job that is rewarding and intellectually challenging while taking up, at most, 40 hours/week.  I love working and I am hoping to push my career forward in the next few years.  I have to admit, I am also semi-secretly pining for a third child (only my husband is aware of this and he is lukewarm to the idea).  I think another child would throw everything off balance, but I no longer believe another child would “destroy” any chance of a career growth or prevent me from doing things that I feel passionate about.  I do believe I will have choices – both career-related and personal.  To me, that is the ultimate freedom: the ability to make choices.     

So…. Do I “Have it All?”

No, certainly not.
There is always a price
My choices precipitate consequences.
  • The biggest one of all:  GUILT.  I feel guilt because I’d rather be working than spending all day long with my kids.  I feel guilt because I haven't been ambitious and just "go with the flow" instead of cranking out papers and advancing my career.
  • My son gets sick frequently (Daycare germs!) and has ear infections (to be fair, when I stayed home he still got sick on a regular basis…  but no ear infections)
  • Daycare:  it’s ok, but not as good as I had hoped (again, to be fair, I doubt there is any place or arrangement that would be absolutely perfect in every single way)
  • The kids go to daycare in wrinkled T-shirts/dresses (a travesty, by my mom’s and grandma’s standards) because, since going back to work, I stopped ironing.
  • They learn certain things at daycare that I don’t approve of (poop jokes, rolling eyes, spitting)
  • I am not there for them all the time
  • Weekends become days to do errands and shopping, so there is less time for fun with the family.
  • My garden is a mess full of weeds.
  • I only dust about once a month.
  • I don’t go to conferences, meetings or evening seminars because I’d rather be home with the kids.  As a result, I don’t expand my network or get exposed to new ideas.

A few years back, I heard this interesting notion that made a huge impression on me: some things in life are like a bouncy-ball.  You drop it and it comes right back, none the worse for wear.  Other things are more of a delicate crystal: drop it and it will shatter into million pieces.  At any given moment in your life, there is going to be something that you can let go and it will bounce back, while something else will be fragile and require care and dedication.  Very often, as we change and our priorities change, the bouncy-ball of yesterday becomes today’s crystal.  It used to be, the relationship with my husband was the bouncy-ball and my work was the crystal that I doted on and spent most of my energy on.  Then it was the kids that became the precious crystal.  Perhaps, there will come a day when that will change, too. 


There are no easy answers, no one-fits-all solutions.  Parenting is hard work.  Building a career is hard work.  I may not be able to "Have it All" but I am trying my best to balance the things that mean the most to me.  Finding the right balance is tricky – and it will vary drastically from person to person. What I am trying to say is this:  there is no wrong way and no right way to live your life and to balance different aspects of your life.  You have to figure out what works for you and be your own “Fiddler on the Roof” or “Scientist on the Roof” or “Mom on the Roof” – do what you have to do to keep yourself from teetering over the edge.  Just remember to take a minute to enjoy who you are and where you are.

What is the “bouncy-ball” and what is the “crystal” for you?
Any doubts about how you choose to spend most of your waking time?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thoughts about success

I’ll start with a couple of questions.

When you wake up in the morning, are you excited about your day?  Are you looking forward to the different tasks and jobs that lie ahead?  If yes - I would say you are successful.  It doesn’t matter what your career path is or even if you have a career in the traditional sense of the word.

For me, percent wise, it’s about 70/30.  Most of the time, I feel successful – and satisfied with how my life is going.  I like my job.  I love my family.  I have the time to "smell the roses" and to daydream.  But every so often, doubt creeps in and I start thinking “If only….”
If only I stayed home with my kids, we would go to museums every week.
If only I was a stay-at-home wife and mom, our life would be more organized and less hectic
If only I put more effort into my work, I could be in a tenure-track position…
If only I was more pro-active and aggressive, I could enjoy a better-paying job in industry
If only I had a teaching job, I could have all summer off to spend as I wish.
If only I could take my kids hiking, camping, biking more often.

While  I don’t regret any choices I've made, I am at a point in my life when I begin to question (as I do every six months or so, it’s called a semi-annual identity crisis) – today, right now, am I in the right place?  Am I successful?  Perhaps, I should step it up a notch at work – change jobs even, to be in a place that is more driven and more intense.  Or, do the opposite: quit my job altogether to stay home, make amazing food and do awesome science and art projects with the kids.

My definition of success has very much evolved over the last 15 years.  When I was starting out, things seemed very simple: success meant having my own group and pursuing the scientific questions of my choosing.  Family was not a part of that equation.  Children were but a fuzzy may-be-someday concept.  That was before I went through the grind of the graduate school, before marriage, before an unexpectedly strong drive to produce offspring.  Fast-forward to 2013...  My most successful day last week was Wednesday, when I was able to finish my work in record short time and picked up the kids early at the daycare, spent an hour with them at the library sifting through the books, and then cooked a nice supper (the kids helped cut up cucumbers and tofu for the salad).  I am content to be a peg in someone else’s lab, content to pursue a direction someone else points to, and thrilled to let someone else to do the grant-hunting. 

I don’t know what another 10 or 15 years will do to my ideas about success.  Perhaps, I’ll read this entry, shrug my shoulders, and click “delete”.

What does “success” mean to you?  How has it changed over time?