the new career path: why it's ok to delay your run to the corner office

Photo Credit: Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

I’ve never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. (Sorry, future children of mine, I know that’s probably hard to hear.  Don’t cry.)  Maybe it’s because I’m not the overly motherly type or I don’t have children of my own yet, but I’ve always seen myself as being out in the working world for a straight 40+ years:  kicking ass, taking names, and running the show.  I want to be the one in the corner office.  I want to be the one managing projects that make whatever company I’m working for better and more profitable. I want to be the boss.  You get the picture.

Here’s where I get into a pickle with this situation, though: juggling my career and my future family.  Because even though I’m not the stay-at-home mom type, I’m still the mom type.  I want to be at soccer games and Christmas plays and Wednesday Monopoly nights with my kids.  And as we are told by most women who have already lived this situation, it’s nearly impossible to be mom of the year and work your way up the corporate ladder unless you wake up at 4am every morning and lay your head on your pillow at 12 at night.  4 hours of sleep per night in order to have it all.  How’s that for encouraging, ladies?

I was recently invited to a luncheon sponsored by the Economic Club of Indiana where guest speaker Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the well-known article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,”, discussed the changes we as a society need to make in order for gender equality to truly come to fruition. And there was one statement she made that really stuck with me after I had left the luncheon and went about my day:  her idea that it’s ok to suspend that vertical climb in your career to focus on your family.

I know, take a deep breath. It’s quite a different concept than the “full steam ahead” strategy we’ve been hearing since we hit college.  But in introducing us to this idea, Slaughter has given us the opportunity to potentially transform the way we think about our career path.  She states that while most of us women are focused on continually climbing those rungs on the corporate ladder (Lean In, Lean In, Lean In!), we need to instead start thinking about moving laterally when other areas of your life need more focus.  For working mothers, this may be when your kids are still in the home.  For those without children, it could be when you want to focus on traveling or caring for aging parents.  She makes the point that we all, parents or not, have times in our lives when other aspects need to take a higher priority, and when that time arises, it’s ok for our career progression to be put on hold for a while.

Some of you may be skeptical at this point, and I understand the hesitation. You don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize your career and your trajectory on that path to CEO/entrepreneur/<insert your goal here>.  However, just listen to this logic:  We, as a race, are living longer and longer, and our working lives are being extended because of that.  Why do we have to peak in our careers when we’re in our mid-40s when the needs of our families are peaking as well?  Why can we not delay the high point of our careers until our children are out of the nest and we’ve regained some time back out of our day?  Think it’ll be too late?  Well, look at Hillary Clinton (Republicans, cool your jets and just listen) – she’s nearing 70 and has had some of her greatest career successes in the past decade.  Our beloved Ellen Degeneres is in her late 50s and at the height of her TV show hosting game. 69 year-old Anna Wintour is still one of the most watched women in fashion today and her influence continues to be felt across the industry.  Why can we not be the same?

Note, taking time to focus on other areas of your life doesn’t mean that you’re taken out of the game completely – it just means that for the time being, you may have to turn down that promotion that would mean more business travel or late nights at the office. It means that you may have to delay moving to that corner office with the skyline view and killer desk.  It means that you’ll have to expect to have minimal movement in your salary from year to year.  Instead, you may move laterally, taking positions that will present you with new challenges (think moving from social media to print advertising) but not increased time commitments.  And you would still have time to help your aging parents’ maintain their home, take that dream vacation to the Philippines, or help your kids with their homework on a random Tuesday night.

For me personally, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders after hearing those words from such a successful woman (she worked in the U.S. State Department, people). We as women are constantly being bombarded with the idea that in order for our gender to get ahead, we have to give 110% of ourselves to our jobs for 40+ years, no questions asked. But is that what we really want? Is that what is best for us and our families?  And is that really going to create the equality we strive for?

In that idea introduced by Slaughter, it was as if I was finally given permission as a career woman to value her family’s needs over her job, for a period of time at least. And I realized how important that was to me.  Finally, this new career path proposed by Slaughter would allow me to have my cake and eat it, too – maybe not at the same time, but definitely over the course of my entire career.  And nothing has ever tasted so sweet.

Want to read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s original article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All?” Click the link here – it’s lengthy but definitely worth the time:  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller via Unsplash