A girl I knew once said to me that she met the guy that she wants to marry, too young. 19, or something. ‘He’s probably the guy I’m going to marry’ she had said to a friend. But then soon after, she ran away from that – kissed another guy at a party on purpose, I think. Self-sabotaged. Because, as she was recalling it to me whilst stroking the hand of this same man (the probably going to marry, man), her now husband, she ‘didn’t want to “just” get married and have babies’.
This story is familiar. It’s certainly not the same for everyone, but this is a common sentence I’ve heard paraphrased by so many friends, women I’ve met, on movies, in stories.
And I can relate. I met my ‘guy that I think I’m going to marry’ at a very young age. I started dating him at 19. Married at 23. This fact is certainly not something I could have predicted or thought or even wanted before it happened, but then, that’s what life is like, isn’t it?
Women in my and close generations (Gen Y and the like) are constantly living in the shadow of our mothers, grandmothers. Whilst suffrage was over a century ago in many countries, women have fought long and hard for equality in not just the legal and political system – but in society. Today we’ve come such a long way, whilst our grandmothers and mothers were still living in a completely different society and situation to us – the social pressures and expectations on them diverse to what we know today. Sure, particularly many of our mothers were reaching to try and break out of the mould of societal expectations on them of marriage and children (whilst not being expected to do a lot else such as have a career – in fact, certainly in Australia, would likely be judged if they did a lot else). But now, in our society where we are told we can ‘have it all’, women of my generation seem to be fighting for the right not to be judged to actually take hold of the opportunities that are available to us.
There are two main schools of thought here:
1.Something that both might be socially expected of us and something which we might also want – marriage and kids and to be there for our family. To be a wonderful wife and mother and all that that means.
2.To have a purpose beyond no 1. – whether that’s a career, study, a side project, a passion, or all of the above.
To me, as one who craves achievement like a chocoholic craves chocolate, no. 2 is essentially, to have the self-satisfaction to know that you are ‘achieving’ in life.
Our western society tells us both simultaneously that we CAN have 1. AND 2. (I.e. ‘It all’), but that we probably shouldn’t WANT 1 and 2. That we can have it all, but really, we would be selfish if we wanted AND pursued ‘it all’. I can relate to this too. I’m the same – I want everything. I want to be that loving, selfless mother and wife that puts her family first, but then I also want to be that kick-arse entrepreneur, that career-woman that other women (and gosh, one day hopefully even my future children!) are inspired by. Heck, I want to be a woman that men are inspired by. I want to be excited by my days, my weeks. I want to be that confident, intelligent, ballsy, capable yet soft woman that Gets. Things. Done.
Are these conflicting thoughts?
In several (unsuccessful – ha!) job interviews, I’ve been asked what I think my biggest achievement is. Usually my go-to response is: ‘Getting 2 Masters degrees by the time I was 23’. This is not a brag-fest by the way, because if you met me that fact probably wouldn’t be obvious (!) But it’s interesting that that was my go-to. One person interviewing me in one particular interview actually asked, ‘what about your marriage?’ – instantly guilty, I replied, ‘oh yeah, that too…’
I must admit, I’m a type. And apparently by choice (or unconscious attraction), I surround myself with ‘types’ like me. I’m talking about people that love difference. Love to fight the system. Maybe even a bit ‘anti-establishment’. These are often people that have a yearning for something different to what they grew up in, and a fear of returning to that same state. I have met a lot of these types in my travels – I think that’s because we are magnets to each other. We get it.
Being ‘different’ here as a woman often means wanting 1 and 2. We see having ‘just’ 1 as ‘not us’, but having just 2 as eventually, ‘not enough’. We love change and variety and diversity, and we worry that a life of 1 just won’t cut it for us. It won’t make us happy, fulfilled.
But then, why is this? Is it because ‘society’ tells us that one or the other exclusively is unfulfilling? Cause when you think about it – what right does ‘society’ have to tell us what we should be proud of or not? Whats a few years doing 1. If I can also be building myself to 2. Or maybe even building towards 1 and 2?
I try to maintain this attitude despite a small, yet deep, fearful part of me that wonders if I would be crushed by the monotony of ‘only’ 1 – whether it’s for 3 months or 3 years. Alternatively, some of you might be reading this and thinking that ‘only’ 2 sounds like such an unfulfilling drag and all you want is to have 1, and do it really, really well. If that’s you: awesome. That’s the beauty of difference!
Despite all these thoughts in my head, I can’t help thinking – who knows what the heck I’m going to want when that time comes? A constant and future planner, I really try my hardest (but sometimes fail!) to not write my future life for myself before it happens and instead try to roll with the opportunities that come my way. Two wise yet very different people have inspired me to think like this. One is Sheryl Sandberg (a.k.a the Godmother !) who talks about ‘not leaving until you leave’. Not making decisions for our future self years before they’ve even happened yet. Number two is my Husband, Jack. He’s always taught me not to get stressed about making a decision until I have that decision in front of me. Don’t worry about moving workplaces until you get offered the job, don’t make assumptions until you’ve had that conversation. This is really helpful advice for us women who have so much to think about in our future. I don’t want to have kids yet but my husband is older; I’m not sure if I can handle that job and do everything else; I really want a partner, but I’m kicking arse in my career right now; I’m not sure if this is the right career move, but I really need maternity leave in place. Sure, we need to talk through our options – but do this not looking at life’s limitations but looking at life’s opportunity.
See, we (and I’m completely taking to myself here) should see everything that befalls us as an opportunity, a potential achievement. Because, isn’t a good relationship and a stable marriage an achievement? Isn’t having and raising a child (and keeping them alive and happy!) an achievement? Keeping a best friend around for decades? A new job that you’re excited about, saving up to buy a house, to travel, to invest? All of these things hit the achievement list – and all of them carry weight. And if we think about it like this – the balance of 1 and 2 can look a bit more plausible.
None of this is easy and none of it is the same. I can try and give you all the advice in the world to suit my situation, but you will have a completely different experience. I gave this blog its provocative title because I KNOW it’s something that a lot of women think and worry about. I wanted you to know that you are not alone – I am totally with you, along with probably millions of other women in different phases of life who all have the same fears.
It’s ok to have these fears, but we are not made to live life in fear. We are made to embrace life! So maybe we should start looking at 1, 2 and maybe in the future 3 and 4 (whatever they may be for us) as opportunities and options for us to choose from in the future. Let’s give ourselves some slack to allow for flexibility, compromise and give and take in these decisions as they arise, whilst viewing achievement beyond just our 9 to 5.
My last encouragement is this: in everything, always work to become who you truly want to be.