Continued from “A new voyage has begun…“
It struck me after the last post was published that the title of it wasn’t fitting, but then I didn’t really know what would be more fitting, so we left it as it was. This new voyage, so to speak, wasn’t and isn’t new, and I guess that’s where the title felt lacking. The truth of the matter is that even when life took me far from it, a more settled and “traditional” life is what I’ve always wanted. I was raised, however, in a world where being an independent woman meant that you were a “career” woman.
It’s taken me 35 years to figure out what being a woman meant to me, independently. There are many, many reasons for this – most of which don’t fit into this post and are instead going to make their way into a future book manuscript, but for now, let’s focus on one piece of the puzzle.
I didn’t understand the “career woman” label fully until I started living the freelance life and people would speak of me as being “entrepreneurial.” To me, that word meant “money” and we all know that freelance writers don’t make a ton of money without other jobs that supplement your income. So entrepreneurial didn’t seem like a fitting description for what I was doing.
Are bloggers entrepreneurial if their blog pays the bills? Maybe. But to me, an entrepreneurial person is more than just someone who makes money independently of a corporation or creates a corporation of their own. And this is where I found a disconnect.
I don’t feel entrepreneurial. I may not work for one company any more and haven’t for several years now, but I don’t have the kind of ambition to create a so-called empire that I feel most entrepreneurs have. I’m great at business and am a business-minded person, that’s for sure. I’m good at what I do. But an entrepreneur is something else to me, and for some strange reason, it felt like unnecessary pressure to be defined that way.
I wasn’t creating a company that would change the landscape of how a certain industry worked. I didn’t invent a product. I’m not reinventing any wheels. I’m not changing the world in any significant way or exponentially growing my bank account. I’m just doing what I do and making some money that supports my life and the things I do with it. That’s not entrepreneurial to me.
So why does it matter?
For years, I had jobs that took me on a meandering, but phenomenal career path. I was an independent woman. A pants suit wearing, powerful woman climbing the ladder in stiletto fabulous fashion. I look back at some of my years in Boston, waking up at 5 a.m. after just a few hours of sleep so that I could go to the gym before work. I’d take the subway, suffer through the snow and ice, workout, shower, dry my hair, do my makeup, grab a coffee and a bagel, listen to a radio podcast of the morning’s news, and be in the office by 9 a.m. (okay, 9:05 – I’m never right on time).
I’d do the power lunches, be at the office until 6:30 pm (often much later, 8 p.m., sure), go to a happy hour, followed by a work dinner, meet up with friends for an night cap, get home by midnight and do it all over again the next day. Miserable. Drained. But keeping up appearances. Those years – when I took a break from being a journalist to make three times more money working in PR – I was doing what I thought “independent women” were supposed to do.
Eventually, the revolving door swung back and I was back as a journalist, with smaller paychecks, working just as many (if not more) hours, and a little happier. I lived, however, for the weekends when I could do the things that really made me happy — grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, crafting, even shoveling (read: playing in) snow. That’s probably not a unique experience – we all like the weekends. But for me, it was those simple housekeeping things that I loved and was so naturally good at. It didn’t feel like it fit with the “independent woman” image that my brain was trained to emulate — by society, culture, family, and popular belief.
Unless I could be superwoman and do it all. Totally okay and awesome to be a great cook and keep a beautiful home and entertain like a rockstar and have a fabulous job and make a great living and run a marathon and file your taxes on time and be able to do downward dog and crow pose in your sleep and maintain a vibrant social life and party like it’s 1999 and still rock the Monday morning meetings like a boss. Totally. Cool.
But say you want to be wife and a mother and that a big huge superstar career isn’t your thing and people might look at you funny, especially when you’re climbing that career ladder with great ease, success, accolades, and accomplishments.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved my early days as a reporter. The adrenaline rush of chasing a story was exhilarating. The nerves I felt interviewing a sensitive or high profile source got my blood going, and the pressure of filing a story before deadline made everything feel important. I was proud – still am – to see my byline. It feels amazing to get a check in the mail for hard-earned dollars. I love stimulating brainstorming meetings. Landing a pitch is still exciting. And travel has been a true love of my life. But trying to do it all can only last for so long. I’d be focused on career, then have a relationship. Focus on career. Focus on relationship. Career always seemed to win.
The first sign of a slowdown was in 2007.
One weekend visit to Austin, and two weeks later, my life in Boston was packed up and I was on a road trip, headed for Texas. I was going to be a cowgirl housewife. I was going to find my GQ cowboy and live out my life dream on a ranch in a flowery sundress and Lucchese boots, surrounded by horses and hay and barbecues and red checkered tablecloths.
The first weekend I was there, I thought I’d met him. He made me a rose of out of a paper napkin and fake proposed to me on bended knee during a Gabriele y Rodrigo show at Antone’s and not long after whisked me off in his own plane to a gorgeous ranch somewhere in the middle of Texas. True story. A month later I figured out he wasn’t the one when he disappeared. I call these men the magicians. Because they always reappear.
With ranch dreams high and large, I found myself back on the career ladder, climbing harder and faster than ever because dammit, I was an independent woman and I was going to figure out a way to buy my own damn ranch!
No one can be Martha and Oprah, though Martha is a fierce career woman and maybe not the best comparison here. Let’s try again.
You can’t be an amazing Susie Homemaker and be the financial powerhouse that Susie Orman tells you to be and still be every thing else that society wants you to be. Not all at once. And certainly not alone.
It’s not that I don’t believe and fully support women who want to be the CEOs and CFOs of Fortune 500 companies. I actually believe many women do better than men in such positions because we’re naturally more empathic and balanced, if also more emotional and neurotic at times. But in my humble opinion, we’re not as ego-driven. Estrogen may be a devil of a hormone, but man oh man, do I NOT envy the competitive edge of testosterone. Cavemen, rawr!
Gender stereotypes fascinate me. I would love to see a female President of the United States. It’s worked well – very well – in other countries. I would also like to live my own life far from being the head of a company. And maybe that’s what makes me an odd feminist. I believe that women can achieve as much as men and should have every right and opportunity to do so — if they choose.
I love women and find them inherently more interesting than men most of the time. I also believe that if women are empowered to stay home as wives or mothers, they should not be looked upon as any less independent or contributory or anti-feminist. Feminism to me is simply about having choices and equal opportunity from the boardroom to the bedroom.
Oprah, in her interview with Barbara Walters for “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014,” which aired this past Sunday, said, “I would not have had the life or the career in the way that I had it if I’d chosen to have children.” Truth. Her career and life path has been beyond impressive and admirable. Her impact around the world is palpable and profound. Her passion is empowering people to live their best life. So we have to decide what “best” means as individuals.
I think Oprah would agree with me that “best” isn’t about how much money you have or how high up the ladder you’ve climbed; it’s not about the professional accolades you’ve piled up, nor is it about how many children you have or don’t have, whether you’re married, divorced, straight or gay. It’s about the human experience in your life – independently – doing the things that make you feel successful. It’s doing the things that make you feel big, surrounding yourself with people who inflate and hold you, and living a life that makes you breathe a little easier.
I feel empowered by the business of my own insular world. I’m the CEO of my garden and my kitchen. I’m the CMO of my social calendar and the COO of my professional calendar. I make my own rules as I go.
Which brings me to dish soap.
I buy organic dish soap. Depending on which scent tickles my fancy that day, it smells like a lovely bouquet of geranium or lavender. It doesn’t dry out my hands. I much prefer it to cheap brands that smell like lemony chemicals and make my hands feel like sandpaper after washing the dishes. It’s probably a whole two dollars more expensive.
I was dating someone who cringed that I’d spend two more dollars on the expensive soap. We had epic fights about dish soap because I felt judged. And every single time, it would eventually turn into a larger argument about money. In essence, we’re talking about values. In the case of that relationship, I was the one buying the dish soap. It was my money. So I felt justified in saying, “it’s my money, and I don’t have to apologize for wanting – and buying – the goddamn organic soap!”
But what if he were buying it? Then what? I found myself questioning once again what it meant to be an independent woman. This simple, kind of ridiculous anecdote shed light on one key element in every successful relationship I’ve seen – shared core values. Organic soap is not the value, naturally. It’s the idea that you have a standard by which you navigate through life, like whether you choose quality over quantity.
I’ve seen plenty of examples where this falls short. The most beautiful relationships I’ve seen have nailed it. They don’t even have to talk about it anymore – they are going to choose the same “soap” because it’s a basic value, quality of life, perspective thing.
I’d like my one-day husband and I to be co-CFOs of our home, deciding together how the business of our life should be run. I would rather continue on alone, than to have a sudsy mess of arguments every time we go to the proverbial grocery store. Perhaps a bit idealistic, but in my experience, you may not always agree, but if the fundamental alignment in values is off, tension and disappointment are never far.
Case in point. Children. In your 20s, it doesn’t matter much whether you’re on the same page. You have time to decide. In the your 30s, it matters more. The clock is ticking. By 40, it’s critical. I recently went on a date with a man whose answer to whether or not he wants to be a dad was, “if it happens, I’m okay with it. But I’m not really sure it’s that important to me.”
Now, some people would tell me the subject of children is not something we should talk about on a first or even tenth date. “It’s just not fun,” one girlfriend said to me. But life is sometimes serious, is it not? Why do we have to be “fun” all the time? The person I want to date knows if he wants to be a dad one day and feels pretty strongly about it. He may not know when, and he may not think about it much at all. He may not have daydreams like I do of painting with my daughter or teaching my son how to cook or reading bedtime stories and going to the pumpkin patch, but he will at least be connected with the desire.
Ranch. Man. Baby. Life. An independent woman on a mission, saving my pennies and planning my future with not a moment to waste.
*** What do you think about gender stereotypes? We’d love to hear from you! Please comment below! ***