22 August 2013

the opt-out generation


The original "Opt Out Revolution" article appeared in the New York Times on October 26, 2003, and it described well-educated, high-powered women who decided to leave the fast track to focus on raising their children at home instead.  The media had a field day with it, trying to figure out whether they were wasting years of the feminist struggle for equality in the workplace or if it, as they claimed, was a new, more balanced version of feminism.

Fast forward ten years, and it sounds like "The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In" (New York Times, August 7th).  They were confident as they walked out in their suits and heels as lawyers with prestigious firms and so on, optimistic that it would be a temporary break from their upward trajectory, but for most women, it has been more challenging than they predicted to reenter the workforce after a hiatus.

It's interesting to consider this when you have a new little one (or one on the way): how will you structure your family?  Who will take care of the child(ren)?  Who will pay the bills?  How will you also make sure your romantic/adult relationships thrive?

It's interesting to note that while it was more of a struggle to find work after time away, it sounded like none of the women regretted their decision.  Further, while some tried to return to their former fields (and usually took lower-level positions and lower pay), most of the women ended up going into more "nurturing" fields, such as education or the nonprofit sector-- and they were happier and felt more balanced.

I thought these articles were a nice reminder to not get too caught up in the rat race, to slow down and look clearly at the price we pay for success, and then to choose our forward movement with our values and priorities in mind-- but to also not be too idealistic and realize that when we choose what's important, other things will likely fall by the wayside.

And I guess that is the key.  We have such limited time in our quickly passing days, months and years, we have one shot at getting our children's childhoods right (no pressure), so we have to make sure we're actively choosing what we do with our time (and actively choosing what falls by the wayside).  We can define our own version of success and happiness and make that life a reality.

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