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Archive for September, 2009

I often call my journalism students “the architects of the change.” What I mean is that, as the whole industry transforms itself, it will most likely be up to those who are just entering the field to be in on the action of what the future of news will be.

(If you think this is shameless self-promotion for my journalism blog, well, you could be right. But keep reading.)

Lately, a few rumblings tell me that maybe there are more such architects out there, in a much broader sense: the twenty- and thirty-something women who may be agonized over their career choices today are the ones who will eventually get it right for the women of tomorrow. Maybe the men, too. Maybe feminism isn’t so much about playing the boys’ game — but changing the game itself.

One letter to the NYTimes in the wake of Maureen Dowd’s “Blue is the new Black” stated the problem thus:

Women have made tremendous material and emotional strides, but they feel torn among competing demands in a way that few men seem to feel torn.

All professionals have to make decisions — sometimes hard decisions — in the course of pursuing a career and raising a family at the same time. But women tend to perceive these decisions not only as time-management choices but also as existential choices.

Every hour spent at work or at home is not simply an hour, but a testament to what makes one happy — and what one is willing to sacrifice for that happiness. As long as women feel that their decisions carry such freight, it won’t be surprising if they continue to feel uneasy about making them.

So true. But here’s what I’m wondering. Are some brave young women starting to play it their way? Rather than following their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, their bosses into the trenches — while still in knots over what they’re leaving behind — it seems to me these women instead are standing up for something for along the lines of work AND life.

Often I hear young women lawyers– who love their work and are damn good at it — talk of the idiocy of prioritizing a partnership slot if it means having no life outside work. A family practitioner I know well told me about adding a woman doctor to his practice — part time. Great that he was looking for a woman, I said, but why part time? Well, he said, a lot of women docs go into family practice precisely because it’s one of the few specialties where you can have a solid practice — and still maintain a life outside it.

And there’s this: Fast Company reports on a new book (Upstarts – How Gen Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success (McGraw/Hill), all about the way that Gen Y entrepreneurs, in their quest for flexibility, are starting to transform the workplace. From an interview with the author, Donna Fenn:

CY: Welcome, Donna Fenn! One of the reasons I love your book is that I want business leaders to expand their understanding of work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed. Flexibility, in all of its forms, is a strategic lever that has broad application as a way to run your business. The Gen Y entrepreneurs in your book seem to fundamentally see flexibility as a way of operating. Here are some examples from the stories in the book:

  • Cost Saving: Having all or part of your workforce work remotely to save overhead costs, such as real estate.
  • Talent Resourcing: Using a combination of full-time, part-time, and “as needed” employees.
  • Productivity/Engagement: Letting people flexibly manage their lives and work as long as they produce. This boosts morale and productivity.
  • Marketing/Brand Development: Devoting a certain number of hours a month to community service to promote their brand and motivate employees.

Do you think these Gen Y entrepreneurs are applying strategic work+life flexibility consciously or intuitively? What do they “get” that many business leaders over 30 years old struggle to understand?

And this: A new study shows that recent college and MBA grads prioritize work-life balance over, gasp, money:

Students about to enter the workforce are more interested in a good work-life balance than they are in money, a new study says.

The Universum Student Survey 2009, which polled more than 60,000 students in American undergraduate and MBA programs, found that 67 per cent of undergraduates and 58 per cent of MBA students consider work-life balance to be their No. 1 career goal, more important even than compensation.

Even a hard-boiled feminist private eye hints at a sea change, according to a review in the Washingon Post. In her newest V.I. Warshawski mystery novel, Sara Paretsky introduces a millenial kid, her cousin Petra, representative of “young women who would never dream of identifying themselves as feminists, but who regard their lives as a delicious menu of choices.” Note the word “delicious”.

Where do all these signs point? Who knows. But I have to wonder sometimes that, as we slowly begin to carve out our own paths, the payoff for all these choices that are making us so crazy is that, ultimately, we sisters are becoming more evolved than our brothers. Or at least, we’re on our way. Growing pains, indeed.

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In all this analyzing we’ve been doing of the Paradox of Declining Female Happiness study, and the subsequent spinning of it courtesy of Marcus Buckingham and Maureen Dowd, there’s one point we’ve been pretty quick to gloss over: age.

Not for long.

I promise not to whine. But it does seem worthy of being addressed, don’t you think? I mean, two of the study’s key findings are that women grow less happy with their lives as they age, and that, by the time they reach age 47, they are overall less happy with their lives than are men with theirs. Hmmm.

For all his postulating, Buckingham didn’t bother giving the issue any more than the most cursory of acknowledgments:

Male mid-life crisis? [Ahem, Buckingham, read this.] A youth obsessed culture that is harder on women than men? The hormonal fluctuations of menopause?

Ya think?

Yet with that he drops the whole subject like a hot potato. Hardly unexpected: after all, the only thing less sexy than an unhappy 47 year-old woman is talking about why that unhappy 47 year-old woman is so darn unhappy.

Moving on.

(What? You think I’m going there? Maybe in a bit…)

But first, the requisite media scapegoating: Last week saw the premiere of a charming new show, which focuses on a single 40-something woman as its main character, and calls itself “Cougar Town.” Single female lead-of-a-certain-age notwithstanding, Cougar Town is no “Maude” (no “Weeds,” no “Closer”…): here, our heroine comes in the form of an amazingly well-preserved, stick thin, uber-beautiful Courtney Cox, on the prowl for a taste of much-younger man candy. (For the record, the leads on Weeds, the Closer, and any other modern-day show featuring a 40-something woman all seem to abide by one single, golden rule: sure, she can be 40-something, she just can’t look it.) Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking out some hot sex with a (very) able-bodied partner. On the contrary. But somehow, the message is off.

So, let’s review. Here’s a 40-something woman–beautiful, successful, self-sufficient. She has a sweet, healthy son, with whom she has a pretty good relationship. And yet. Here she is, measuring her worth in terms of sex appeal. Approval from the boys. Post-40!

(And, given all of that, back in the real world we’re supposed to be shocked about last week’s revelation of New Jersey’s Millburn High School’s “Slut List”–and the fact that the girls it named considered such dubious recognition a compliment?)

Problematic cougar messaging aside, let’s get back to the whole happiness goes down as age goes up thing. I haven’t even gotten into the gender inequities of aging (older men are sexy and distinguished while older women are saggy and without a sex drive; men having children into their 80s like Charlie Chaplin make for adorable anecdotes while older moms are considered selfish and reckless), because I don’t want to get caught up in the unfairness of it all–although it is, of course, wildly unfair. I think the more important point is this: when you live in a culture that doesn’t value older, naturally-aged women–to the point that the popular culture refuses to even show us what one looks like, it’s entirely possible that you’re not going to be so happy about becoming one. You might, in fact, be a little bit pissed off. (Again, why, exactly, is it called a Paradox?)

Then again, a lot of women claim to really come into their own with age. To be much happier; much less concerned with what anyone – let alone the big bad society – thinks.

But getting there is scary – probably, and maybe counterintuitively, scarier for us the younger we are. Why? Well, consider this: when you’ve absorbed the message that your value does nothing but go down as your age creeps up, every decision you make becomes that much more loaded, that much more stressful when played against the backdrop of a ticking clock. I’ve said it before, but I think it’s a huge part of why women’s decisions are so tough. We’ve gotten the message: Time is short. Choose wisely. And fast! You’re only going to be relevant for so long.

Of course, it’s up to each one of us whether we’re going to succumb to that or not. Lest you start worrying over your back-of-elbow fat, I’d like to leave you with a gem, courtesy of the New York Times’ Judith Warner:

“Cougar Town” – the whole Cougar phenomenon – perhaps taps into many women’s worst tendencies: their fears of getting older, losing sexual power, ending up on the slag heap of social desirability. But most women, I think, end up taking these feelings in stride. Most women in their 40s, however conflicted, however sometimes confused, aren’t actually spiraling into self-doubting despair, but are actually working their way toward some greater degree of self-acceptance. Many experience – along with the shift in body mass that pulls things down and pushes them sideways – a kind of psychic shift that frees up some of the energy that once went into external appearances. Many come into their own, creatively, professionally. And in motherhood, in friendships, in romantic relationships.

I’ll roar to that.

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Charlotta Kratz, a lecturer in the communication department at Santa Clara University, takes on Marcus Buckingham and the happiness gap and scores big. Maybe the study shows there’s nothing wrong with women whatsoever. Maybe it’s the culture.

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WOMEN

by Charlotta Kratz

Marcus Buckingham has written three posts on Huffington Post recently, discussing research into the happiness of American women. Barbara and Shannon wrote about this last week.

According to the studies, women in America are becoming less and less happy over the years, whereas men’s happiness is more or less stable.

In his second post, Buckingham says that,

“…it’s hard not to look at this [data] and conclude that contemporary life is disproportionately stressful for young women, that this stress puts them at an immediate disadvantage, and that this state of affairs is damaging, wasteful, and needless.”

I’ll be honest, whenever someone says that someone else’s attitude is “damaging, wasteful, and needless” my guard goes up. I think Marcus Buckingham is projecting his own emotions onto women, and silencing them at the same time. The underlying message is that if men report being happy, and women don’t, then there must be something wrong with women. Really?

There are a couple of points I think need to be made. I have a background in social science research, and I feel comfortable making them.

First, a questionnaire can never measure emotions. A questionnaire can only measure responses to questions. So, what we have here are changes in responses over time, not necessarily changes in emotions. Maybe women have been unhappy for decades, but only now feel comfortable saying so. It wouldn’t, then, so much be a change in happiness, as a change in how women talk about their lives.

Second, it’s possible that a study measures something else than it’s supposed to measure, or what it looks like it is measuring. The important word is “happiness”. The definition of happiness may be changing, which would lead to different responses over time.

In a recent Newsweek article Julia Baird makes the connection between the discussion about women’s happiness and Barbara Ehrensreich’s new book, Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In her book, Ehrenreich calls positive thinking a “mass delusion.”

Maybe one reason women today see themselves as less happy, is that our ideals have changed. Maybe what women today feel they can’t live up to is Tony Robbins positive-thinking-level happiness. If so, who can blame them?

Third, communication theory teaches to always look at the context. Most commentary of the study have focused on the private, and talked about how women’s lives have become increasingly stressful since we added professional aspirations to the private ones.

Marcus Buckingham’s final installment on Huffington Post, appearing Tuesday, attempts to give women advice on how to become happier. He has interviewed self identified happy women, and asked them what they are doing.

His first piece of advice is for women to “focus on moments, more than goals, plans or dreams.

There is a theme here, I think. The message for women seems to be to focus on details, their own attitudes, or their own bodies, rather than the big picture.

So, let’s do the opposite, let’s look at the big picture, a measure of culture: According to the World Values Survey, an international research program, the English speaking world (including the US) and Protestant Europe score the highest on “self expression values”, when compared to “survival” values. That means that in the Western world self expression is important. Most people have their survival needs met.

Another measure in the study is that of “traditional”* vs. “secular-rational” values. Still comparing the English speaking world and Protestant Europe, only Ireland scores higher than the United States on “traditional values”.

My interpretation is that Americans are highly motivated to seek self expression, and that they live in a culture that promotes self expression. But, the cultural climate in the US is also traditional. This means that both women and men learn that self expression is important, but women may lack support from the world around them in fulfilling their wants and needs, if they go against “traditional family values”.

As an outsider, and a Scandinavian, it seems to me that American women are caught in a cross-fire between change and tradition, while northern European women, who according to the World Values Survey live in cultures that don’t value tradition as heavily, have it easier. I think this has bearing on Barbara’s and Shannon’s ongoing discussion about women, choice, and feelings of being on unchartered waters.

Maybe there are two things going on here. First, women are increasingly willing to say that yeah, they could be happier, especially if they compare themselves to the happiness levels of popular positive thinking gurus. Second, American culture is still traditional compared to Western Europe. That makes it harder for American women to achieve full lives, because, frankly, the world around them is not always helping.

It’s a process. Or, like Shannon says, “the hangover lingers”. (Barbara calls it “growing pains.”) Either way, and whatever Marcus Buckingham thinks, there is absolutely nothing wrong with women.

* “The Traditional/Secular-rational values dimension reflects the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not. A wide range of other orientations are closely linked with this dimension. Societies near the traditional pole emphasize the importance of parent-child ties and deference to authority, along with absolute standards and traditional family values, and reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride, and a nationalistic outlook. Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all of these topics.” (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org)

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Katie Powers, a recent college grad and former editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, encounters the cruel, cruel world outside the campus bubble, and not only lives to write about it, but discovers something about herself: maybe success is all about acceptance of what is, coupled with the realization that no matter what goes down in the here and now, there’s always room to grow and change.

Just some Undecided Girl

by Katie Powers

Disclaimer: Readers, I cannot offer words of wisdom or quizzical insight like your two authors. Who am I? Just another one of those recently-graduated, undecided, twenty-two year olds, stung by, as Barbara so elegantly coined “a bitch-slap from the reality of recession.” But read on: I don’t think it ends with a slap.

I am the archetype of undecided. As the oldest daughter of good, open-minded Midwestern parents, I was taught I could do whatever I wanted to do in life. I just had to work hard and not give up. So I tried a lot of things — soccer, theater, Girl Scouts, politics, history, fiction — but I decided on journalism. That’s what I wanted.

And yet, that’s what I can’t seem to get.

I graduated at the top of my class, ready to face the world with that shiny “I can beat the Recession” drive for success, just like I had achieved in the classroom. Things suddenly became dark when I realized that the real world isn’t really like the classroom, and it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve struggled, agonized, over why I can’t make my dream of getting a job in journalism happen. Why was it that the one thing I had decided on rejected me? Just like that, I became undecided. In a world with boundless opportunities, what do you do when you realize the one thing you’ve been waiting for (say, a job at a newspaper or magazine), isn’t available? Or worse, it was — but you just didn’t get it?

With the unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent and still barely one quarter of recent college graduates finding jobs, it’s time for young women such as myself who’ve always dreamed so big to pause. It’s like what Mike Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” (My dad introduced me to this song early — It was perhaps a mature choice for my 8th grade graduation song, but has proved endlessly applicable.)

That’s the kicker. Maybe I can’t get what I want, but perhaps that’s only what I thought I wanted. Instead of feelings of guilt for betraying an entire industry by getting a job elsewhere, maybe I should feel more betrayed by the industry that is in self-destruction. Instead of feeling like I failed, why not call out other young journalists, like myself, and create our own spin on new journalism? The time for us is still to come.

As successful women, we measure ourselves by our achievements, but most often, what job we have or what award we are bestowed is not our choice. And ironically, these achievements only really matter to us. Our ambition, crafted by the 80s working woman and second-wave foundational feminists, has left us judging success defined by our broader, visible contributions to the workplace. But maybe it’s time to change that, especially, as AP just declared, “the workplace is never going to be the same.”

I related to Shannon’s recent post, Eat Crazy Sexy Pray: Seeking is the New Black, on how more women are seeking spiritual and directional guidance in their 20s. Personally, I’ve used a variety of meditative examinations: yoga, long walks, a little journaling. It’s helped me grapple with the answer to indecision, and it’s helped me realize that I can create success best by understanding and accepting my life and career as it is now, knowing there’s always room to grow and change.

So, at least for the time being, I’ve stopped being so undecided, and started becoming just a little more content. And that’s all we can really hope for.

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Zeitgeist: Singing Our Song

The past couple weeks’ worth of posts have certainly resonated. And your comments continue to make us think–and to make us think that we are not alone. None of us are. Here’s some of what’s been going on:

Are You Undecided, Too? had Samantha doing a little soul-searching:

I have briefly read some of the postings on this site, which I think is profound and timely. The itching through that runs through my consciousness is that it is ok to think or dream or believe a girl can do anything, yet the doing and execution is what can undo her. Coupled with a family and the people whose feelings and egos may be bruised and battered along the way. The absolute reality is that any job or hobby that evokes passion requires an equal if not greater sacrifice. That notion of “What do you want to be when you grow up” is not coupled with ok, you can do it, but it’s going to be hard. Mom doesn’t say, “Gee little Sammy that’s great so when you fall in love and get married make sure you can integrate all of your passion and dreams into your marriage.” That would have been the best advice anyone could have given me. Instead I plunged headlong into a decision before I had the courage to really declare my dreams, AND the ramifications of those dreams. So the where do we go from here? Like other people have said, we make up the rules. Each game has a unique set.

Well said! And of that making up the rules idea, Lauren had this to say, in response to Perfection, A Zero-Love Game:

I wonder if part of our problem is that we struggle to find a single “self” in order to satisfy a cultural need to justify our relevance, when in actuality, we are wonderful because we are each a combination of so many “selves.” To be one “self” requires a sort of museum-like static perfection that may work for Barbie, but how can it work for the rest of us? I think I sort myself out one day, the next day something happens that challenges the new myth I created (and accepted) the day before. And so on… Are we treating our lives too much like advertising campaigns, wherein a product’s purpose must be clearly defined (or, at least extremely seductive) to be accepted and desired by the public? I’m not suggesting we propagate the Wonder Woman image of being many things at once, but perhaps we need to cut our “selves” some slack and let the French pastry chef inside each of us live harmoniously with the Nobel-prize winning author we dream of becoming. Maybe if we take the pressure off ourselves to Become, we might find that we actually Are. Is a great piece of music any less so because we don’t know its name or how to classify it?

The pleasures and perils of the comfort zone got you thinking, too. In response to Highway to the Danger Zone, Alison wrote:

A cautionary tale: I have a friend (it’s not me, really) who planned to live and work abroad after we graduated from college. That summer she packed up her stuff and flew to Ireland, where she was supposed to live and work for four months. She had difficult travels and there was some confusion about her living arrangements when she arrived. It was also raining and she was homesick. She was vegetarian and there were no veggie meals to be found. It was the perfect storm of miserable event after miserable event. By the end of her first day she had decided to come back to the states and scrap her plan. All these years later, leaving Ireland after one day remains one of her biggest regrets. Since then she has done many other adventurous things–including packing up and moving to New York for three years. But she’ll always wonder, with regret, what it would have been like to stay and give it a real chance.

That piece struck a chord with Libby, too, who said:

Now this is something I’m all too familiar with myself. Finding myself in expensive New York in a job that brings me very little satisfaction or challenge. In an effort to take control of my own life and decisions, I’ve decided to go back to school next year. Question is: Where? Do I return to my family in Missouri for school and risk never leaving? Or do I make the somewhat ‘reckless’ decision of taking on a load of debt in exchange for my independence? It would be so easy to go back to MO, wouldn’t it? Why is it that ‘comfort’ always seems to go hand-in-hand with the ‘right,’ ‘logical,’ or ‘responsible’ decision? is it possible to be any of the latter three without relegating yourself to the comfort zone?

And what about factoring other people out of our decisions? Nutella identified with Deciding for Yourself:

I just went through this about 6 months ago myself. I felt such loyalty to my employer, but was frustrated in some ways about the lack of opportunity I had to accept by staying with that employer. I was told that in order to receive a significant raise I would need to go find another job offer, and that the company would then counter that offer (not the best system, in my opinion). So I did… and the new job offer that I’d found ended up being more enticing than I’d anticipated. I knew I should’ve felt empowered, happy, and proud, but instead I felt guilty and anxious. Guilty for having options in the midst of a terrible recession and for thinking about leaving my manager and co-workers. Anxious about which decision was “right” and “wrong,” and how selecting one job over the other would impact my career when I have a child (which I hope to do soon).

I decided to take the new job, and I continued to have feelings of anxiety, guilt, and doubt throughout my first several months here. What I’ve realized, finally, is that such feelings are pointless, energy-draining, and damaging. There was no “right” or “wrong” choice–both options were imperfect. Obsessing and trying to make the perfect choice that would lead to the perfect life later on is impossible. And I have a feeling that my old workplace has gotten along just fine without me, despite my fears that they now hate me for leaving. So silly, I know, but somehow deeply ingrained…

Lotta offered some good insight:

When I read this–and detach myself from the actual issue, which I absolutely can relate to–it strikes me how it’s really a question of boundaries. I think you are absolutely right when you say that it becomes comforting to be easy-going. It’s a role women practice to perfection, right? And then it becomes a habit that is hard to break. But, the thing is that whenever we assert ourselves, or make a decision that “hurts” someone else, guess what? They get over it. Maybe they don’t even care all that much to start with. We think that we are all involved with other people, or that our decisions affect them, but maybe what we need to realize is that we are independent beings.

Labeling, judgment, and Us vs. Them. Again. Still inspired this response from PunditMom:

This is a great piece and you ask such a great question. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed that we can leave those shards of glass on the ground and help each other through the ceiling.

And then, there is the Big Kahuna, this week’s dissection of That Study. You know the one. Of Women’s Declining Happiness: The Paradox that Isn’t, Becky wrote:

I love this post. I think we are due for a revolution, and I think it is already underway. Successful women are finding happiness by finally letting go of perfect. Hollee and I have encountered dozens and dozens of successful women who have spent years grappling with the high expectations–but are finally pushing past them to take the great leaps of faith necessary to CHOOSE the path that best fits. It takes guts, but that’s what choice is really all about, right? Choosing? As opposed to Having It All (and Doing It All), as so many of us were raised to believe we must. Funny thing is, there are a million ways to choose. It doesn’t have to be a stark choice between working and staying home… It can be choosing to be a great mom and great worker, but accepting realistic expectations. It can mean choosing to focus on the things we do best–and saying no to all the things we do only because we feel we “should.” Women of our generation need to know: It is OK to Have Enough (instead of Having It All)–and it is OK to be less than perfect.

Shirley got fired up by that one, too:

I think we are due for an “evolution”; we need to evolve from human beings focused on material and physical acquisitions to ones who tend to and nurture our inner core, our spirit, our being… an evolution of our spirits. This should be led by women. It’s time!

To that end, Barbara’s post On Food, Feminism–and dreams of a Fourth Wave got a lot of you inspired. From Allison:

Very inspiring post! Yes to the fourth wave!

And from Katie:

Onto the fourth wave!

Onward, indeed. See you next week!

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Hold the hankies, girls. Here comes the heresy. To wit, maybe we’re actually a lot happier than Marcus Buckingham et al think we are.

It’s not that anyone disputes the data. Clearly, the numbers are all there, and they show that quantitatively, women rate themselves lower on the happiness scale than they did back in the seventies.

But amidst all this media blowback, I can’t help wondering: are we once again being sold a bill of goods? Are we maybe defining happiness a little narrowly? Confusing unhappiness with stress? And is all this talk about the happiness gap some sort of subtle ploy to convince us that, really, we were better off when we stuck to the kitchen? That there’s no path like the safe path?

Before the “woe is me” goes viral, maybe we’d be better off wondering why.

Because here’s the thing. The more our opportunities, our choices, our expectations grow — the more our lives expand, the more we juggle. And of course we’re angsty. We have more demands on our time and our abilities, both personally and professionally. More responsibilities. More relationships. We reach outside ourselves, we stretch, we put ourselves out there in a way that means others are going to judge us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or a social scientist — to note that of course we would feel pulled, stretched and stressed. But see, here comes the heresy. I don’t think that is necessarily how you measure happy. Sure, you work all day. Then you come home and wrangle all the stuff of real life — dinner, laundry, kids, bills, you name it — and maybe work some more before bed. Tired, yeah. Stressed, maybe. Pissed off, quite possibly. But truly unhappy? Depends on how you define it.

Or how you parse it out. Check out this smart counterpoint on HuffPo by Morra Aarons-Mele and Ellen Galinski, who offer some good data to suggest that men, too, might have some of this unhappiness action as well.

As Shannon wrote on Sunday:

... by focusing on self-reported, empirical measurements of happiness, are we conveniently missing the harder point, making what is, at its core, a societal issue personal instead? Is this issue of happiness just a smokescreen, to keep the discussion light and distract us from what lies beneath: that, despite all the strides we’ve made towards equality, we are simply not there yet?

Feministe blogger Jillian Hewitt seems to get it:

… Perhaps there’s something to be said for the fact that with greater opportunities, higher standards of living, etc. come more opportunities for problems… Maybe we just need to face up to the fact that there are simply more things to be unhappy about. But even if we are more unhappy, I would argue that we still have reason to feel more fulfilled. Even if we fail—fail to get into the school we want, fail to get the job we want, fail to find the man or woman of our dreams—we can still be grateful that we had the opportunity to do so.

….The final point I want to make is actually drawn off of a quote used by Gracie earlier in the week. She quotes Betsey Stevenson, who explains that “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children…Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.” And I think the same logic applies in light of this situation, too: maybe it’s true that our “greater educational, political, and employment opportunities” have made us less happy. But those opportunities aren’t ones that I’m willing to give back.

Nor should any of us. If we’re truly in a funk because life has dealt us more opportunity, maybe it’s not the choices themselves that have made us unhappy. But rather, the fact that we haven’t quite mastered the art of dealing with them.

And then there’s this. Despite all those new sources of stress out there — job, grad school, the kids and the dog, the blog (oops, did I type that out loud?) — on balance, isn’t the satisfaction and fullfillment we get out of any or all worth a dose of angst now and then?

I don’t call that unhappy. I call it growing pains.

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There’s a movement afoot in Manhattan, according to NYT reporter Allen Salkin, in his recent piece “Seeing Yourself in Their Light”…and those feet doing the moving? They’re more likely to be bare than stiletto-clad.

The article (which, not incidentally, appeared in the Style section) chronicles women in their late 20s to late 30s who’ve ditched the late-night-havin, vodka-swillin, label-lustin life in the fast lane in favor of something else. There’s former PR gal-on-the-town Gabrielle Bernstein; now she’s leading classes in her apartment as a “spiritual life-coach.” There’s former actress Kris Carr, who, one month after appearing in two beer commercials that aired during the 2003 Super Bowl, learned she had cancer, and took the opportunity to get deep, chronicling her experience in the documentary “Crazy Sexy Cancer,” and following it up with a couple of books and a Web site. There are many others like them, and their offerings are being devoured by a slew of young women for whom, Salkin suggests, books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s wildly popular “Eat, Pray, Love” resonated. Of the phenomenon, Salkin writes:

The new wave offered up a few playful names for themselves–“the Charlie’s Angels of Wellness,” “Spiritual Cowgirls,” and “Spiritual Superheroines.” It’s clear they are proffering guidance at a time when urban woman like themselves are eager for it. Thomas Amelio, managing director of the New York Open Center, which has offered classes on self-transformation for 25 years, said that he has noticed far more women in their early and mid-20s signing up for classes on meditation, shamanism, and Ayurvedic healing than ever before. Many started with yoga but have moved on. “They are looking for something that is functional and practical that makes life easier to deal with,” he said.

The piece continues with lots of certified life coaches and otherwise-confirmed experts, weighing in on whether untrained (ahem, 29 year-old) “life coaches” are a good or a bad thing. But to me, that’s kinda beside the point. What I took away from the piece is that, clearly, young women are looking for help.

And while I have no problem with self-empowerment, it strikes me, perhaps given Barbara’s and my posts of earlier this week, that there’s something bigger, something less about the self, something more collective going on. You’ve read the study: Women’s happiness is on the decline. So it makes sense that, as a whole, we’re hungry. We’re in a state of transition, aching from the growing pains. And while the transition is collective, each one of us feels the growing pains acutely, individually.

And so it’s logical that so many of us are seeking… And what is a guru, self-proclaimed or otherwise, if not a guide? After all, wandering through uncharted territory is scary. There’s no Life GPS (er, or is there? Technology is moving awfully fast these days). With all the choices, all the paths laid out before us, I think it’s just about impossible not to find yourself wondering, Am I going the right way? Am I making the right decisions to get me there?

Life is hard, crazy sexy hard, and if someone claims they can show us the way, well that’s something we are inclined to get behind. Even if it means we have to leave our Jimmy Choos at the door.

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