So Wednesday I had an interview with Kathryn Zox on VoiceAmerica and she asked me if I could think of a more positive word for “compromise.” And to be honest — well, it was early in the morning — I could not.
Can you? Thing is, life is all about the trade-offs. But “compromise”? It’s a dirty word.
We had been talking about the choices that women have to make when navigating the uncertain terrain that goes under the general heading of “you can have it all.” Killer career. Great family life. Making it all work. And all at the same time. It goes to the heart of what makes decisions so difficult for women in this new reality: opportunity cost. If you are doing A, by definition you can’t be doing B. Or at least, not well. And yet. We try. Because to be less than perfect at one or the other means we think we have failed.
Case in point: Kathryn spoke of taking the train up from New York one night not long ago, riding in business class, where though she tried to avoid listening, she was privy to a long cellphone conversation between a well-dressed business woman and her husband. And her little girl. And then her husband. And then her little girl. And on and on. The gist? Mommy was coming home from a business trip, but apparently felt obliged to be the one to put her little girl to bed. A bedtime story? Mommy loves you? Daddy, are you doing it right?
And there you have it. A good metaphor for trying to do it all, have it all. And all the pressure we put on ourselves, whether we have a family, whether we don’t, or whether we ever will.
We don’t like to talk about compromise because it implies that we have settled for something less than perfect. Or maybe, we’re uncomfortable with the word because we still haven’t figure out how to make our way through this uncharted territory. So maybe when we parse it all out, when we cast about for a more positive way to say “compromise,” the operative word is choice.
Or maybe the term is letting go. As Lori, one of the women in our book, told us, “Maybe it’s that society is telling us all that we have to be successful career women — but the world has forgotten to mention that if we want to do that, we can let go of worrying about our pound cake.”
And is that so bad? I call it compromise. You call it trade-off. We all call it growing pains.