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Posts Tagged ‘Stanford University’

 Last week during all the memorializing of Apple founder/college dropout/cultural visionary Steve Jobs, I found myself watching the commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005 — and, in all that wisdom, one line in particular gave me the chills: Don’t Live Someone Else’s Life, he said. Actually, what he said was:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Living someone else’s life? Now, I (vaguely) recall being a fresh college grad, and I’m sure such words might have just made me chuckle then, but with a few additional years under my belt, I can say I know exactly what he’s talking about. I think most of us do, if we’re honest.

So often, we make choices based on shoulds, on expectations, biases, images, maybe even out of fear. Women in particular often find our decisions are colored by worries about being judged or getting approval, and we’re often battling some deeply entrenched beliefs around it somehow being virtuous to put ourselves last — at the bottom of our own list. Sometimes we just drift. But, with each choice we make, our life picks up a little bit of steam, until, sometimes, before we know it, we find the life we’re living is one that’s being driven by inertia, heading off in some direction we never planned.

As Molly, a young Manhattanite we profiled in the book, told us:

I did everything my boss asked, I did it perfectly, I sucked up. In six months, I got promoted. It was one of the fastest promotions they’d ever experienced. I tried really hard, and I moved to the next step; I tried really hard, and I moved to the next step. And now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, wait a minute, how did I get this far? I just blindly tried really hard without really thinking, What’s the end? Where is this getting me?

To quote the Talking Heads: Self, how did I get here? 

Sounds familiar, no? But maybe the more important question is this: How do I take back the wheel?

Well here’s the good news: You don’t have to take back anything! You’re not powerless. It was you who made the choices that got you to this point — this job, this relationship, this roommate, this pet chinchilla — and you are not powerless to make choices that’ll take you down a different path from here. Those are your hands on the wheel — they’ve been there all along.

Once you acknowledge you’re the one in control of those hands, your next step should be to take some time to notice where they’re steering you, your focus, your time, your energy? Because here’s the thing: everything is a choice — and every choice, by definition, entails a trade-off. Whether we go into it consciously or not.

Whether or not you consciously think to yourself: this time I’m spending baking cookies for the kids’ bake sale or agonizing over which color to use in the graph on Slide 4 in this PowerPoint is time I am not spending in the garden, or researching the yoga teacher training course I’ve been thinking about since I dropped my first “Om,” you’re still making the trade. You can’t be in two places at once. And the decisions you make about what to do with your time, where to focus your energy — well, they shape your life. So if you’re feeling like you’re living someone else’s life, start going into those choices consciously — really thinking about what you are and are not choosing to do. Once you do, you might discover you’re spending your time and energy on things (and maybe even people and jobs) that you don’t really care about, letting the things you’re most passionate about slip by the wayside, while you’re on cruise control.

It can be scary — maybe our passion seems weird, our dreams too far out of reach. Maybe you’ll fail. And maybe after that, you’ll try again. But wouldn’t you rather fail at your own dreams than succeed at someone else’s? And hey, failure’s recoverable — even Steve Jobs got fired.

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Had it to here with that old second shift? How about this for a solution: Workplace benefits packages that include housework — as well as healthcare?

That’s what two Stanford professors proposed in an article published this week in the current issue of Academe. They argue that one way for universities to keep more women in the labs is to find a way to get them out of the kitchen. To which the only possible response is:

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Clearly, it’s a workplace policy to consider beyond the confines of the ivory tower. But that’s as good a place as any to start. The authors of the study — Londa Shiebinger, Professory of History of Science and Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and Shannon Gilmartin, Clayman Institute analyst — looked at the work-life balance of dual-career academic couples at 13 U.S. research universities. What they found is that the scientists spent about 19 hours a week cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Women, rather than men, did the bulk of the work, a whopping 54 percent to 28 percent.

Here’s what they propose:

Our policy recommendation provides a solution to one key aspect of balancing work and life. We propose that institutions extend their current benefits program to support assistance with household labor. Few universities to date have looked at reforms related to housework. U.S. employers tend to provide specific benefits for health care, day care, and sometimes even housing and college tuition. We recommend that institutions offer instead a “cafeteria” or “flexstyle” benefits plan from which employees could tailor a package to meet their particular needs (retirement benefits should remain as they are now, fixed and not optional).

Employee needs can change over the course of a lifetime. Younger people, for example, may need assistance with household labor when salaries are low. Those who have children may choose to put resources into child care and later into college tuition. Some employees may need help with elder care. A flexible benefits package—providing a specific yearly dollar amount—could be used for any aspect of private life that saves employee time and hence enhances productivity. One appealing aspect of this benefit proposal is its inclusivity—one need not be partnered or have children to gain access to the full range of services under its umbrella.

To our knowledge, U.S. employers generally do not provide a benefit to assist with housework. Some non-U.S. companies, such as Sony Ericsson in Sweden, do. There, the company pays for housecleaning from select service providers. The Swedish government is currently experimenting with tax relief on domestic services, believing that, despite initial costs, Sweden will benefit in the long run by creating new jobs and reducing illegal employment and exploitation in services for cleaning, gardening, and cooking. In the United States, the effort to provide benefits for domestic labor revalues housework that has never been represented in the nation’s gross domestic product. Housework has been invisible labor carried out by women behind closed doors and often in the wee hours of the morning. This work needs to be lifted out of the private sphere of the family and put onto the national grid. The United States needs to capture the talents of its female scientific workforce for science.

It’s a policy that could, and should, be applied to all professions, not just science, Schiebinger said in an interview originally posted on Stanford Reports:

While the study is focused on improving the work-life balance of female scientists working at universities, Schiebinger says housework benefits should become a standard perk for men and women in all professions.

She says employers need to think of housework benefits as “part of the structural cost of doing business,” with the payoff being more productive employees able to spend more time in the lab, for instance, than doing household chores.

“It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources to be training people in science and then having them do laundry,” Schiebinger said in reference to Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University, who was doing laundry when she got the call in October that she won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

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