Archive for July, 2010

Back when Harvard Business School’s class of 2010 started grad school, those best-and-brightest had no reason to expect that their high-flying dreams might crash along with a tanking economy.   Which may be why they asked HBS buisness administration professor Clay Christensen to deliver a commencement address that focused on his strategies for measuring a life.  Not in terms of business success, but regarding their personal lives.  His point?  Find meaning in your life. All else follows.

Thanks to a friend of a friend’s (and probably his friend’s) Facebook feed, you can read the full-text of his talk here.  Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

My class at HBS is structured to help my students understand what good management theory is and how it is built. To that backbone I attach different models or theories that help students think about the various dimensions of a general manager’s job in stimulating innovation and growth. In each session we look at one company through the lenses of those theories—using them to explain how the company got into its situation and to examine what managerial actions will yield the needed results.

On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.

He goes on to enumerate his strats for success, applying five business principles to life itself.   They are:

Create a strategy for your life:

I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces.

Allocate your resources:

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.

Create a culture:

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

Avoid the marginal costs mistakes:

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up Remember the importance of humility;

Choose the right yardstick:

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

Finally, when you click on the full text of his remarks, which were published in the Harvard Business Review Magazine, you’ll find some comments, probably from alums, who are presumably smart folks who have stayed out of jail.  I especially liked this one comment on purpose from someone I never heard of but probably should have:

I’m sure that people who can find a purpose for their lives early in their careers might be happy but I’m not convinced that it is all that easy to do. It sounds like trying to decide whether you like a certain kind of food before you have tasted it. I think one’s purpose is something that has to be discovered over time, through experience. I find that regular reflection over many years increases my self awareness and my sense of purpose but I don’t believe it is something I could have decided in my university days. Also, I think it is possible for one’s purpose to evolve and change over time. I think that the best we can do is to expose ourselves to multiple experiences and reflect regularly on what they mean for our purpose.

Which, in a way, reiterates much of what we’ve talked about in this space.  Finding purpose:  it’s trial, it’s error, it’s being willing to take a risk.  And — checking back on that humility business — being willing to make a mistake.  And learn from it.

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There’s a 13 year-old pitching prodigy ruling the ranks of Florida’s Little Leagues, who’s been known to send opponents back to the dugout in tears. And this pitcher is a she, and the only girl on the team.

Her name is Chelsea Baker, and her stats are impressive: on the mound, she boasts a 65-mph fastball, as well as a knuckle curve she learned from MLB knuckleballer Joe Niekro. She hasn’t lost a game in four seasons, and has pitched two perfect games–one of them, an all-star game.

A Google alert directed me to the feel-good story on Good Morning America‘s website, which included clips of her mom, who recalled looking forward to having a daughter she could dress up and put in pageants, her dad, whose pride is pretty much written all over his face, and one boy she’d just struck out, who, when asked if it’s worse being struck out by a girl than by a boy said with a shrug: “Some people might make fun of me, but I can deal with it.”

Warm fuzzies all around, right?

Fraid not. Here’s a quote from Chelsea:

Some of the challenges playing with all boys is getting all of the negative comments that people say. Most of the negative comments come from the parents–you ain’t ever gonna be able to stay with the boys, you should switch to softball and stuff like that.

Most of the negative comments come from the parents??

She doesn’t seem deterred, but I kind of had to wonder. What happens to us as we grow up? Is physical growth correlated with a shrinking of the imagination? Do we become so ensconced in The Way Things Are that we give up on imagining The Way Things Could Be? Does exposure to one too many naysayers mute our natural, yay-saying self?

Chelsea’s is an unusual example (not least because the knuckleball is something so few have mastered), but it points to more universal questions–especially for women. In the piece, she sounded so confident, so sure of herself, so unconcerned with what other people think, so full of belief in her potential to do nothing less than change the world.

[When] people say negative things about me, it just makes me want to try harder. I think I’m breaking barriers. I’m doing a new thing that not many people have done. I really want to prove people wrong because it will probably change your world.

How many of us hit those tricky, teenage years just as confident as Chelsea, dreaming just as big, as unconcerned with what other people thought as we were with whatever real world obstacles might be lying in wait? And then, what happens? Maybe, deep down, we really do change, decide we want different things, lose interest in what we were once most passionate about. And there’s obviously no doubt that we all need to put food on the table, and would probably prefer to have at least some measure of social acceptance. But at the same time, how often do we let our dreams go, because we’ve gotten the message that they’re just a little too wild, a little too far out of reach, a little too… big? And where might we be if we’d decided to chase them?

Of course, life offers no guarantees. And it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll find ourselves facing a curve ball or two along the way. But the thing is, if we’re taking our swings from a foundation of who we really, truly are, well we might just have a better shot of, you know, hitting it out of the park. Unless Chelsea’s pitching.


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So we’re going to put two and two together here, draw on some other stuff, come up with five.  Or maybe three.  Who knows.  It’s all about the math.  Or maybe not.  But it’s important.    There’s even a treat at the end.


Last week, the San Jose Mercury — located as it is in the heart of Silicon Valley — had a front page biz story on the lack of the XX chromosome in the tech field.  Specifically, when it comes to  being an entrepreneur.  Reporter Scott Duke Harris starts by recalling meeting Jessica Mah, a 17 year old whiz-girl at a TechCrunch gathering three years ago.  When she was 13, she had started a Web-hosting service.  (Hello, I’m not ever sure what that means.)  Now she’s 20, and she has a degree in computer science from UC-Berkeley, has funding from a start-up incubator, and is co founder of a Web-based money management service for small businesses.  And what she tells Harris is that despite the fact that her business is doing well, she wonders whether she is a good entrepreneur — or she is benefiting from a good market.   WTF.  She’s 20 years old.  About the same age as that other kid was when he started Facebook.

Let’s read what Harris has to say:

Today, I have another notion about my initial skepticism: Gender profiling. If this had been a geek named Jesse, not Jessica, maybe I’d be wondering if this kid might be the next Zuckerberg, instead of wondering whether to take him seriously.

With former Silicon Valley CEOs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina now running self-financed campaigns for higher office and Carol Bartz leading Yahoo, there is less talk today about the “glass ceiling.” But they prospered on the executive track, not as entrepreneurs. While dozens of valley startups have been launched by women — Judy Estrin, Kim Polese and Caterina Fake come to mind — hundreds have been launched by men.

Consider Y Combinator: Since its startup “boot camp” began in 2005, providing techies with shoestring budgets and a collaborative environment, about 450 people have been accepted to the program. The number of women: 14, including Mah and three others in the current class.

It’s tempting to think the Y in Y Combinator has something to do with the Y chromosome. But the name actually derives from a calculus term familiar to geeks. And geeks, it seems, disproportionately happen to have the male XY chromosome, not the female XX. The question is: Why?

Well, I’d beg to differ about what he says about the glass ceiling, and, okay, I don’t like either Whitman or Fiorina, but that’s beside the point. (And if you’ve been living under a rock, Zuckerberg is the kid who started Facebook)  So first, I’m pissed.  But then I wonder, too:  nature or nurture, as Harris asks.  Former Harvard president Larry Summers implied it might be nature — and lost his job because of it (though he landed on his feet in the Obama administration.) And we have suggested here that maybe it has to do with women just not being welcome at the party.

Recently, we interviewed Stanford economist Myra Strober, founder of Stanford’s  Center for Research on Women back in 1972, for our book.  We were talking about the strides women have made since the days when she started her career and became a pretty big name in women’s rights — and where we still need to go.  The first thing she said was that the pay gap had to go.  She’s an economist, after all.

Second, though, and actually related to her first point, was this:  “Opening up and making science and engineering more interesting for women so that they go into those careers is very important.  I think you teach it in a different way.  First of all, some of these science courses are taught so competitively because they’re trying to winnow out which people are going to get good grades in medical school.  Of course, women have gone into medicine.  But I think science other than medicine, I think women are poorly represented in those fields.  And I think it behooves those fields to figure out how to make those courses more appealing to women.  And the workplace, too.”

No kidding.  But back to Harris, who at this point in his story, is interviewing Adora Cheung, the 26-year-old founder of another tech start-up:

Cheung suggested that it may be a matter of social expectations: When math gets tough, girls are often told that’s OK and try something else, but boys are encouraged to work harder.

Cheung said she was pleasantly surprised to find three other women in her Y Combinator class. Contagion Health co-founder Jen McCabe, who has scant computing skills, teamed with an engineer on their startup, designed to use social networks to promote healthy living. The notion that Y Combinator discriminates, McCabe said, is preposterous: “I’m actually surprised more women don’t do this.”

And after talking to the women of Y Combinator — and thinking about my young daughter and her brothers — I’m thinking that Cheung is on to something. Maybe the paucity of female tech entrepreneurs has something to do with what has been called the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Ya think?  And now, I’m kinda bummed  that I never stuck it out as a math major.  Not that I necessarily wanted to go into that field as a career.  But it would have given me some street cred to call out the likes of Larry Summers.

On the other hand — and here’s the toy in the Crackerjacks box — I never would have related to the Mad Men job interview.  Apparently, I’d make a good Accounts Manager.

And you?

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This week’s Newsweek poses the interesting question: Is your booty in your beauty? That is to say, do pretty people make more money (short answer: yes), and if so, should women, to quote Ru Paul, work it at work?

An interesting debate, to be sure. Not least given feminism’s real–and imagined–history of trashing (and burning–that’d be the imagined part) their high heels, girdles, and bras in the name of freedom from a sexist culture. In one of the articles, “She Stoops to Conquer,” Jessica Bennett wonders if “real feminists use their looks to get ahead,” and launches the piece with a reference to the so-called “Bo-Tax”–an addition to the health care bill which would have (if passed, which it wasn’t) levied a tax on “injectables” and other elective cosmetic procedures, and the counterintuitive resistance to the Bo-Tax from no less than Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, who, by way of explanation for her position, said:

“[Women] have to find work… and the fact is, we live in a society that punishes women for getting older.”

You might expect the National Organization for Women to have better things to do. You might expect them to look down upon things like injecting one’s face with a known toxin. But no. And you know, she has a point. Here’s a bit from Bennett:

Women may have surpassed men as the majority of American workers, but they’re no less slaves to the beauty standards of the day than they were during the Mad Men era. So while feminists of the past may have blasted plastic surgery as shallow, today even Gloria Steinem has admitted to an eye lift. Of course, buying into the belief that we must keep up with the Joneses brings with it a double bind: at work, women can be too attractive, and whether it’s by natural or artificial means, studies show they are faced with resentment, envy, often viewed as less intelligent or vain. In a corporate hierarchy still largely dominated by men, this is all the more exaggerated: women who reject the idea that they must plump and pull to get ahead resent the women who accept it; those women then resent those who don’t need surgical enhancement. And many women who indeed benefit from looking good face their own cycle of self-doubt: Did I really deserve that raise/promotion/recognition, or did he just like the way my legs look in that skirt? Is that what the rest of the office assumes? It’s insecurity at its worst, but it’s surely not for nothing: as one male Newsweek reader told my female colleagues and me, after reading our story on sexism: “No matter how much I respect my female co-workers, I eventually think about putting my hands on their chest.”

It’s hard to eradicate sexism; but in the face of it, maybe there really is a case to be made for using what we’ve got. That’s not to say we should tear off our tops in the name of “empowerment,” or bat our eyelashes at every middle-aged male manager who hovers over our cubicle… But making an effort to look good, because we know it helps us out professionally, and, well, maintaining that look, shouldn’t necessarily be shunned, nor should we be plagued by personal guilt. This is a conscious decision–and in an age where looks matter more than ever, it can be an economic one. Look at it this way: if you’re doing your job, who cares if your boss wants to promote you because he thinks you’re pretty? So what if you invest in a round of Botox because you believe–like 13 percent of women, and 10 percent of men–that it will help you in the long run?

Well, sure, so what? If you got it, flaunt it (and if you don’t anymore, umm, fill it?)–we are, after all, still paid only 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and there’s fewer of us at the tops of the ranks, so we might as well. By any means necessary, right? After all, a pretty woman earns a reported 4% more–and gets more attention from her boss–than her Ugly Betty counterpart. And then, there’s this: I think it’s safe to say that many of us prefer to look well-rested and perky than like we’ve been run over by a truck, so while the numbers show that pretty people do get ahead, getting ahead is likely not our only motivation. If we’re honest, I’m sure we’d all confess that a certain measure of our desire to look our best has to do as much with turning heads–not least the one who’s looking back at us from the mirror. And hey, what’s the matter with a little vanity? More power to us! But the one thing I do wonder about is this: Do you think your male coworkers ever worry about this stuff?


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And so now the Mail Online tells us that the newest chick at the checkout line is the feminist housewife.  More precisely,  she’s a young, well-educated Britster who has decided to throw career to the wayside and instead stay home and bake cakes.

Haven’t we heard this one before, at least on our side of the pond?

The American version was called the “opt-out revolution” and it featured similarly educated women, most with high-flying careers, who likewise decided to trade workplace for housework.  Except of course, that it wasn’t exactly true.  As census data — and many analysts, news stories and blogs, including ours — suggested a few months back, the only women who truly made the trade were either:  lower income women who, given both their job skills and the high cost of day care, were never really able to opt in; and upper income women, ably supported by spouses with killer jobs.

Without rehashing what we wrote back in October, the Cliff Notes version is this: For the vast, vast majority of women, the choice was not — make that is not, especially in recessionary times — an option.  What the dust up pointed to, in fact, was the need for structures to change to accommodate families.  Not just Mom.

And yet the trend story crops up once again, this time adorned with a photo of a giddy mom in flowered frock, with a cherubic toddler in one hand, and a pink feather duster in the other.  Let’s read:

The last time Ellen Fletcher saw her university friends they were graduating from one of London’s top colleges with the world at their feet.

Four years on, they all boast high-flying careers as City executives – all except Ellen. And when she reveals how she’s chosen to spend the intervening years to them, their jaws drop.

‘They couldn’t believe it when I told them I have chosen to be a full-time mother,’ says the 27-year-old, who lives in South-West London with her husband Richard, 30, a teacher, and her children George, four, and Verity, two.

‘I could tell from their reaction that they couldn’t help assuming I must be bored stiff  –  but that is simply just not the case.

Of course, there are days when I am untying my pinny, my hands covered in flour from baking a cake, when I think of all the glamorous things I could be doing with my life.

‘But then, when I see the look on my children’s faces as they hand me drawings or I read them a story, I know that what I am doing is just so worthwhile.’

And Ellen is not alone in holding what many women might perceive as an antiquated view  –  a growing number of young, well-educated British women are striking back at the have-it-all generation and choosing motherhood over careers.

After decades during which the number of women who work has steadily increased, it appears the tide is turning back to a more traditional family model.

Really?  There aren’t many real numbers to back up the claim (in fact, there’s again a lot of  “weasel words”  like many and more).  Nor does the story address what it takes in terms of money to live on one income.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against housewives.  My mother was one — and damn good at it, I might add.  And there have been days when I have wanted to either be one or have one, for that matter — more days than I can count, in fact, when untying my pinny or washing the cake flour off my hands sounds like nothing less than pure bliss.  But still: what I really wonder now is why this new breed of housewife is dubbed “feminist.”  (Or why, in fact, these moms seem to be in such sharp contrast to those portrayed in the latest New York Magazine cover story, appropriately entitled: “Why Parents Hate Parenting: All Joy and No Fun”)
The story goes on to quote Jill Kirby, director of the Westminster think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.  She describes this new take on the work/life balance as ‘maternal feminism’.  Again, really?

She explains: ‘Feminism shouldn’t be defined purely in terms of the work place. I think a very important part of choice for women is the ability to devote time to children and motherhood, too.

‘ Women who are choosing motherhood early and saving their careers for later are becoming mothers at a time of peak fertility and also the time when they have the energy and the enthusiasm to enjoy their children.

‘Women that choose motherhood early, saving their careers for later, have the energy and the enthusiasm to enjoy their children’

‘Children have really lost out by being parcelled up into day care. Surveys show that young children thrive through getting one-to-one care from a loving adult.

Get that.  (But does a loving adult have to be a full-time mom?  What about dad?  But that’s another post.) And part of what feminism is/was all about is allowing women to make their own choices, rather than having choices made for them.   And yet.  Something about this rankles.  The feature duster.  The flowered dresses.  The smugness of it all.
Sure you can be a feminist and a housewife.   And of course you can be a feminist and a mom.  And hell yeah, trying to combine work and family — and succeed at both, given the lack of supportive structures and policy — can drive Wonderwoman to the nearest bar.   But I have to wonder: would a feminist really see herself in terms of Donna Reed?  In 2010?
What’s going on here?  Do I smell backlash?  I just can’t figure out why.
But maybe it’s this: another version of the “extreme homemakers” and their chicken coops, wherein women have  to frame raising children or chickens as feminist– AND DO IT PERFECTLY– in order to legitimize their choice and/or assuage their ambivalence over choosing it.  Rather than just arguing: this is what I’m doing, and screw you if you don’t think it’s okay, because, you know, what you think doesn’t really matter to me.
Now that would be a trend worth writing about.

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Want to get a job? Change jobs? Get married? Get divorced? Have a baby? Lose the baby weight? Organize your closet? Come out of the closet? Streamline your life? Whatever it is that you’re after, in all likelihood–according to a piece that ran in the L.A. Times this weekend–there’s a coach for that.

Writer Mary MacVean cites everything from “the urge to do things perfectly… and the fear that we’re not up to the task” to the idea that we’re living in “an evolved and specialized world” and the fact that this modern world has many of us isolated from extended family that might have been nearby and available to help out with some of these conundrums as explanations for the coaching phenomenon. All of which make sense. But I, naturally, was particularly struck by this:

A world that can seem like it’s changing before our eyes also can fuel desire for a coach.

A couple of generations ago, most people made three or four important decisions that guided their lives… Today’s complex world requires decisions all the time: Should I move? Where? Is it time for me to change jobs? What’s the best way to invest for retirement? Will my child thrive in school? All these questions put people in unfamiliar territory…

[Evan Marc] Katz [a dating coach in Los Angeles] sees a paradox of choice that leaves many people frustrated. “In today’s society there are more choices, but nobody’s happier,” he said. Too many choices often lead to discontent, he said.

Well, we’ve certainly covered that. But I think it’s so interesting that, again, there’s a connection that comes up between perfection and too many choices. How the more choices there are, the more we feel that surely, one of those options must be the perfect one for us–and it’s our job to find it.

And then, when you couple that with “the more specialized world” she mentions–well, no wonder we want to enlist a professional every time we want to do anything. Say you want to do something relatively manageable, like organize your closet. But, you know, if you’re going to take the time to do it, you want to do it right. So, you do what any modern-day human with Internet access does, and consult the modern-day oracle (read: Google.) That’ll surely point you in the proper direction, right? Well, yeah–I’m sure that somewhere among the 685,000 results is the one that’s perfect for you.

Who wouldn’t throw up her hands and, rather than taking the time to sift through all those options (and watch as her entire wardrobe becomes outdated, thus cleverly negating the need for any organization at all), opt to enlist a pro? (Of course, if you go looking for a “closet organizing coach” on Google, you’ll have 423,000 virtual contenders vying for your business.)

It actually reminds me of something that happened back when I was in college. I was hiking with my (ahem, batshit-crazy, musician) boyfriend (we’ve all been there… right?) and some of his friends. The trail narrowed and became kind of rough at one point, before devolving into rocky, bushwhack-requiring overgrowth with no discernible path to speak of. Crazypants was at the front of the group; I was at the back. One of his friends who was in front of me asked if I wanted to scoot by, to move up to the front of the pack. I said something along the lines of “No, I like to follow, because then I don’t have to think about where to step.” He thought this was hilarious, and when I digested what I’d actually said, I was kind of appalled. Who wants to declare herself a follower?

And yet. Every once in a while, it’s nice to blindly put your faith in someone else; to forfeit the controls; to let them figure out which rocks are stable enough to step on, which trail is actually THE trail, while you just sit back and enjoy the ride, turning your own brain off for a spell, and trusting someone else with all the analysis.

And that’s well and good. Sometimes. A coach, a guide, hell–even a map can do wonders, but first we have to know where it is we’re trying to go. What we want. And that’s something that can’t be outsourced. No matter how nuanced our world, no matter how many choices we face, doesn’t the truest satisfaction come from getting to know ourselves–and then doing things accordingly? It doesn’t lessen the number of options, of course, but, it seems to me that getting to know yourself is the quickest route to getting to know what you want–and that’s surely the first step to getting it. It might be a rocky road; there might even be some bushwhacking involved. But, by taking it, you’ll be way more likely to wind up where you want to be.


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So this past Christmas, Santa left me a little day-planner, filled with retro images of 1950s housewives and their gray-flannel mates, captioned with suitably snarky one-liners.  Today by chance I happened to flip to a page showing two smiling businessmen, wearing suits, ties and hats, and looking quite pleased with themselves.  The caption?

“Housework is a snap since I realized… “hey, I’m a guy!”

All of which brought to mind, first, Hanna Rosin’s piece in The Atlantic, entitled “The End of Men“, which we ourselves referenced here a couple weeks ago, and the media blowback, which I tend to think is right on the money.   Rosin suggests that because women do better in school, earn over half the college degrees, and are soaring into the professions, a matriarchy is precious minutes away.

Those of us who get the humor I mentioned above or who have ever wanted to, say, go on the professional golf tour (trust me, I’ll tie this all together in a bit) might beg to differ.   Let’s look at what The Nation’s Katha Pollitt has to say:

Don’t worry, gentlemen. “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin’s much discussed Atlantic cover story, isn’t really about the end of men. It’s about men’s declining economic ability to dominate women and various sociocultural consequences of that fact—but who’d read a piece with an unsensational message like that? Women are surging forward educationally, entering the professions and the burgeoning service fields in great numbers, having children on their own, putting up with less crap from boyfriends and husbands—we all know that. Men are taking less than half the BAs, have suffered from the decline of manufacturing and other traditionally male jobs, and have lost some of their domestic privileges and some of their cultural prestige—we all know that too. It may even be, as Rosin claims, that women are particularly well suited to the postindustrial economy, where brains, self-discipline, the ability to work well with others and verbal skills matter more than brawn and testosterone-fueled thrill-seeking. It takes a clever picker of statistical and anecdotal cherries, though, to make plausible Rosin’s claim that we are on the verge of becoming a matriarchy.

Pollitt then goes on to blow up Rosin’s rosy picture by, among other things, poking holes in the stats (Lies, damn lies, and statistics, remember?).  She notes, among other things, that, yeah, women may be getting more than half the college degrees, but men still dominate the high-paying fields.  There’s also, as we’ve mentioned in this space, time and again, the pay gap and the fact that women with kids are still hammered by discrimination at work and the second shift once they get home.

Pollit also takes issue with the zero-sum aspect of Rosin’s argument, and wonders: “why should it be that women can change but men cannot?”  And here’s where it all gets interesting:

Perhaps boys just haven’t had enough incentive. The old ways worked so well for so long, so much of life was rigged in men’s favor: all they had to do was show up. It can take a few generations for the new reality to sink in. Unfortunately, society at large isn’t doing much to help. American males are bathed from birth in pop culture that reveres the most childish, most retrograde, most narcissistic male fantasies, from misogynistic rap to moronic action movies. Where would they get the idea that they should put away the video game and do their homework? That social work or schoolteaching is a good life for a man? Girls get a ton of sexist messages, too. But even if they grow up hating their bodies and dressing like prostitutes, they know that if they don’t want to end up waitressing, they’ve got to hit the books and make a plan.

And yet.  Even if girls get it together and the boys do not, there’s still no reason to believe that a matriarchy is on its way, and one reason is the roots of the word itself.  Which is what brings us to golf.  The New York Times tells the tale of Cristie Kerr, currently ranked No. 1 on the LPGA tour, who is living proof that, as reporter Karen Crouse writes, “a woman’s athletic prime and her peak child-bearing years overlap like a total eclipse of the moon:”

For Kerr, the toughest course to plot a strategy for is motherhood.

“Some people get pregnant right away,” she said. “For some, it takes years. How do you know what’s going to happen? What if I couldn’t have kids and I need a surrogate? What if you wait until your late 30s and you can’t conceive?

“Are you going to be the natural mother? Are you going to adopt a baby? Are you going to have a surrogate?”

She and [her husband Erik] Stevens, a marketing consultant who is Kerr’s agent, routinely discuss those questions.

“Cristie earns $1 million a year on the golf course,”  Stevens said. “If she’s going to shut herself down for six months, what is that going to mean for the business? And the second part of it is, What’s going to happen after the pregnancy? What’s it going to do to her career? If Cristie wants to be involved in every aspect of parenthood, how will that absorb her time?”

Now, golf may be an extreme example, but still: Could you imagine this conversation if the genders were reversed?  I thought not.  Sometimes you have to think that no matter how well we do in school — or on the golf course — the only kind of matriarchy on the horizon for the foreseeable future is still the one where mom does the dishes.

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Last week I came across a fascinating piece at Salon.com… which, arguably, is made are all the more fascinating for its utter familiarity. The piece, by Rebecca Traister, is called “The new single womanhood: Young, urban and not necessarily looking for a man, a crop of memoirists are sketching out a brave new female world,” and, while it’s ostensibly a sort of genre-as-a-whole reading review, it feels like more of a mirror. Check it out:

Embedded in Crosley’s quirky yarns about travel, work and friendship is a fresh accounting of the mixture of exhilaration and ennui that marks many modern young women’s lives. In this, Crosley is a valuable contributor to what is becoming a new subset of the memoir genre; hers is the latest in a string of entries from professional young women anxious to reflect on the adventure of coming into their own on their own. Unlike the tales of trauma and addiction that studded the first wave of publishing’s autobiographical boom, Crosley and her compatriots are staking out stylistically understated but historically explosive territory by describing experiences that may not be especially unusual, but are unprecedented, because the kind of woman to whom they are happening is herself unprecedented. This crop of books is laying out what it feels like to be a young, professional, economically and sexually independent woman, unencumbered by children or excessive domestic responsibility, who earns, plays and worries her own way through her 20s and 30s, a stage of life that until very recently would have been unimaginable or scandalously radical, but which we now–miraculously–find somewhat ho-hum.

…The decade since [Meghan] Daum’s freshman entry has seen scads of books built along the same calm lines: telling what it’s like to be among the first generations of American women not expected to marry or reproduce in their early 20s, for whom advanced education and employment have not been politically freighted departures, but rather part of a charted path, and for whom romantic solitude is regarded as neither pitiable or revolutionary.

The literary records of this newly carved out period of female life approach it from different angles and vary in quality. But they serve as magnifying glasses for women eager to examine not only their navels but also the opportunities and anxieties presented to them as they embark on a road that sharply diverges from the one traveled by most of their mothers, and certainly by their grandmothers.

Sound familiar? The extended adolescence, the untraveled roads, the elusiveness of happiness, the lives lived featuring each and every one of us as the mistress of our own universe… and then, of course–wait for it dear reader–the choices.

As Helena Andrews has said about her memoir, and the women whose stories resonate with her own: “We got the undergrad degree, we’ve got the master’s degree, most of us, the great job, the closet we’ve always coveted, and we think that happiness should come immediately after that. And that’s not always the case… We know what we can do, which is anything. But we need to figure out what we want to do.”

That, too, is new. And that, too, is unremarkable, even in its newness, because that’s where history has landed us, and the one thing we all have in common is the time in which we’re living. And while we obviously don’t want to go backward, there are growing pains to be expected in the going forward. The freedom to do whatever we want without answering to anyone is both exhilarating and a little bit scary. We are in charge, we can do anything we want… and our work is to figure out exactly what that is.

It’s a tough job, but everybody’s gotta do it.


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What goes around,  you know, comes around.  That’s what came to mind yesterday when someone sent me a link to this post on College Candy wherein Charlsie, a new college grad, charts the difference between choosing a major and, sigh, choosing a life.  Let’s look:

Looking back, college didn’t require a lot of serious decision making – even though I thought it did. For the most part, I made decisions about frivolous things such as: Should I wear pajamas to class today? Should I stick to rum and Coke or go for the Jager bombs? Should I go out tonight or should I spend time working on that eleven-page term paper? I know at times these choices sure stressed me out, but looking back, they really didn’t matter the way post-grad decisions seem to.

First, it must be said: Call me old, but I’m more than a little flummoxed by anyone’s choice to opt for a Jager bomb.  But back to Charlsie.  Our new grad then lists the decisions that lie in front of her:  Where to live.  Where to work.  Grad school or law school.  Prep for the LSAT or sign on for the full-time job offer with the big bucks and benefitsand extra hours beyond the normal nine-to-five.

Can’t you just feel the angst?   All of which brought me back to this very time last year, give or take a day.  Almost one year ago when we launched our blog, the questions were the same as the ones that plague our Ms. Charlsie:  Door No. 1 versus door No. 2.  Risk or security.  Passion or Paycheck.  All of which echo our initial theme:  It’s great to have options.  But dealing with them can be a bitch.  As we wrote then:

… we’re out to explore why the generation of women who have more options than our mothers ever dreamed possible suffers from a terminal case of grass-is-greener syndrome, perpetually distracted by what we’re not doing. We’re stressed. Restless. Constantly second-guessing ourselves. Always wondering what we left behind Door Number Two. And we can’t figure out why.

It’s a sign of the times, with much of this unspoken angst revolving around the pressure to choose, something old-school feminists might never have predicted. So how do we get past it? A shift in perspective might be a good place to start. Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman may have said it best: “There is talk about too many pressures and too many choices, it’s as if the success of feminism was to blame, rather than its unfinished work.”

We’re up for getting on with the finishing, and we think the first step is to recognize our shared experience. So if this all sounds familiar, tell us about it.

Tell us about it, you did.  Here’s what we heard from Lauren:

I do, however, feel concern that I might be overlooking the one thing that is my “calling.” From orchestra conductor to herpetologist to cartographer to photographer to writer, I’ve wanted to do it all. I also know that I can, we all can.

And from Marisa:

My sister used to tease me that I was on the semester system in life because I was always moving and changing jobs. But really I was just worried that I was missing my “true calling” or not doing enough to fulfill my parents’ expectations after all that schooling. (Come to find out later that their only expectation was that I be happy.) Now I’m almost 40 and starting yet a new career (this one will be THE ONE . . . I hope). Looking back I can see how the choices and self-inflicted expectations led to a major paralysis in my mid-20′s…”

And Marjorie:

I majored in theatre in college, only to burn out on it and give it up after college. but now, every day, I think about that life, the performance life…and I wonder what I’m missing. What did I give up? Would I be happier if I had just stuck with it? Would I , could I be more fulfilled if I were doing it right now? Oy, it drives me mad and I keep hoping that maybe all of my going around about it will make me so nauseous I’ll actually get sick (of myself) and do something….

…All of these questions resonate with me. It’s so wonderful to have the plethora of options that we do…but I have no idea which way to go. Some of the stuff I have absolutely nailed down – I know what kind of clothes I like to wear; I know that I DON’T want to be a mathematician…

And Samantha:

The itching thought that runs though my conciousness 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 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 head long into a decision before I had the courage to really declare my dreams, AND the ramifications of those dreams.

The thoughtful comments from bright women rolled in throughout the year, all of which convince us that this analysis paralysis, this longing for the road not taken, the buyer’s remorse that plagues us all is, one year later, still real.  The solutions?  The first step is recognizing we’re in it together.

As for the forementioned Charlsie?  She blew off the job offer and opted instead to concentrate on studying for the LSAT and applying to law schools.  Good for her.  So long as she lays off the Jager bombs.


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