So, last week, a couple of conversations got me thinking.
One, with C, an extremely preggo woman, divvying her time between readying her professional replacement and getting the other little duckies in a row (when she’s not taking maternity-modeling gigs) ahead of the impending wee one’s arrival, was talking about how she thinks she’ll come back to work… no, she’s pretty sure… no, she’s planning on it… but really, she kind of wants to stay home with the baby. Her husband makes enough money that she can do that, and has told her he’s totally cool with it… no, has encouraged her to do it… if that’s what she wants to do. Which, C said again, she kind of does. But, she said, she feels like she can’t. Like it’s somehow not acceptable for an educated, capable woman who’s been a professional for most of her adult life to opt out of the working world.
The other was with A, a frequent hiking partner of mine, who’d recently earned an advanced degree, but has yet to take her exams. She’s driven–graduated from college suma cum laude–and has always been an overachiever, working her way way way up at some household-name variety corporations. But when that calling of hers got loud enough, she gave it all up, and went back to school. Loved it. Like, LOOOOOVED it. But since that part ended, she’s been racking up her hours–and finding herself feeling less than enthused. Downright ambivalent, in fact. She took another gig recently, which has nothing to do with that degree of hers. She’s procrastinating the exams. And, on this particular hike, during this particular conversation, she declared: “Sometimes I think I should have just been a bookkeeper.”
And no, A’s degree is not in accounting. As a matter of fact, it’s the anti-accounting degree: psychology. She said she recently confessed this ambivalence over her next move to an acquaintance, who replied, Geez, don’t you feel like all that school was a waste?
Interesting, no? And it makes me wonder, is this something we all do, in certain ways? Whether doing what “any educated woman” would when our heart’s tugging us in a different direction, or achieving as much as we can, angling for those symbols of achievement, the markers of success, when we’d kill for an average 9-5 job we can leave at the office–one that promises a measurable degree of Yes, You’ve Accomplished Something Today, rather than the impressive and grueling one that offers approximately zilch in the way of checklist-measurable achievement.
A talked a bit about her husband’s gig during that conversation, too, pointing out how he just has a job that makes a lot of money. He doesn’t especially love it. But he likes it just fine. And that’s enough.
It all makes me wonder. Where does this pressure to perform come from? I have to say, my male friends don’t seem to struggle with these sorts of questions the way the women do. We were born to achieve, told we could do anything. Told how lucky we are that we can do anything. But it seems like, for many of us, whatever that “anything” is, we don’t quite feel like it’s enough. Maybe, because a man grows up knowing that his ultimate job is to provide, a paycheck is more easily enough. Maybe, because we grow up knowing we can do anything–and how lucky we are to be able to do anything, nothing ever feels like enough. Men don’t perceive it as a choice, but maybe, because we do, we always feel on the hook. Responsible.
I don’t know how either A or C’s futures will pan out. But I do know this. No matter how ambivalent she may be, A absolutely loved going to school–and that’s the furthest thing from a waste.