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Posts Tagged ‘career choices’

So, the other day I rambled on about all the distractions that come with uber-connection. And, if we were to be honest, we would all admit that one of them has to do with cybershopping. Sigh. One of the clutters in the inbox comes in the form of seductive ads for shoes, dresses, “outerwear” (why can’t we just say coats?), you name it. All tantalizing us with pretty pictures of skinny models in clothes we may never wear, special online discounts, and real or imaginary deadlines.

Really, we have work we should be doing, but then there’s the seduction: Buy now! You too can be a fashionista! Free shipping! On sale for the next five minutes only!

And so you bite. (Or don’t. But wish you had.) And then that yellow dress flies into your mailbox and your credit card lives to regret it. If only you could have tried it on first. Trust me, I will get a little more substantive in a minute here. But first:

Just this week I came across a tech piece in the SF Chronicle about a bunch of new websites that use “augmented reality” (don’t ask) to allow you try on your online purchases out there in cyberspace. Basically, you can try out that cute little frock online — and maybe even mosey onto facebook to see what your friends think — before you plunk down the plastic. Genius? Maybe. Stay tuned for serious.

You have to wonder how great it would be if real life were like that, especially when we’re dealing with the big choice Q’s: What should I do with my life? Where will I fit? What would it be like to walk in those other shoes? Can I try before I commit?

Look to the big picture, and you realize that in unexpected ways, we all can — and do — try our callings on for size. Here’s just one hint. A 2002 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics drew a longitudinal picture of younger baby boomers (born between 1957 and 1964) showing that they held an average of about 10 different jobs between 18 and 36. Most studies show that younger workers are even more mobile.

For example, a Business Week article dating from this past summer, found that, for workers under 30:

Corporate commitment has dwindled, tenure has grown far shorter, and people switch jobs with much greater frequency. The average American changes jobs once every three years; those under the age of 30 change jobs once a year.

Trying jobs on for size? Not such a bad idea, when you think of it.

Here’s a hint, too, that maybe we’re trying on new roles at home as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the homefront reversals resulting from the economic downturn — some have begun calling it a “he-cession” — with women poised to become the majority of the workforce. What that has meant is that in many families, mom flies out the door with the briefcase while dad stays home with the kids. While the workplace parity has not resulted in economic parity — as we’ve reported here, here and here — there may be an unintended consequence:

Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who has written extensively about the history of marriage, says that the shift in spousal roles in some families could have a lasting impact. “The silver lining here may be that men now get a little more experience under their belt in terms of actually being the experts at home,” she said. “When the economy recovers, we may find a little boost towards men and women sharing these roles.”

Finally, there’s this. (Journalists tend to write in terms of threes. Old habits die hard) Examiner.com posted a column thursday in which Gen Y women gave thanks for all the ceilings that their strong female role models shattered for them, enabling them to try on the opportunities their mothers never had. As one 24-year-old woman wrote:

This year I am most thankful for the opportunity to have a career as a woman. Going back many generations, my family is full of strong and ambitious women, from my ancestor who came over during the potato famine to my grandmother who had a successful modeling career and raised a family. My mother was the first in her family to get a college degree. I feel thankful there is no longer any question that I could go to college and have a career. My parents pushed me to get an education and supported me as I moved away from home, which many women in my mom’s generation would not have really considered. Now the canvas of the world feels much more available for women.

Sure, you could spin a lot of this in terms of the half-empty glass. But I choose half-full. Yeah, choices — no matter what, no matter when — are tough. Angsty. And there’s still work to be done. Lots of it, in fact. But when you realize you’re not locked in, that life continues to evolve, maybe each individual choice — even a lousy one — doesn’t carry quite so much weight.

Meanwhile, back to that yellow dress. I confess. Mine. I was the victim of a 12 hour sale on Bluefly when I should have been doing something productive. But actually, after letting it sit in the mailing bag for several weeks, I realized it’s kinda cute after all. With those cool brown spiderweb tights that Shannon gave me last Christmas and my killer brown boots (yeah, I found those online, too), it might be just the ticket for Thanksgiving.

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Sure, men stress about career choices, too. But for women, relatively new to this world of work, there are some additional layers that may explain why so many of us are, well, undecided.

One of those layers has to do with time. An interactive chart — good for at least 15 minutes of playtime at your desk — from Sunday’s New York Times Business Section shows, graphically, what various groups of Americans are doing at any given time during the day. For example: at 6:00 p.m., 9 percent of women are at work, 16 percent are home doing chores, and 4 percent are taking care of family.

The chart is fun to play with, but what’s really interesting is the data behind it: the “American Time Use Survey” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What you find there is that working women still work a second shift after work — which may help explain why “what should I do with my life” can become such a loaded question: we’re welcome in the workforce, but we’re still expected to get it done at home.

For example, on an average day, 20 percent of men did housework — compared with 50 percent of women. As for cooking and cleaning up afterward: 38 percent of men versus 65 percent of women.

Meanwhile, in families with kids under 6, women spent 1.2 hours directly taking care of them — bathing, feeding, etc. Men spent 25 minutes.

Which brings up another layer of angst: many women are in a place where they have young children or have begun to think about starting a family. Suddenly, career choice becomes a matter of careful and excruciating calculation: Women raised to be masters of the universe –but still seeking the flexibility to raise their kids – are pulled in opposite directions: Meaningful career? Meaningful family life? Choices become crucial: how will we find that niche that will allow us to find satisfaction on both ends? What if we don’t? Maybe we came up expecting to achieve the male model of success; now we realize it’s impossible. Or we’re agonized and guilty because, with all this grand, amorphous opportunity, we find we don’t want that model of success anymore.

Or, maybe, the scrutiny. As Shannon pointed out, women in the workplace are often judged in ways that men are not.

Sunday’s New York Times raised this question on its opinion blog: Do Women Make Better Bosses? (Accompanied, of course, by a headshot of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly. But let’s not go there.) The question was posed in response to an interview with Carol Smith, the senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group, published last week, in which Smith said she thought women tended to be “better managers, better advisers, mentors and rational thinkers” as opposed to male bosses who “love to hear themselves talk.”

Several smart people chimed in, pro or con, some citing credible research. Well and good. But really, I couldn’t help wondering: Exactly why are we still having this conversation?

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