I’ve been making my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, and while I don’t agree with everything in the book, I think it contains a lot of messages women need to hear. Don’t sell yourself short. Actively take credit for your accomplishments. Look forward not backward. But there is one insight in her book that really resonated with me: that young women, even women who are unmarried or uncoupled, make career decisions based on families they don’t yet have.
Some years ago, a friend of mine left a corporate law firm where she was a top associate because she wanted to start paring back her workload in preparation for becoming a wife and mother. She had been dating her boyfriend for two years and at 31, she felt it was time to start re-prioritizing based on a husband and children she didn’t yet have. They broke up about a year later and she moved back to California to be the legal counsel for her family’s company. And while she did eventually marry and is now pregnant with her first child, it’s interesting that she made that decision long, long before her family became a reality.
Recently, I’ve found myself doing the same thing. I consider future career possibilities with an eye towards how long it would take me to get to my goal and where that would put me on the fertility calendar. ”Well, if I pursue this career, I’ll be 35 before it takes off, 38 before I get to where I need to be, and almost out of child-bearing years…great.”
While my romantic life has been on a back burner, on a different stove, in another apartment, in a different time zone for the past few years, that doesn’t mean that I don’t eventually want a husband and a family. And as the ever-increasing number of grey hairs on my left temple can attest, I’m not getting any younger.
While I think it’s prudent for career-focused women of any age who want to have children to keep that goal in mind, I wonder how we rewire our brains so that we stop limiting our career options in preparation for families we don’t yet have. I think it would be better to pursue our careers vigorously and then, if and when family planning becomes an imminent reality, recalibrate our lives in light of shifting priorities. It’s not easy to do since, as Sandberg points out, women are predisposed to see themselves as the primary caregiver, but it might be best to keep our eyes on the road in front of us and only adjust when necessary.
What do you ladies think: Do you find yourself thinking about your career in terms of a future family? Sandberg mentions that men don’t typically think about redirecting their careers to accommodate imaginary families, so why do you think so many women do?
And if you’re a career woman with a family, I would deeply appreciate some insight here. Did you delay or divert your career track in advance or adopt a ‘come what may’ attitude? Also, if you don’t mind sharing, how old were you when you started your family? Where were you in your career then vs. now? And how are you re-evaluating your goals in the face of raising a family?