Superwoman. What Are We Setting Ourselves Up For?

superwoman_by_kryptoniano-d5mbv8j My oldest son was home from college recently and I asked him about his social life. “Are there any girls that you like?” “Have you thought about dating?” “What about the girl you took to your date night event. It seemed like you had a lot in common?” The answer I received back may be typical of college students these days. He said that not many people at his school date and they like to all hang out together in big groups. None of his fraternity brothers his age are in a relationship. My son’s take on it is the women are not looking for a relationship. They are focused on having a career and a relationship would come down the road.  Then the kicker. He said, “It is different from when you went to school because these women are so career-oriented.”

Ok, so we all know that our kids think we are ancient. And that life was so different “back in the day.”  Time to set him straight. Yes, there were women who were looking to get married when I was in college and there probably are some today. I first attended a women’s college in Boston before transferring and it was all about having a career. We were taught the world was open to us and we could do or be anything we wanted to be.  I set high goals for myself and entered the Financial Services industry after college and climbed the corporate ladder for 15 years.

So, back to my conversation with my son. I told him that women were career oriented when I went to college. It was the 80’s not the stone age after all. What struck me about his comment was his perception that the world is so different for women today. His comment made me take pause. Are things really so different?

I told him that as much as I believe that women should have the same opportunities as men, I see many of the same obstacles I faced in my pursuit for a high powered career. Even though women feel more empowered each day to have a career and “take on the world”  if a woman decides to marry and have a family they will be faced with hard choices and balancing it all will be a challenge.

I had an idealistic view and was convinced I was going to do it all. Have a career, marriage, children and become a “Superwoman.” The truth is I did it all, for a while. And with two bouts with cancer thrown into the mix among other life challenges. What I wasn’t prepared for was the realization that I could do it all but in each area of my life, something was going to give. I couldn’t give all aspects of my life 100%. Just not enough time in the day or energy.  The bigger the job, the bigger the demands. Focus at work could mean less time to focus on my marriage or my children.

I looked at it all on paper and it made sense. I could do it. Just like any projects where I managed many balls in the air. Then I became a mother. Everything changed. The maternal instinct kicked in and I was feeling a sense of guilt I hadn’t expected. The emotional roller coaster of demands posed challenges. My career was really important, it defined me or so I thought. The struggle was making the best decision for all parties involved rather than focusing solely on myself. Maybe my son’s perceptions about how career oriented women were when I went to college is based on him not really remembering me working full-time. His memories of daycare are very positive and he was in elementary school when I left my job. He was unaware of all that went into my decision to leave and focus on raising my children and managing the household. Unfortunately, the profession I had chosen was not flexible and didn’t really allow me to work part-time hours.

It worries me that both women and men may be putting relationships off until the future. This college “hook-up” culture scares me. There was an interesting article in the NY Times in 2013 that discussed some of these issues and now my son’s experience seems to have some parallels. Here is the link to the article. Link

Dating and learning about how to give and take in a relationship is important and helps develop the tools necessary when couples do settle down to best navigate through life’s curveballs and the choices and compromises they will have to make. When they decide they are ready for a relationship will they just put a hold on their career- are the two mutually exclusive?

I certainly don’t have any answers and the subject is quite complicated and I am speaking from my own personal experience. Our conversation did get me thinking. What are your thoughts about the challenges young women face? How have things really changed and what will be different for women in the future?

About Shari

I am a two-time cancer survivor and patient advocate. Diagnosed as a young adult, at age 25 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had to quickly face the reality of life’s curveballs. My treatment offered a potential cure while at the same time, underestimated the long term side effects including a secondary cancer (breast cancer) nine years later. Shortly after my breast cancer treatment ended, my youthful, seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and passed a year later. I have lived the cancer experience as a patient and a family member/ caregiver and understand both sides. Life after treatment is often challenging emotionally and physically and there is a gap in providing needed support. I don’t consider cancer a gift as it is not something I would ever want to give to someone. Rather, I view cancer as an opportunity; one I received at an early point in my life to live intentionally, understanding how things can change at any moment. I live without regrets, fully understanding the gift and fragility of life.
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