Somewhere toward the end of the twentieth century busyness became not just a way of life, but glamorous. Now, they say, it is a sign of social status … What changed is the cultural imperative not just to have it all, but to fit it all in on the fast track, packing in a multitude of work, activities, and obligations until life feels, as one researcher put it, like an exhausting “everydayathon.”
She went on to write, “Busyness is now the social norm that people feel they must conform to … or risk being outcasts.”
Think about how we catch up with our friends. “How have you been?” you might ask. “So busy!” she’s likely to answer. This intense need to prove our worth through the churn of activity is, I believe, one of the reasons we suffer work-life imbalance. Choosing to pause and to get off the fast track requires you to buck the trend, follow your own path, become an outcast in a busy, busy world. It takes courage.
That said, being smart about your time away from the paid workforce is vitally important.
Frittering away your human capital on activities that don’t help advance your skills and talents or help you expand your network is not the best use of your human capital. You don’t have to be PTA president (as I was) or queen of classroom volunteering (as I was) to prove your time with your family is well spent.
I know these might be fighting words for some, but engaging in less-than-useful activities to validate our roles as stay-at-home mothers harms our careers and undermines our value. I remember one day when I spent hours creating gift bags for the children in my daughter’s class who were all heading out on a field trip. These children already lacked for nothing, and yet I felt compelled to use my hard-earned talents and abilities to ensure they had a special treat on their adventure. Why? I see now it was because I felt a powerful need to prove that I was a “good” mother and that my time and effort was being put to “good” use. I realize now, for me and my personal and professional goals, it wasn’t.
Medical Careers Working With Babies Photo Gallery
Think about it. How many working mom/stay-at-home mom conflict narratives have focused on silly things like baking (rather than buying) cookies for the class party? Too many to count. We need to recognize that baking cookies is great, but so is supporting the women who are adding their talents to the school in other important ways.
My friend Katie Snodgrass is a senior vice president of wealth management at UBS Financial Services. She is also a committed mom who uses her volunteer time wisely. She is always the first to agree to pull together the classroom email contact list, the online schedule of classroom activities, the field trip volunteer schedule, and so on. On most days, she can’t be in the classroom, but she can be actively involved.
Katie’s best friend, Sarah Cleasby, is a full-time, stay-at-home mom She is an active classroom volunteer who is there to help teach the kids math, co-run the school bake sale, and lead important PTA volunteer efforts. Katie and Sarah have different professional goals, but both are passionate about being engaged in their kids’ schools. They support each other in their choices and how they can each best contribute given their personal and professional realities.
The author Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”251 Being present, freeing one’s self from worry, having courage and faith to know that what you are doing truly matters, are essential to a successful pause. But so is being smart about your time. If you have the “luxury” to take a career break, don’t waste that time on needless activities. Make sure how you spend your time is chosen with intention and thought.
As one Women on the Rise survey respondent said, “I was out of the paid workforce for seven years. I could have completed a PhD program during that time. Instead, I focused exclusively on my children. While I loved being with them, I did nothing to help move my career forward. What a missed opportunity.”
If you have decided to pause your career, you have said with your actions that you believe slowing down and getting on “kid time,” as one women I interviewed called it, is worth investing your human capital.
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