Three weeks after I graduated from college, Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece ran in the Atlantic. The floodgates opened, and everyone weighed in: You can have it all...eventually. Everyone can have everything! Just kidding, you can't actually have it all. Oh, and men can't have it all either. Except they can, because they're men. But wait, the whole thing depends on what "having it all" means, because your idea of having it all probably isn't mine. And maybe you don't want it all, anyway.
The recent announcement that new Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is pregnant has further fueled the fire. This nationwide debate about careers and motherhood is incredibly important... but it's sending me, at the advanced old age of twenty-two, into a complete panic.
After 14 years in girls-only education, not to mention belonging to both a sorority and an all-girls a cappella group in college, I have a lot of female friends. Not just young women around my age, but grown women. Members of graduate boards and alumnae groups who have offered me mentorship and friendship. Female friends of all ages and races and stages of life who are intelligent, accomplished, and driven. These friends, family, and alumnae are bending over backwards to share their professional and personal stories, giving me their best advice on how to lead a happy and fulfilling life. The problem is that all of their advice, like the articles currently circulating, is contradictory.
Any decision I will make has been made before, thousands of times. The choices I will end up making have been the best and the worst decisions for other people. Whatever the situation, someone has been there before, and what works for them isn't necessarily what works for me. Furthermore, what is true for me at this point isn't always going to be true, and what I want for my life right now is probably not what I'm going to want in the future.
Maybe it's too early for me to be thinking -- and worrying -- about these things. But when I see how much these issues are affecting men and women all across America, how can I not wonder about my place in all of this? My own path?
A crystal ball would really be awesome right now.
I can't speak for my entire generation, nor would I want to. However, I do agree with Julie Zeilinger that it's common for women of my generation to equate leadership with perfection. I would take that even further: Young women I know equate success with perfection. Many of us feel an intense amount of pressure to make the "right" decisions, from the life-changing to the completely trivial. When should we go to graduate school? What shirt should we wear for that important interview? When should we move out of the city? What's coming around the corner?
The life-path question is further complicated by the fact that so many of us are multi-careerists. I am currently an intern for HuffPost Women -- alongside tutoring for three different education agencies, working on a freelance publicity team for an upcoming book on social media in business, and writing a full-length collection of poems. I spend most of my time at the Huffington Post, evenings working remotely for the publicity team and writing a little bit before bed, and weekends traipsing around Manhattan and Brooklyn to see my students. I like all of these things, and hope that I'm good at them. But how do I know what I will end up prioritizing? Will I actually ever reach a point where I define myself by a single career path? And how much do I really get to plan some of the things that I want for myself?
The idea of having a full-fledged career seems so far away, and I'm not sure which carefully-crafted political, theoretical, or emotional compass I should be using to guide me. But when I get too worked up about these things, I try to sit down and take stock of what I know about myself. I have a degree. I love writing. I don't do well when I am not challenged. I like to be in the city. Sometimes I'm funny. I like to talk.
That's somewhere to start.