Growing up in an America where - until very recently, and for a select segment of society - prosperity seemed to know no bounds, raised by parents who told us we could be anything we wanted to be, educated in a picturesque liberal arts college where men and women swapped ideas as often as saliva, we must admit that entering the "real world" upon our undergraduate graduation this past May was, well, jarring.
We thought we were living in a post-modern, post-glass ceiling, at the very least, post-feminist world. We were going to have rocket careers, and happy kids, and passionate, supportive partners. Imagine our surprise when, right before graduation, we asked a few of our friends what they planned to do when they had kids. Our girlfriends uniformly answered that they were going to take several years-off work; our guy friends produced blank stares in response. Turns out, when it comes to achieving a successful work and family life, we're simply not "post" anything: our generation has our work cut out for us, just like the generations of ambitious men and women before us.
The reality is that in America, women do 80 percent of childcare and two-thirds of the housework, while a staggering 95 to 97 percent of senior managers of Fortune 500 Companies are male. Clearly, women still have a lot of walls to push up against. But there is a flipside. Open any magazine today, and you're likely to catch a reference to the "modern father:" a sensitive man who wears a Baby Björn and whose wrist knows just how warm that baby-bottle milk should be. This may be somewhat of a caricature, but it is true that the expectations of "fatherhood" are changing rapidly among the younger generations when compared to provider and disciplinarian norms of old.
The modern father may be an ideal, but society has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. After all, the husband still earns 70 percent of the household income in the average middle class family and one study shows that 63 percent of large American employers consider it unreasonable for men to take any kind of parental leave. To be fair, men who become inseparable from their jobs are comparable to women losing their identities among jars of baby food.
Just as we should question the cultural norms for men and women that continue to nudge us into roles that may no longer fit, we should also question how we'll define success in this brave new world of ours. Gas-guzzling Escalades, sprawling McMansions, and the purchasing power of your paycheck (or your spouse's) still seem to be key markers. Far lower or entirely absent from the status scale is personal fulfillment, time spent with family and friends, and community and civic participation. Is this the kind of scale young people want to measure themselves on? If not, now is the time to speak up.
As the youngest generation of professionals entering the workforce, we are at an important crossroads. Already, the buzz about us, so-called Generation Y, is vibrating through the media circuit. We work differently, they say. We're more creative but also more self-entitled, they quip. If these predictions are true, it means that we have the potential, as well as the gumption, to create some real change.
We're not only Gen Y, we're Gen Y-Fi. Born and raised as both consumers and creators of media, we are more mobile and more global than ever. We know we can work from anywhere as long as we're online. So, perhaps we are the information-age generation that will truly embrace flexibility in the workplace, construct creative part-time or work-anytime and anywhere schedules and build companies with humane policies that foster creativity and innovation-- while allowing for personal time. We know we're not going to work less. But perhaps we can work smarter, more efficiently, and from a more convenient place. Like, say, your backyard. Or Tahiti.
A Peaceful Revolution is a weekly blog about work/life satisfaction done in collaboration with MomsRising.org. Read a post by a leading thinker in the field every week.