I had to take a Xanax to read Time magazine this week
I’m at my son’s cello lesson, thinking about this week’s Time magazine. Sheryl Sandberg’s on the cover.
I never used to write about women on my blog. I wrote for three national magazines about careers before I even acknowledged that I was a woman aside from saying
1. I got the column because I was a woman running tech companies. (Rare back then.)
2. I got a promotion because I leveraged the sexual harassment my boss dished out in order to climb the ladder (around him).
Other than that, I tried very hard to not mention women. I could see that women who had kids got very little respect at the office and I stayed away from them. I only hired men. Even after I had kids, I only worked with men.
Now I’ve downshifted, and I’m home with my kids. I tried to make it not a big deal that I downshifted. I kept saying that I was going to launch a new startup. But then I found myself literally scared to death of going back to 100-hour weeks.
I write that: 100-hour weeks, and I almost don’t believe it. Because it would mean that I was literally never with my kids. But it’s true.
One of the nannies I had during that period still sees my oldest son. She is one of those professional nannies—she always works for women with huge jobs, and she couldn’t stay with me after I cut back to 60 hours a week.
She and my older son are still very close. I was having ice cream with the two of them and she started talking about a family that had a bunny and the bunny was lonely and needed a friend, but they couldn’t just buy another bunny. You have to introduce the new bunny to the old bunny to see if they are friends.
So I said, “Did it work out?”
She said, “What? Don’t you remember? It was your house! The bunny was eating the carpet and right before we brought the second bunny, your bunny died.”
I don’t remember. I do remember that we had a five-bedroom house that I didn’t have time to furnish so we bought animals for each room: the bunny room, the cat room, the ferret room, etc. (You can see why I ended up with a farmer.)
What I am trying to tell you is that you really do not see your kids if you have a very big job.
So I’m sitting in a cello lesson taking notes on measure sixteen even though I don’t read music. And I’m terrified every time my son finishes a song ahead of schedule because it means we’re one day closer to having to make the eight-hour trip to cello lessons three days a week instead of two.
I can’t stop thinking about Time magazine. Sheryl Sandberg is such an incredibly aberrant example of women at work that I just don’t get how she’s on the cover. She is great. Smart. Driven. I get it. I am doing a life that she would hate. I thought I was a high performer, but Sheryl Sandberg has no time for people like me. I spent so many years working hard to get to the top, but the truth is that I’m not even close. I was never in the running. I am nothing like Sheryl Sandberg.
My friend sent a link to me about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Actually, it’s about Jacqueline Reses. Mayer runs products and services at Yahoo. Reses runs everything else. So the edict for no telecommuting came down at Yahoo signed by both of them. Reses lives in New York City with her husband, Matthew Apfel, who has a big job at CORE Media Group, and her three, school-aged kids. And she commutes to Yahoo’s offices in California. Sunday night she goes to California and Friday she flies home. No telecommuting for her.
Which drives home to me that the women at the very top all do not see their kids. We just don’t hear about it. Why would we? Why would they talk about about it? It doesn’t help their career and it doesn’t help their kids.
I can’t get angry about these women. I just need to remember that I am not close to being able to compete with them. The high performers in corporate life are so much more focused than everyone else in the workforce that it’s time we stopped selling a false bill of goods; almost no one can be so singularly focused to get to the top of anything. Including corporate America. Yet we keep talking to kids and each other like anyone can do it.
Most kids cannot have huge jobs. They will be the workplace equivalent of intramural basketball players. When they grow up, they will find work that is fine, just like it’s fine to play on a team with the kid across the hallway even though he misses too many lay-ups.
Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else.
You know all the stuff people write about how really skinny women in magazines makes girls feel anxious and not worthy? Do you know how women lose weight for the Oscars? They want to have a great Hollywood career more than anything else. That’s what seeing Sheryl Sandberg on the cover of Time magazine does to me. Do you know what I want more than anything else? For people to think I’m doing well. In my career.
You can kill me now. Because I hate when I coach women who tell me they want the world to see them as a successful in their career. I tell them, “Well, you’re not doing all that well, because you made choices that did not get you a very good career. But you have other things.”
I tell people this so easily on a coaching call. And many women cry. I understand. Respect is always relative. It’s like money, there’s always someone who gets more. There’s always someone who makes the amount you have look like nothing.
Most women are past the idea that they measure themselves by money. But women are instead using respect as our measuring tool, which is just as dangerous. Because respect is relative, we don’t control it completely, and it doesn’t come along with choosing the job of raising kids.
This was a beautiful post to read.
This is maybe the best article of your career. “Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else”… gold.
Penelope, brutally honest as usual, but good stuff!
Yes. This is one of those memorable one-liners. I would love to hear Sheryl respond to this characterization. Penelope, can you get her to respond?
Respect may not come along with choosing the job of raising kids. But, your kids will have more time with you, and you will have more time with your kids. This is more important in the long run. I say this as a dad who has worked part-time (both running my own business and also at a job working from home), and taken care of my son.
I’m unburdened by parenthood and at the edge of what could be a really successful career but I know already that I’m no Sandberg and I need a Xanax seeing her on the cover of Time as well, because in a few years when I have kids I’ll be overweight, underemployed and feeling like a piece of shit. I’ll be looking to you then, reading over your archives and getting excited over all the articles that piss me off and the ones that make me clap, trying to forge out a living that pays ok and lets me see my little terrors.
You’re a much better role model for me than she is. I respect you because you make me question stuff I take for granted and your values more closely match my own. Even though you’re crazy, you’re good value, PT!!
There’s an old film about a kid who had a mother like Sheryl Sandberg. The first word in the movie? “Rosebud.”
Your comment is absolutely BRILLIANT, Steve Y. I hope you don’t mind if I use the whole thing as a blog post title. (I will obviously credit you and link to your comment).
Slightly off the topic of the piece (which I enjoyed reading) but have you thought about trying to set up a Skype music lesson for the third weekly one? I know it’s not the same but would save you both another huge drive. Regular lesson on Mondays and Fridays for example and substitute with a Skype lesson on Wed. With a good web camera and a willing teacher it might work.
We do this in Tae Kwon Do. We have a grand master (a woman!) in another state, and we Skype back and forth, with Grandmaster Sue offering a critique.
I would recommend Google Hangouts for that instead. I’ve had pretty excellent experiences with using them for music as both a musician and an audio consultant.
One thing that bothers me about Skype is if it senses that your bandwidth is too low, it cuts off your video without asking.
Regardless, video conferencing isn’t going to be a great option out on a farm because rural broadband internet is generally expensive, terrible, or both.
Then again, driving eight hours to a cello lesson is definitely expensive and terrible. Might be worth a shot as an alternative.
Fantastic article. Let’s stop selling career porn to women.
Career Porn! that is EXACTLY what all the lies to women have been about career/family parity over the past 30 years-Can we trademark that? Even my husband belives it, unfortunately- I think that is the worst part, when the Husband belives you should be able to have a big career and raise kids and cook dinner every night and want sex 3x a week-a great way to absolutely destroy what would be a great marraige otherwise- and kill yourself early too
Let’s stop selling career porn to MEN, too. You cannot spend time with your spouse/partner/SO and/or kids… be involved in the community… have friends over on weekends… take decent vacations, etc. — if you have a “very big job.” The world doesn’t work that way for men either; it’s just worse for women.
I never had a big job, and I still don’t. It used to cause me great anxiety. No more. We have a start-up on the side, lots of friends, a very good, loving relationship, etc.
I made the right choice, and I am VERY much at peace with it.
Thank you, Matty! Career porn is part of the human experience. And, it should be available for those interested in perusing it. It should also be easily avoided by those who aren’t interested. Women, men, parents, and non parents — we are each entitled to the choice.
I also freaked out reading the article. I am single and in my mid-thirties (yes, I did not follow your blueprint). I blame going after a big career starting at age 27. When I got it I realised it didn’t make me happy. I was fat and single with an impressive business card to hand out. I took a lot of time off and realised I wanted more balance.
Now I’m back at work (lighter with a more balanced approach to work) and thinking about what this would be like if I had kids. I would hate it and I think my mythical kids would suffer. We’re kidding ourselves if we think well rounded and stable children are going to be the byproduct of women taking on massive roles outside the home.
I am not ‘leaning in’ if I have kids. I think it is enough work to be able to stand upright if you have them plus a 40 hour week job.
I agree with this article on everything except your definition of career success (or at least your required level of success). Just because one hasn’t reached the heights of Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer doesn’t mean they’re not successful.
Career success is a relative, subjective thing. In your terms, Penelope, compared to me, you’re way successful. No one knows me. My name doesn’t pop up on the internet or in magazines. I don’t earn enough money to fly to California to get my hair done.
But time and self-acceptance has taught me, yes, I’m very successful in my career. My self-employment allows me the freedom and time to pursue the things outside work that are important to me – like family, friends, hobbies. I’ve decided to be happy where I’m at in my career and see there’s a reason I’m not any place else. That to me is the greatest success of all.
@Di. No apologies, Di! You are a Renaissance woman, a person who loves variety. A generalist with a breadth of interests–the raising of kids being one of the top priorities.
When Penelope says you’ve got to want it more than anything, that is a different breed of cat–NOT a Renaissance woman. It is a person who wants one thing and her top priority is way-way higher than the 2nd priority on her list (kids?).
So nice to read this! You are right.
Absolutely! “Success” in a career to me means 1) more than enough money to live on, so I can save some and not worry too much, 2) benefits and relative permanence (i.e. not a short-term or seasonal contract), 3) some level of intellectual stimulation, responsibility, and autonomy (although not so much that I want to be an entrepreneur!), and 4) a work week that isn’t insane, because I have a life. Your basic baseball-and-apple-pie, 40ish-hours-a-week-and-benefits middle class professional dream.
To follow Penelope’s analogy, I was always fine with intramural sports, just wanted to have fun and never really wanted to play competitively. And what’s wrong with that? I just hope that the Sheryl Sandbergs and Penelope Trunks of the world don’t define the conversation so much that the “intramural” or even “JV/Varsity” equivalents of careers are considered failures, dividing the world into Olympians and couch potatoes, because I think that is unfair to millions of people in the middle.
And I don’t think Sandberg is even implying that – I think that she might say Penelope followed her “lean in” advice and the career advancement she made before slowing down with her family has allowed her to keep going with a high profile career while on the farm. She didn’t “leave before she left,” and that’s done a lot of good.
All true but it’s not only a women’s issue. Regardless of gender people rarely get rewarded fame and fortune for doing what needs to be done for their families and their communities.
****It’s not* only a womens issue
Respect, love, and money have at least one thing in common. You have to give them out to other people but you need to hold back some for yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, who will?
I read The Time Mag article yesterday, and could not wait to read your take.
This is success>>>> http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2013/03/05/how-to-make-it-in-new-york-city/
Men and woman give up their lives for careers that really aren’t even that interesting. If you aren’t getting $12 million for it and more than 100 people in the world do the exact same job you do, it might be time to question whether you are getting anything, money or respect, that makes it worth it. The answer is most likely no, and Lean In is relevant to a very small number of people.
I don’t have kids or a husband, so my femaleness is not much of my equation, but I still have a life that is too short and too wonderful to be lead down that path.
This is a great comment, Mary. And I am trying really hard to get my head around the more basic issue of being PEOPLE instead of talking about women. Because I think you’re right that the issue is not just about women and kids. It’s adults. This should be a discussion about what it means to be an adult.
Thank you for writing a comment that helps me to see these issues in a much more broadly relevant light.
Good point. I just had dinner with a man who said that he decided not to go to law school when he noticed how many old men had retired from practice, but still came to the office – because they had nowhere else to go, and no one to whom to go home.
Wow, I’d never heard of this happening, but I sure believe it.
Really great article. I accepted I’ll always be an “intramural basketball player” in terms of career and that is just fine! I love hobbies I love and I have time for friends and family! I really like my job, but there are just other things that make me happy in my life. We choose how we define success. I think I will consider myself successful if I can build a happy home. Working on it!
Thank you for pointing out that holding this women out as examples for what you can achieve is silly. They are the extreme end. Show me a story about a working mom doing great in her career, but heads home at 5 and manages to balance it all. That’d be impressive.
I think your problem is that your definition of a successful career is completely screwed up. Most people don’t want to be running Yahoo (there’s a joke in there somewhere), and success to them is likely enjoying what they do and enjoying life, regardless of title or salary.
For me power is success.
Peoples’ definition of success is largely tied to their personality type. An ESTJ defines success by getting things done. And INFP describes success by creating inspiration and harmony. An ENTJ, which is what I am, defines success by power and achievement. It’s largely how we are born, and it’s useless to tell people that they have the wrong view of success.
Each of us has a cross to bear with our definition of success. For example, an man who is an ISFJ will feel most successful when he is doing a caretaker role, but that is not how we define male success, so there will always be conflict in his life.
A woman who is an INTJ will define success as solving large problems, but this is counter to what we expect most women to be doing. For example, INTJs are the least likely to want to have kids. So the INTJ will define success as all work all the time, but other people will think that’s out of whack.
Understanding the wide range of what success can look like is surely one way we will each get closer understanding our feelings of disappointment.
I don’t think I have ever seen a comment, to any article that doesn’t discuss personality types, reference the MBTI types. And do a good job of it.
This. Is. So. Cool.
I will share your comment as well as the article (which I enjoyed reading).
I mostly agree. Spouse and self are a pair of INTJs who didn’t and don’t want kids (and don’t have any). But we don’t define success as working all the time. We define success as feeling good about what we do. Interesting problems to solve are worth far more than “work”. So, we’re more likely to put in the requisite 40 hours a week that pay the bills and then work on our own stuff. We may appear to be working all the time; we’re on the computer most of our waking hours. But we’re not working for some company or working toward power or fame or an IPO. We’re working on problems that interest _us_.
The best job for an INTJ is when the company’s problems match our definition of something interesting to work on.
This is why I couldn’t work for Yahoo! right now. I commit to my own work and to solving the problem. I don’t commit to the company.
Please write a post that list how all 16 types define success!
I wish we could like or favourite particular comments. I feel like a light bulb has just gone off in my brain. I need to sort out in my head how exactly I define success compared to how other people are defining it for me.
I too would be interested in a post on the MB types and success. Especially as us INFJs rarely get a mention.
As an INFJ, I define success in my life as implementing my idealistic ideas to help improve people’s lives and make a positive difference in the world. I think INFJs tend to be happy working for non-profits.
I don’t know that INTJ’s need big problems to solve, if by “big” you mean world-shattering. We just need seemingly intractable problems. — When my firstborn was 8 months old, I quit my job (in systems analysis (!)) because it distracted me from what seemed to be the real problem that needed solving: I didn’t know how to be a mom. My marriage and my household were falling apart and I couldn’t figure out this parenting thing, and the job kept me from focusing on it, so I quit. I spent nearly 2 years learning how to parent (classes, books, studying others), and learning how to parent my son in particular; also I learned to cook, to manage household accounts, etc. And after 2 years I’d figured it out — I’d, like, comprehended the underlying theory — so I had another kid. And then, the year after that, I went back to work p/t. —- That just strikes me as a typically INTJ approach to parenthood!
I like what you said about looking honestly at what one has *not* chosen to do with one’s life, as well as what one has chosen to do. I usually look at that on a more micro level, at a day-to-day level — I believe that adulthood is all about choosing what to leave undone.
Agreed. For me, as an INTJ, “big” is not as important to as just the fact that the problem exists. I’m an entrepreneur and tend to notice when something is broken, and I can get obsessive about fixing it. For example, lately I’ve realized that most product packaging sucks – a lot of products are simply too difficult to take out of the package. The worst offenders are small consumer electronics products that come in those plastic clamshells.
One thing I love about Apple products is the dramatic packaging. The act of opening a Macbook box and turning it on for the first time is almost spiritual. I wish more products had that attention to detail.
This is not a “big” problem like renewable energy or building a rocket to Mars, but it nonetheless affects tens of millions of people.
Replace P’s “big” with “complex”. It’s quality, not quantity that matters. If a problem is not complex, we (INTJ types) do not really consider it a problem … the solution or underlying cause is either obvious or simple, so it does not hold our attention.
Complex problems are fascinating … and Jennifer I can *soo* completely relate to your approach to parenting. For over a decade I have been fascinated with the complexity of my profession and genuinely wondered if I truly wanted to have children – I could not see myself having the same level of fascination with an “immature” dependant. I knew I enjoyed teaching young chidren, but could not see any connection with babies and infants. But! Once I started to understand the complexities associated with the birth and emergence of another human being … it started to fascinate me! Not a “big problem” nor even a problem, but perhaps a “complex concept” which despite P’s certainty that INTJ women are not interested in, would be certain to hold our interest if we could see that complex issue.
Part of the reason why certain types (and perhaps even many men?) are not “fascinated” by parenting is because of the unattractive stereotypes associated with what it might actually entail. Being a “stereotypical” mother-type holds no interest to me personally, but being involved in helping a new human being grow up and understand this world … that concept has me fascinated. I am sure many mother-types do exactly this, but very little of the stereotype which is brandished about actually focusses on that critical aspect.
Mothers who might find my comments offensive, please don’t. This is not an attack on “mothering”, it is a comment on the massive disconnect that I personally see between parenting which involves helping a new human being develop their own independence and place in this world, versus the grossly distorted “Mother Industry” which has managed to evolve into something quite different altogether. But that’s another complex problem for another day …
I am an INTJ and you just made me realize I view most, if not all aspects of my life, as a problem to solve. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad!
Absolutely! It’s all about figuring out how to solve a set of complex problems and learning how to do the best job possible–whether in the workplace or raising kids. I’d love to be the warm, fuzzy, cuddly mommy that some of my friends are but then again, my INTJ self fits better than some of theirs might with the three babies in three years that we are having right now when life is all about the learning curve of parenting, solving logistical, time management and multi-tasking problems and working out methodologies for teaching, training and caring for three very different little people.
I’m trying to figure out what Sandberg’s purpose in writing the book is.
I can only imagine that she’s trying to frame herself as a leader, perhaps for some eventual run for president.
But I’m not sure that you can guilt people into voting for you.
Full-time, 100-hour a week career women do not understand that when they have children, it is an investment — one that must mature to get the full yield. When you leave that investment to managers (nannies) it’s as damaging as leaving your career. They make the choice, but they won’t really see the results of that choice until their kids are older. And it will be too late to fix that precious investment.
Thirty years ago I opted out of a career in medicine, and raised 5 kids — they became my research studies. I was there when the bunnies died. (Love your animal rooms) Now, my kids — 4 married — thank me for nurturing them. My investment is returning great dividends. Our world does not see this as honorable, which is sad. Women like me will never be on Time –nor would I want to be.
Deila, loved your post.
My mom gave up so much to raise eight busy children while my father worked and I’m eternally grateful for her sacrifice. Raising eight successful, contributing members of society does more for this world than the work of many in the corporate world in my opinion. She doesn’t have a lot of money and isn’t on the cover of Time, but she’ll be loved and treasured until the end of her days, as her children, myself included, would do anything for her.
Sheryl Sandberg is impressive in her achievement – clearly very gifted in her line of work. However, this does not make other work less valuable, it is possible to admire without the goal to emulate. However, I also think her assessment of women just need to apply themselves to their career more fully and then success will automatically follow is incorrect. It is also incorrect for men – a careful look at the success of Bill Gates and others shows that there is an element of being at the right time at the right place which one cannot control. On the other hand, I still think it is true that men have an easier time to find mentors or sponsors and this is a critical element in rising to a top position.
Check out the honest statement in this post about only hiring men, and not working with women because of the low status they have independent of their abilities in the workplace. These women might have worked their a… off and they would not have been mentored or sponsored. It is entirely possible that some great opportunities for women are simply squandered this way. In many places it still holds true that women have to do more and better than men in the same position – this becomes very difficult if the workplace already demands 2000%, how can you top this? Leaning in and applying yourself is not the remedy for everything. However, it is an easy way to explain lack of superb success in the workplace: you simply did not apply yourself enough.
Gates was in the right place at the right time, yes. But he’s also a a bit of a sociopath, which comes out in Robert Cringley’s profile of him:
It’s very easy for Sandberg to push her pretty “leaning in” meme. It makes it sound easy: “Just be exactly who you are, but change your posture slightly.” But you don’t create Microsoft by changing your posture.
being in the right place at the right time is definitely not sufficient, but being supersmart and working hard is not sufficient either. There is more than one ingredient to a great career (and I mean this in the broadest sense).
GAWD I have so much to say about this. I have been reading all the posts you have done on this topic and all the magazine articles with profound interest. This is something I know. I know it deep and I know it inside. I don’t cry about where I am with my career and why–at 51-years-old. I know, I picked it. Even though I did have a nanny up until my son was 8 who worked 50-hours a week for us, I still didn’t make choices that involved moving or commuting. I just couldn’t flip the switch. I have a nice life without that sacrifice and am very comfortable. What is ironic, is that I now commute more to drive my son to his private high school and to his club soccer games. I am willing to do it for him, but I was not willing to do it for me–because of him? Or because I just didn’t feel like doing it? Or because at the end of the day, I am just not that person? I work for and support men who are ten years to 15 younger then me and who are going to go farther then me (obviously). I am not jealous of them and it doesn’t bug me. I am a solid employee that they can rely on to take care of things. I give them good advice and support them unquestionably. They value that. And I contribute. But, it’s hard Penelope isn’t it? The wondering what might have been and being satisfied with what is.
That’s the thing: it’s so hard. And there is no one right answer. And we do our best to pick the path that is right for us, for our families. But we never really know if we did the right thing. I just interviewed scores of working women for a forthcoming book, and they echo the same sentiments. Corporate America should pay attention and remove whatever barriers they can, or they stand to lose out on the talents of so many women.
The perfect bookend piece to this post is an article by a woman who gave everything up to become CFO of Lehman Bros only to have it collapse under her:
I loved that piece. There are no easy answers, really. Thanks for adding the link.
Amanda, thank you for your link. We need more of those high powered women to tell the other side of the story, to shed light on their own vulnerability.
Here’s another thoughtful article from a different perspective:
I liked this post, but I’m not sure I understand the need for Xanax. Isn’t Sandberg’s basic message — that we should all lean in, push past our fear, stop discounting ourselves and grab the opportunities that we want — the same message you taught your stylist son in a recent post? You may compare yourself unfavorably to Sandberg or Reses, but I think it’s the same message, just formatted differently. You may have wanted different things, and made different kinds of sacrifices, or have a different life, but you got what you wanted by applying the same principles.
You have learned — and you teach your kids, and us — that you create your ideal life. Whatever that looks like, whether it’s in corporate America, the World Bank, in a startup environment, or elsewhere on a smaller scale is up to each individual. The question you (and Sandberg) ask us is, How badly do you want what you want? Accept the answer to that question, and push forward. No Xanax — or comparison — required.
I think people like to pick on Sandberg because of her glittering professional history, but at its most basic, what she’s saying is pretty scalable, and applicable to both professional and personal lives. Identify what you want. Don’t make stupid excuses. Don’t let fear get in your way. Make your opportunities as best you can, and then follow through. Just because some of us use these rules for small-scale lives lived out of the glare of corporate jets and big paychecks doesn’t negate the ideas, or their viability.
My message is that life is full of really difficult choices. And the thing you chose is easy to talk about. The thing you don’t choose is really hard to talk about.
Sandberg refused to tell Time magazine how many nannies she has, for example. The thing she is not choosing is hard for her to talk about.
I am choosing my kids. It’s hard for me to talk about that I have run startups for most of my career and I’m not running one right now.
Sandberg’s message is pick what you want and celebrate it. My message is that it’s hard to face what you didn’t pick, and you can’t have everything, and to be honest, that’s hard.
It’s the opposite side of the same coin I guess.
This comment’s better than the post (which was great.)
Agreed. This is the real message.
You can’t have everything; you have to choose.
So choose wisely.
Thank you! I’ve been reading all these comments and the blog and thinking, “Man, the worst judgers of women are often other women.”
It’s about choice and respecting the choices of others.
Choose the life that’s right for you and your situation. I can’t believe some of the comments inferring – with no basis in fact – that Sandberg’s children are unhappy or neglected. We do not walk in her shoes or live her life. We can’t make such hurtful assumptions.
Just like we should respect women who choose to stay home, we should also support those who choose to work. Taking sides just distracts us from the real issues – How can we make workplaces more flexible, accomodating and nurturing so that ALL employess (not just women) who want to can balance their work and family lives effectively?
And “balance” does not mean everything gets equal wieght at one time. Work-Life balance is a myth. It’s about prioritization: some days one aspect may need more attention than others.
Very thought provoking article, Penelope. Interesting reactions. Thanks!
Thank you, so far this is the only comment on this piece actually worth reading. Everyone else comes off as total martyrs!! No one would ever spend so much time writing an article like this about a man, but yet men are expected to marry well, breed and run companies.
Life is about SO MUCH MORE than the “success” we achieve within our careers, especially when our careers do very little to advance our society. I am more inspired by people who dedicate their lives to medical research, science, education reform, etc. than the selfish masses who ignore their families to climb to the tops of their fields in luxury goods, big oil, etc.
For me, the road to becoming an adult (I’m 32) has included the understanding that my own happiness and satisfaction come from within myself, and not from the respect/admiration/approval of others. I have a feeling that many chronic ladder climbers are too busy to think about life this way.
Great article. There are so many triggers for workplace and societal implications. While not the focus of the article, I find it interesting that both Mayer and Reses are attempting to establish a company culture based on their personal socieoeconomic status and interests. Maybe they can recruit enough workers willing to give up all things personal but do they really think they can really retain them? Workers that ambitious aren’t going to sit around and wait for rewards and promotions. While Mayer and Reses may be very bright and ambitious leaders they seem to be grossly out of touch with what it will take to manage the people required to turn the Yahoo ship around. The problem we are learning with more information about telecommuting at Yahoo wasn’t the telecommute but the gross mismanagement of their workforce. Managing a virtual and contingent workforce requires very different skills than managing hands on. Maybe if Reses had stayed in NY a few days or weeks each month she’d have a better handle on what it takes. Because she couldn’t do it doesn’t mean others can’t.
This is always a complicated subject. I believe that everyone wants to be respected and successful and on the top, regardless of our gender and even age. Kids feel that way as well. Maybe it is a human trait that has to do with our most basic animal survival instincts. Nothing makes us happier that feeling successful. But what is success?
To find a place of inner peace perhaps we need to re-shape what respect, success and top means to us. Getting there is a personal journey that takes courage and lots of growth, emotional growth. My best friend died 2 years ago of cancer. She was a top lawyer who traveled the world and who was friends with top people everywhere. One day she confessed to me: I have made so much money that I do’t know what to do with it. She was brilliant, ambitious, competitive and an amazing athlete by the way. She never had children, got married 2 times and then got divorced. Her life was a stressful race; never stop, keep ascending.
Before getting the diagnosis she flew over for a visit. Something was off, she didn’t sound like herself. She talked about making some radical changes in her life/career. She wanted to quit her job and write a cookbook. Her secret passion was cooking. I thought that she was kidding. She also regretted not having children. In general, she talked about feeling lonely at age 69 (even though people thought that she was about 49/50).
Three months later, very close to her 70th birthday, my friend was dying. Her family displayed all the books that she had written around her, the photos of her with important personalities and anything that represented all the things that she had done in her life. I went to visit her to say good bye. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. And there she was, for the first time, vulnerable, relaxed, fragile and with a smile on her face. She was so happy to see me. I had to use all my strength to stay composed. She could hardly speak or move so we just looked at each other while holding hands. I told her: look at this, your books, your photos, can you believe how much you have done in your life? She rolled her eyes, like saying: “f— that.”
Before I left she made a great effort to speak, so with a broken voice she said: “It took me getting to this point to realize that in life everything is always fine. If I just knew that before.”
Those words are something that I literally remember everyday as soon as I wake up. They help me keep everything in perspective. I do believe that in life everything is always fine, it is just that we’re geniuses at feeding the wrong ideas. And over time those ideas become so strong in our heads that they end up looking like “the truth”: I need more, I am not there yet, I can do better, I deserve more, I, I, I…
The instant I left my friend’s house I woke up to a new reality. I went out and noticed things that I had never noticed before: the trees, the wind, the color of the houses. It was as if I was present for the first time. When I arrived home after a long flight I saw my children and I felt the luckiest person alive. Seeing death from so close made me realize that I had the option to enjoy life if I wanted to. So from that day on my definition of success and happiness have deeply changed. I’m now more interested and focused on being here, right now. On spending quality time with my children (before they’re gone) and husband and on enjoying my creativity/career (I’m an artist) without feeling that I have to compete with anyone. Since then I feel that the big weight on my shoulders has vanished.
Elsa, thanks for taking the time to write that comment.
I sure needed to read it today.
You’re so welcome, Karen.
Seriously great story Elsa.
Wow. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend, and thank you for sharing that story.
Elsa – the best post I have read in a long while. My heartfelt thanks for sharing. It has hit home to me.
I was so curious as to how you were going to address Sandberg’s new book. You went in a completely different direction than I thought you would and I love it!
I, too, get insanely jealous when I read about a successful mother in business. I was no where near the level of success as Sandberg and You were, however. I learned very early on that in order to succeed, I would be choosing career of marriage and Iwasn’t willing to do that. After working full-time for two years after the birth of my son, I chose the marriage. Fast-forward 18 years and I am questioning every move, especially when I read that another mother, ie. Sandberg, was able to do it when i wasn’t. I ask myself if I missed something. What does she have that I didn’t have? How did she get her husband to be so supportive? How was she able to quell the enormous guilt?
Reading your sagacity that a Sandberg is as rare as a successful movie star helps enormously. I am off to read Sandberg’s book…
I can’t help but ask How Much Is Enough? How much money/power/accolades to we need?
Yesterday, my kid was sick all day and we sat on the couch and watched kid movies. I think when you’re 8 years old and puking, watching movies with your mom or dad is more comforting than with a babysitter. My kid may only have a mom who’s only a marketing director for a trade association and doesn’t run Yahoo, but she has my attention.
I will never run Yahoo. Plus, it’s unlikely I will ever not telecommute again, because I get bored in offices and then I get in trouble for making too many runs to the coffee cart to talk to the coffee lady I made friends with. Plus, I get most of my best ideas while walking my dog, and you can’t walk your dog while you’re sitting in a cubicle.
So, Penelope, I appreciate your take this article, but don’t stress yourself out over it. Parenting comes first, job comes second.
We are all striving to live according to our own values and priorities in a world that makes it very difficult to do, no matter your socioeconomic status. We all make sacrifices.
Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t have it all. She just thinks more women can and should make the same sacrifices she has made.
She and her husband #2 have outsourced parenting and when the day comes that he wants his career to come first (as he mentions in the Time article is his expectation) then she will probably sacrifice him too.
Is there a greater good to be served by more women (and men) making these choices?
I just came across this recent podcast ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0155cfg ) in my RSS feed. Dee Dee Myers, author of Why Women Should Rule the World and former White House Press Secretary to Bill Clinton, gets views from some very powerful women. It’s not about powerful women in business but rather powerful women making public policy decisions mostly in government and their contribution to society due to their different perspective than men.
What does it mean to be human? Because 100-hour work weeks are possible, does that mean that 100-hour work weeks are part of what it means to be human? Is seeking our own maximum potential what it means to be human? The level of career accomplishment discussed in the Time article is not the pinnacle of being human, although it is perhaps an example of a pinnacle of being inhuman and of making choices that deny what is essential to being human.
My own observations and journey tell me that being truly human is relational. This quality of being truly human is available to anyone, in any class or place of life. The quality of our relations with others means we have the opportunity to be human in every interaction. And the choice to be fully present to our friends and family is perhaps the pinnacle of what it means to be human.
Take up a career; drop a career; but never let either choice define your humanity.
Arnold, thanks for this line:
“Take up a career; drop a career; but never let either choice define your humanity.”
I thought the WSJ article about this was a terrific rebuttal:
“The Real Women’s Issue: Time- Never mind ‘leaning in.’ To get more working women into senior roles, companies need to rethink the clock”. Read it at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324678604578342641640982224.html
I wish we would stop celebrating the people working 100 hours a week and instead approach work like this author does, to provide value in chunks rather than looking for superman or superwoman to do the job. The corporate world is just crazy and I don’t see how playing that game is ever worth it. Penelope, give yourself a break and some grace, and embrace the fantastic role you play in the lives of people around you, rather than focusing on what you aren’t doing.
Not to be insensitive, but this is an issue men have been dealing with for decades, if not centuries or millennia. (It’s only recent in our history that women have started to gain spotlights for career success.)
This affects both genders. And I’m sure it’s hard for both, as well.
Yes Tyler, yes we have and it does. Thanks for stating it.
True. But there’s a big “However”.
Back when only men were affected, the wife often stayed home. Which meant that the kids had at least one parent around.
These days, in many case, both parents are being “successful” and the kids stay home with a nanny. That’s different.
If someone told you, “I will pay you 5 million dollars to become a size 2,” you would have your fat ass outside sprinting right now.
This is the life of a movie star.
I would not.
Partly because size 2 is unhealthy (and unreachable by normal people).
Partly because I have more sense than that.
My point was that we are comparing ourselves to people who are motivated by literally millions of dollars to stay the size that they are (going back to P’s point about what we will sacrifice – in this case, food – for what comes first in our lives).
So true: “An ENTJ, which is what I am, defines success by power and achievement. It’s largely how we are born, and it’s useless to tell people that they have the wrong view of success.”
I wrestle daily with my choice to give up my career, after getting a taste of that power and achievement; meanwhile, my three children, who I easily chose over the career, are all excelling–academically, emotionally and mentally–beyond my wildest dreams…and yet, I have all these regrets, thinking I SHOULD have stayed with the career…
Why is it that I cannot revel in my apparent success as a parent (who works a menial job) AND sent 3 amazing & gifted human beings into the world to make it a better place, and instead only ravage myself for my own perceived failed ability to choose parenting PLUS an amazing career?
All I FEEL is failure. And yet, intellectually, I know I have not failed.
I guess my biggest failure is that my intellect cannot convince my feelings that I AM successful, and I am actually living a dream: loving husband + 3 loving kids who are part of my daily life.
And that’s just plain heartbreaking.
Yes. What Penelope says: redefine success AND failure.
And teach yourself to let go. Seriously, do a “campaign” to learn about letting go (of what you regret). And teach yourself to be grateful for what you have. (This is my own Zen lesson/campaign.)
A lot of people want what you have. A lot of us would be jealous of YOU . . .
I don’t understand the conflict. When we look at people that have money, top executive, size 0–whatever it is that we want, it’s hard, but we know we’re not willing to do what it takes to have it. And, we shouldn’t, because it wouldn’t make us happy or we already would be doing it. Why can’t Sandberg say that it’s okay to give up kids for work? We know that most women don’t want to, but what about those that want to, but aren’t? She’s saying if you want to choose work, then here is how to overcome the obstacles that you’ll face with that decision. Because, while it’s the same obstacles men
I see women have kids, throw them in daycare and then go right back to work. Their kids get raised by daycares, nannies and of course free public school. What is the point of having kids if you don’t plan to raise them yourself?
Good question. Let’s ask all the men in the world.
YES!! Childcare is by necessity outsourced by every CEO: to his wife, a nanny, or both.
correction: “by every male CEO”
Morgan – There’s no “Like” button on this blog.
So consider this a big “Like”.
Exactly! If are not not going to be spending time with your kids, then why do you have them? What is the point? I think these people just WANT WANT WANT. They want to have everything they can get their selfish hands on.
Kids should come first, always. Kids mean sacrifice. If you can’t put them first, you are missing the point entirely, and you should just leave it.
My heart goes out to the moms who have to work all the time in order to feed their family, but their children are aware of this, and will respect and love them regardless. But seeing how mommy puts her job and her success ahead of you…that’s just heartbreaking.
This is sad. And worthy. What a life for these women (and men) in high-powered careers who never see their kids. Why have 3? Why not ‘scatch your itch’ with just one to pass onto the nanny?
The working hours sound crazy. I don’t understand the need or drive to work like that. I totally agree with your points about respect and our ongoing need for it. However, I will not and cannot work that hard to earn respect. Especially if I never get to see my kids in the process.
I don’t understand the conflict. When we look at people that have something that we want, it’s difficult, but we know we’re not willing to do what it takes to have it. And, we shouldn’t, because it’s not worth the reward or we would already be working towards it.
Why is every title but the biggest irrelevant? Surely there are jobs that are interesting without the demands of C-level.
Why can’t Sandberg say that it’s okay to give up kids for work?
She says you can’t have it all, but if you choose work, here is how you can overcome the challenges that come with that decision. Because it’s true–we wouldn’t ask a male CEO about his nannies. Success and likability are negatively correlated for women. You don’t have to want a job like Sandbergs to benefit from understanding this, from learning how to work around these things.
You probably don’t understand the conflict because you don’t have the conflict. You probably define success as something other than power and achievement.
For Sheryl Sandberg – and for me – success is power and achievement.
Maybe you have a conflict where you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. That would never happen to me.
See? We are each dealing with conflict in the areas we care about most. And we each have to sacrafice something to get something.
If you hate conflict (Im just guessing — it could be anything) then you might have to compromise talking honestly to someone because you don’t want to cause conflict. That’s your painful compromise. We each have a painful compromise in our life.
Perhaps, really, our measure of success is how we deal with that pain.
Although I don’t have kids, I think I do understand that conflict. Success at work is so important to me–I wanted a big career. It was so hard to face the reality that I wasn’t going to have one because I wanted to live in a small town. But, now I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. I feel achievement from my work and I’m respected for it. I mean, the respect is from small-time CEO’s, but I respect them for running a successful business–to me, that’s very hard even if you’re not Facebook.
I would love to work iwth the best, it would be so fun, but when I think about giving up everything else for that, it loses its luster. It does sting to see Sandberg, or the Olympic athletes I know on the cover of magazines, but when I think about what they compromised to get there, they become irrelevant, because I have seen that life up close and I don’t want it.
I don’t know, I am early in my career, maybe I will top out of small-town careers and feel regret later. I have not had near the career you did or do now; my success was in sports, so maybe I don’t really understand the good parts in business that I’m missing. Either way, I’m glad Sandberg is saying what she’s saying. That advice helps me, even if I don’t follow her path.
“I don’t understand the conflict. When we look at people that have something that we want, it’s difficult, but we know we’re not willing to do what it takes to have it. And, we shouldn’t, because it’s not worth the reward or we would already be working towards it.” Lindsey, you are spot on
Part of the problem is that respect comes from others and so often it is quiet. Adults seldom complement adults. Doing something well inspires respect. Doing something as well as you can does too. The effort or the outcome. The problem is so often it isn’t acknowledged. It requires understanding, insight, noticing people around you but maybe too it should be verbalised more. I watched my aunt the other day remain patient and calm with my four year old cousin while he wailed and refused to ride his bike because he couldn’t keep up with his brother. She was frustrated and occasionally letting off stream by making mad faces while he looked at the ground. The minute he stopped and agreed to keep going she dropped it. I couldn’t really believe my eyes. She flipped a switch and rewarded his behaviour by talking back pleasantly about the sunshine and bikes. I stood there amazed. She’s a great Mum, a human being who must surely not always be able to do that, but a great parent. I don’t often tell her I noticed. I learn. Her boys learn. How she acts makes a difference.
Once we had a ‘successful’ lawyer give a end of year speech at prize giving telling an entire school it was ok she never made it to watch her daughter. That it didn’t matter that she wasn’t there to watch an athletics event, it mattered that her daughter that her daughter ran. One of my parents always came. It mattered to me. Maybe it wouldn’t matter to her daughter if special adults didn’t come for the other kids but being different is hard. Half the point of athletics days for most kids is to be seen doing your best and get applauded for it. I still don’t know to what expense my parents made the effort to come but I feel very lucky I never found out how it felt to not have them there. That will become something I’ll appreciate even more when I’m the one making the effort to come. I think hearing that speech has permanently changed or clarified what I think is important and how it’s worth being a little sceptical of intimidatingly professionally successful people – at least enough to get on with my own kind of life.
My parents never came to any of my games and I was a 3 season athlete for all of middle and high school. Dad was busy with his career and mom was busy with 3 younger kids.
I sometimes wished they’d come, but I never felt like I was playing sports for the recognition or attention. I played because I liked being part of a team and it was fun.
Looking back, I’m glad that they let me choose my own fun (sports, plays, music lessons, etc.) because it’s taught me how to follow a path that is interesting and fulfilling for me. There’s very little parental expectation to work my way out from under.
Success is a word like happiness, different to different people. Someone might feel successful if everyone gets on shoes that match and is out the door on time in the morning, another if their proposal wins the bid and still another if they have made a life better because of their existence.
Success like happiness as well, changes as we change, grow, develop different perceptions of what matters. I’ve done the owned my own business, raised three kids, had a marriage, tried to feed everyone healthy dinners and get to ice hockey games, band concerts, and a million other things. I didn’t feel any more or less successful then than I do now but I know I couldn’t physically do that again. We all want to reach the level of success that in the end matters more to us than others, but I don’t think we realize that’s what we really want when we are in the thick of watching others seem to grab what we can barely touch.
If we weren’t meant to see our children, be part of their lives, share their “aha” moments and nuture them , then I would think there would be no dysfunctional families and children who grow up to write the books about the absentee parents and how weird their life was growing up…but there are and plenty.
If you must end typical relationships to be successful, I hardly call that a worthwhile trade.
u are 2 fabulous…also, ur head makes up things about others…u are stitching lives together that u have no idea about.
Try at my blog at http://www.leadership-principles.com
All this talk about the sacrifices you are required to make if you choose raising your kids whole-heartedly? Really??!!
Doesn’t anybody notice (nor feel grateful for) what you get from kids? You get “refreshing”. You get “guileless”. You get unself-consciousness. You get cuddling. You get “why” questions that make you look deep for honest answers. You get “I trust you” looks. You get to be a teacher and an authority. You get someone keeping you honest.
And the list goes on . . .
I recommend the Timothy Keller book, “Counterfeit Gods,” for all of us.
I love this post. And I empathize with your struggle. I love all the “news” about women executives lately because I find the whole thing fascinating. And like you I read this and wonder, “Could that have been me? SHOULD that have been me?”
Kids give you cuddles and love and of course they are huge blessings. Nobody is saying otherwise. But for people like you and me (yes I’m lumping us together) there is no sense of achievement or “pride of winning” in rearing children. I still miss the challenge and competition of the start-up environment. And while I agree that being home with my kids is right for me and my family, even after 6 years I constantly question this decision. It doesn’t fit so easy for me as it does for other people.
So I love your post. And I love all the debate in the news. So good to know “It’s not just me.”
Alexis, I can only speak for myself, but after leaving my career to spend a decade at home raising five kids, I decided on a gradual reentry into the workforce – part-time, initially, and then full-time when I divorced. At that point, I had no choice: I was a full-time single mom with full custody and I had to work full-time as well.
I switched jobs after two years to take a more flexible position; I was only five minutes from their schools (instead of 45), and I could make my own schedule. I gave up benefits and a better salary, but what I gained was priceless.
My oldest is now 22 – my youngest is 13 and still at home. The three oldest are all out in the world, in college, living very good lives. When I think back to the first decade I remember how hard it was. How boring. How stifling. How ridiculous I felt trying to be a PTO mom, how I longed for something more challenging. I remember the good parts, too – I loved my kids, and loved being with them – but it was tedious. But what I did MATTERED. I make no judgement on any other person’s choice, but I really believe that my kids turned out to be strong, healthy, confident, decent people partly because I was just there. I might have been bored, but I was there.
It gets better, as they say. Your presence will reap tremendous benefits, and if you’re like me, you won’t really get it until you hang up the phone one day after talking to one of your kids, and you realize, “Wow. I like that person. She’s incredible. That’s my kid. I was part of that….”
Again, no judgement on anyone’s choices, but for those who do choose being with the kids in the trenches, I think the payoff is worthwhile, and often leaves a big imprint on the world.
Being smart, gifted and working hard will contribute to one’s success. However, being at the right place at the right time always helps on the road to success.
Larry Summer’s support was a massive boost to her success. Her timing ended up being perfect. She meets when he still teaching. She graduates at the same time he is leaving for the World Bank. She completes her MBA less than a year before he becomes the Sec. of the Treasury. Each time she goes to work for him.
What if she had been a couple of years older or younger? What she had a different economics instructor? Or she had chosen a different major? Very easily things could have been very different for her.
She would still have been success but I doubt that it would have been at anywhere near the same level of success.
I’m having problems with the statement Sandberg “gives up her kids….” She spends time with them most nights, even if she is going back to work for hours later that night. Sandberg’s kids want for nothing materially, educationally or physically, and I’ll bet they’re surrounded by people, including Sandberg, who provide them with emotional sustenance as well. Sandberg has hired the people who care for them to give her the results she’d like in her kids. It’s been done that way for many years by the elites in this country. In some ways, she might get better results that way than by doing it herself. I don’t see that Sandberg’s kids have been sacrificed. They’re having a different experience than Penelope’s kids are having. Both sets of kids will turn out to be stars because of their mothers.
Melanie wrote: Sandberg has hired the people who care for them to give her the results she’d like in her kids . . .
I don’t think you know that. How deeply do you delve into the values/qualifications of your nannies when you interview them and then decide to hire them? (Or your daycare providers?) Do you know what they will say to your child if/when the child has a tantrum? When the child is “off” because he is getting sick? When the child is mean to the sibling or to the dog or to the playmate?
What will the nanny do when the child steals or destroys/breaks something? When the child won’t eat the healthy food provided? When the child impulsively puts him/herself in danger?
Did Sandburg find all that out? Does she have any follow-up or quality assurance with the nannies she has hired? Is she in a position to wonder who is telling the truth–nanny or child?
In the end, the stamp of her style is not on Sandburg’s kids. The nanny’s stamp is on the kids. The nanny’s values and her tone of voice is the most influential on the kids.
If that is okay with you, then that is okay. It would not be okay for me.
I’m having a hard time understanding why people like Marissa Mayer & Sandberg have to be so controversial. They don’t see their kids as often as most other folks. So what? The super rich have always outsourced their childcare.This is nothing new. The issue is just being repackaged to fit into the current debate about the merits/ pitfalls of modern feminism.
I think you ARE Sheryl Sandburg.
Just as she is one of a very small group of uber-high-level women in business you are attempting to achieve that same distinction in parenting.
How many of us would drive 8 hrs for cello lessons for our little darlings? How many would even homeschool? I guarantee there are a lot of other examples you could add to my short list.
Addicts switch addictions. The former alcoholic becomes the heavy smoker. The former smoker becomes obese.
Are they really any better off? Are you?
I think so but even better not to be an addict. And to say “well, it’s inevitable, it’s my personality type,” means you won’t even look at living any other way.
An older Time cover on attachment parenting which is just the early years of homeschooling…Are You Mom Enough?
Penelope, have you ever heard the song “In My Mind” by Amanda Palmer?
“In my mind, in a future five years from now, I’m a hundred and twenty pounds, and I never get hungover… because I, will be the picture of discipline, never minding what state I’m in, and I will be someone I admire… …and it’s funny how I imagined that I could be that person now. But that’s not what I want, if that’s what I wanted, then I’d be giving up somehow…”
It is sort of an anthem for myself and my fiance, both of us 20-somethings who are not as far in our careers as we’d like. We aren’t where we think we’d like to be… but that’s because of the things we’ve actually chosen. And that’s painful. But it’s good to remember, or all we can focus on is that other thing that we think we want, but which we haven’t chosen to pursue.
I never thought it would apply to you, of all people. But I kind of feel like it’s your theme song too, when I read this post, for exactly the same reasons it’s mine, plus twenty years.
It’s here if you want to watch it: http://youtu.be/Q9WZtxRWieM
“Fuck yes, I am exactly the person that I want to be.”
Wow, that song is incredible. “How strange to see that I don’t want to be the person that I want to be” just stopped me in my tracks. Maybe I don’t want to be that skinny person after all …
Penelope, the question I asked as I read your post is ‘respected by who?’ It seems to me that a huge percentage of the population totally respects what you do because they’ve done it too and know how hard and important it is. But it seems that their respect means nothing and you’re looking for respect from other people. Ironically, from people whose way of life you actually don’t respect all that much. So maybe it would be best to focus on the people who look up to you and forget about women like Sheryl Sandberg. I didn’t drop out of the corporate rat race to raise kids – I just dropped out of it because I realized it was stupid and pointless and taking years off my life. If that’s what she wants, good for her. But I couldn’t care less what she thinks about my choices because frankly I think hers are questionable at best.