OK. Here goes nothing. A chance, all too fleeting, to inspire future generations of women to pursue what they want. To have it all.
I apologize for this post being more general in nature. It's not that I don't want to share the details of my life (trust me - I've been told I share to much on more than one account....). It's just this is a topic that is close to my heart and I am more concerned about the overarching themes involved than the specifics of how I got where I am. I care not because I have daughters (my wife and I were not lucky enough), but because I understand what it is like to dream.
And I know that anything is possible for everyone, regardless of race, creed or color. Or at least it should be.
But I digress. What else makes me qualified to tackle International Women's Day? Here's a little background. I am a First generation American and grew up in the suburbs of a rather large Midwestern city. I had a mother and a father, but my father spent most of my childhood working 12+ hours a day in a factory. I'm not sure if it's because of all the time I spent with my mom or not, but I never thought that a person's sex should determine their future. And while I know that she didn't have the same opportunities that are available to women today, my mother was able to achieve quite a lot during her career (she is now retired). Throughout graduate, school women continued to provide nurturing mentorship and have shaped much of my professional life.
I do not "have it all." But I have enough to be happy. And enough to strive for more. I have a loving family, a wife I adore and two busy, busy boys (aged 3 and 6). I am currently in my mid-thirties and in what I hope is the tail end of a 6 year postdoc in the general field of medical biosciences and just went through my first attempt at landing a tenure-track position as an academic researcher at a large university.
What I hope to inspire today is not the concept of women (and men, too) being able to achieve everything they want. Quite frankly, the concept of being able to achieve a static work-life balance is bunk and needs to be thrown out the window. What needs to replace it is a notion of constant evaluation, of needing to continually assess your specific situation in life. I argue that if done correctly, self-evaluation can become transformative. I also want to make it clear that finding a work-life balance is NOT only a woman's issue - it is an issue for all of society.
If you are lucky enough to have a partner or family share your life you better be damn sure you include them in this process. Not only will communication allow you to grasp what it is you want (or don't want), but it is important that everyone involved in your life knows what you are trying to do so they can be supportive. And if they ain't supporting you, you may have to reassess your relationship.
Harsh? Yes. But necessary. You cannot live your life for others. YOU are in control. It is YOUR future and you need to live your life like you know it. People in your life that are trying to mold you into their vision of what you "should be" are not helping you at all. Turn it into a team sport.
I give this as a suggestion because that is what my wife have done. We have supported each other at various times throughout our careers. She was the primary breadwinner in our relationship while I was in grad school (somehow those stipends just weren't enough), but she was laid off for a period of time and we learned to get by on my stipend alone. Right now I make more money than my wife, but the difference is small enough to consider us equals in terms of "breadwinners."
My wife and I have made the conscious choice to put family first, and while our decision has created strains at work (not being able to accomplish enough), I think we're both happy with our decision. At times it is frustrating, but we try and support each other and revel in each other successes (and comfort each other when things don't work out as planned).
Having the ability to make these life choices is to me the essence of "having it all" and results in an organic evolution of ideas. The choices I'm making today were unfathomable to me five years ago. Last week my wife told me that, for the first time in her life, she might want to become a stay-at-home mom (and not because of job problems). These options need to be continually assesses, less you look back an wonder why you've been heading down whatever path you chose for so long.
The goal for men? To help the women we know to succeed. At whatever THEY chose to do. To support them in everything, even if it's not a choice we would have chosen. I know it's tough, but it's important to remember that not everyone thinks the same way you do. Personally, I'm grateful for that.....
So, on International Women's Day, men need to take the time to talk with the women in your lives and explore what they want in life. Start broad and drill down. Women - seek out people in your life who will help support you. Maybe it's someone who really listens, or someone who provides thoughtful insights and allows you to be introspective. Honestly, who that person is isn't nearly as important as having someone (and yes, that someone can even be yourself).
It's critical that you have hopes and dreams. And that you strive to achieve them. Not every goal will be achieved in your life (I can personally attest to that). But I know that the mere pursuit these goals often creates benefits and teaches you things you never knew you didn't know. Which may be the best lesson of all - to keep learning, growing, and exploring...