Would the advice for my daughter be any different than the advice I was given when growing up?
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I remember playing in the waiting room of the doctor’s office with my grandmother. We had been talking about “what we want to be when we grow up” at school lately, and I suddenly I announced to my grandma “I want to work in a doctor’s office when I grow up!” My grandma, delighted, asked “so you want to be a doctor?” I shook my head and pointed to the receptionist. “I want to be like her!” Dismayed, my grandma said I was smart enough to be a doctor and they made lots of money. I could do better than being a receptionist, she whispered.
At the time, I couldn’t understand it. The receptionist was pretty, always seemed happy and cheerful and got to listen to the radio and chat with people at her desk all day. The doctor, a middle-aged man with a surly attitude who always seemed impatient, was not exactly someone I aspired to be.
As I got older, my grandmother encouraged me in everything I did. I was a good student and always knew I’d head off to university one day. There was no better feeling than calling her when I got home from school and telling her I got an A on an assignment. My parents, both teachers, were always delighted with good marks, but it was my grandma who I felt the most desire to please. She came from a different era, an era where girls were expected to stay home, raise the family and clean the house. She was an intensely bright person, and although she had limited formal education, she was extremely well-read, interested in politics and world affairs and I know she must have been wistful when she imagined the choices she could have had, if times and gender roles had been different.
So it was me, her only granddaughter, who she poured her hopes and dreams into. When I was growing up, at a time when “Working Girl” was a hit movie and universities were graduating more women than men, she hoped I could be something great. “Something great” of course, meant a profession where I could make lots of money and be independent.
This was the message that a lot of girls of my generation got. Dutifully, we got good grades, went onto university and got good jobs (I never did become a receptionist, but then again, I didn’t become a doctor either). Life was great! We may have been broke students and then struggling interns or first year lawyers who were overworked and underpaid, but going out for cheap cocktails after wrapping up an insane week at a busy office a la Sex and the City was a blast. Money started getting better, we were rising the corporate ladder and then…we got married, started having kids and realized- hey- this working hard thing doesn’t necessarily mesh with being a mommy. It was then that I heard about the “Opt Out Revolution” and thought, “why was I never told about this?”
Though I have now found a better balance being a working mommy, I think the advice I give my daughter will be slightly different than the advice I was given.
1. Think of the reasons you want the career you do. Be driven by your values or passions, rather than the value figure on a house or a car. Do you want to be a lawyer because you are fascinated by the law and want to play a part in ensuring a fair justice system for all? Or, do you want to be a lawyer because this field pays pretty well and you can likely afford a ski chalet or cottage in addition to a large house in the city? You will burn out very quickly if you follow a career path for the wrong reasons.
2. Think of the lifestyle you want, more than the salary you want. Similar to point number one. Do you see yourself with a family one day? If so, think about the time that you will want to devote to them- balanced with the fact that kids cost money to raise. Working 60 hours a week might provide monetarily for them, but will it buy you quality time? Probably not. Kids are only young once. In this day and age, yes, it generally takes two incomes to pay all the household bills (something that was not necessary in my grandma’s era), but whenever parents can find flexibility in their work and home life, I have to say, it is worth it. I LOVE that your dad and I pick you up from daycare together, cook dinner together and spend the evenings as a family.
3. Be inspired by your passions but don’t limit yourself. I personally don’t like the overly simplistic advice “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. If what you love is basket-weaving, that’s fine, but at the end of the day you DO need to be able to pay for a roof over your head, food on your table and clothes on your back. If your passion allows you to pay for necessities and the extras that make life pleasurable for you (again, everyone will define what makes life pleasurable for them differently…to this mama, regular pedicures in the summer and dinners out every once in awhile do make me happy) then that’s wonderful. If not, you need to be able to still pursue your hobby with a job that pays the bills. A friend of mine loves music, English literature and children. He put himself through medical school by teaching guitar and working as a camp counsellor. He is now a fantastic pediatrician (much better than the one I had as a kid!) and when he’s not at the clinic, he plays music and reads books to his two kids. How’s that for blending passion and working?
4. Work. Yes, your dad and I fully expect that you will get a part-time job when you are old enough. Why? Not only because we want you to experience the satisfaction that comes from being able to buy something with your own money, but because working can give you insight into what you want or don’t want in a future career, and teach you life skills that you won’t learn in a classroom. When I was in high school, working with children in day camps and daycares confirmed my hunch that while I loved kids, I didn’t want to be a teacher. My university summer job as a student orientation leader, however, led me to discover my passion for public relations.
5. Be a life-long learner. Yes, you will go to school and get an education. Your dad and I will support you in whatever choice you make because it is yours. But learning doesn’t stop the day you toss your cap and gown. Learning new skills at work, keeping up a second language and embracing new opportunities will allow you to continue to grow, keep you employable and add richness to your life. My father, whom you never got to meet, was famous for telling your older cousins “You must always be useful.” He was a wise man. Having a purpose in life, knowing that what you do brings value to those around you, gives you a reason to get up every day.
Right now, you are two years old. Your world revolves around finger painting at daycare, somersaulting at gymnastics and singing “Ba Baa Woolley Sheep” in your high, little girl voice as you prance around in your jammies. You can count to ten and recite your ABCs. Your dad and I constantly amazed by you and can’t wait to see what you do with your life. Undoubtedly, your great-grandmother, your namesake, would be terribly proud of you too.