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Success: Two women. Two lives. One take.
Success. It’s the common ‘as compared to others’ wrap up we strive for to mark achievements in life outputs, both personal and professional.
Yet, the notion of success is complicated. It changes. It’s different for everyone and doesn’t always come along on schedule, especially with the multifaceted reality of women’s lives. Timelines, particularly around career and family, aren’t hard-coded anymore.
As Between Generations explored in another column, having children has science-assisted options extending the pregnancy window. Women can pursue, rejig or shift careers at any age, Millennials and Boomers sometimes even chasing the same carrot, at the same time. Case in point, in spite of a three-decade age difference, Karalee and Jill are both only four years into their careers of choice.
With room for a success reinterpretation in mind, grab a tea and nestle in for a read as Jill and Karalee share career truths many might prefer to keep to on the down low. Sometimes rocky, constantly questioning and often unsure, they’re wending their way forward, carving out their own takes on success.
In 1988, after staring into my newborn son’s baby blue peepers, I fell deeply into mom-love and stuffed the pursuit of career success into a box. Screw it, I thought. Maternity leave was a mere 15 weeks and motherhood pretty much a career killer, anyhow. And being there was no guarantee I’d get back the same job I’d left, why not mom it out full-time? So, I quit my ‘career,’ sandwiching home-based work between pregnancies and nursing for extra income, figuring I’d have another go-round at ‘success’ later. Ha, to the best-laid plans! Unexpectedly divorced when my sons were 6, 4 and 2, on my boy watch, I was responsible for three young souls, solo. In 1994, I headed back in the workforce, career volume set on low, proximity and availability to sons on high because, ultimately, parenting mattered most and I needed flexibility. It was, absolutely, a choice of the times and situation, and I’m not regretful. Seeing my sons as well-adjusted and content adults, I view the trade-off as well worth it.
In 2016, I finished my first degree and got accepted into journalism school. Hearing fellow students talk about freelance put a knot in my stomach. What I cared about was security, and after graduation, I landed a job working for a magazine in Toronto. I really thought that was it — I’d hit the success jackpot — until I realized a risky role in a cool industry didn’t satisfy that base need. So I moved back to Cape Breton and found a more traditional career that gave me the security I crave. Ultimately, my success is about the safety that provides me the ability to do the things I want. Now that I have that security, and with only myself to worry about, it’s easy to focus on my actual career. But I know that isn’t the same for all women, and it might not be the same for me if or when having a family enters the picture. Thankfully, today’s generation of working moms are modelling how to broaden success from career-focused to career and family-focused, so I won’t have to choose one or the other.
Kudos, Jill, for already having a sense of what ‘success’ is for you, and thank Goddess today’s world has space for both career and family, particularly for women. Let’s just say, there was a giant lag in the 70s between Helen Reddy belting out “I am woman, hear me roar” and the workplace. Geez, Jill, at 15, I hardly blinked when I was passed over for a promotion at my part-time job because, as my boss explained, “You’re a girl.” What could I do, other than whine to girlfriends? In the 80s and 90s, the having-it-all concept of mom and CEO was a shiny new penny, elusive as a pot of gold. Success was an ephemeral concept, best taken on the side, while rushing kids here and there. Yup. For me, work took a backseat, until later, and here I am, with a post-family fire in my belly, refocused on career success.
Karalee, though yours might be a non-traditional career path, I consider you extremely successful as a mother and professional. But I’m curious if along the way you ever get hung up on the what ifs? For a while, I was nervous about my career path. My sister was studying to become a nurse, which I knew would lead her to success and make our family proud. And there I was, sitting in journalism class wondering how I’d ever scrounge up a career in a field that was crumbling before my eyes. Thankfully, it turned out communications was a better fit, but what if I had true passion for journalism and had to choose between chasing the next big story or settling down in a comfortable home? I hate the thought of one or the other, but success often involves compromise. Do you still struggle with the what ifs of your journey?
First thank you, Jill, and are you sure you haven’t mistaken me for someone else? Mom success, definitely, but professionally, sometimes I feel like I’m sitting on a fat stack of compromise, built on the ongoing financial versus passion juggle that keeps reinventing itself as life goes on. In 2015, there I was, kids launched, job, friends and life in hand, but bored silly with career. So, I ditched everything to run away from Ontario and pursue a dream, in Nova Scotia of all places! Four years in, I’ve drummed up enough work to get by, so I can pick away at my ‘what if,’ writing a book about my running away story (working title, Karalee, of no fixed address). In other words, I’m in the midst of switching out comfortable home and security to chase my success. But here’s the upside. You can assess the risks, and make other choices as many times as you like, shifting life to check out some of those other ‘what ifs,’ like I’m doing right now.
It seems like one life lesson is the importance of being flexible when it comes to success. The journey you set out for at 18 may look nothing like the life you’re living at 30, 40 and so on. But if you accept success as a rollercoaster of opportunity, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. One thing I know is no matter what success looks like in the moment, certain elements remain consistent — a happy family, exciting career, and something to look forward to. The simplicity gives me room check all of my boxes as my outlook on success changes. Over the past year, I’ve had a first taste of career success and I’m loving it. Plus, I have someone who puts a smile on my face and keeps things exciting, so I consider that a pretty big success, too. Next, family-success? Maybe, but I’m in no rush. I think life is about enjoying each moment of success along the way, as it shapes and adapts to new versions, all the time.
You got it Jill. Sometimes success is simply the ability to sit back, take stock, and say, “In this moment, I’m good.” Bathe in that and enjoy, knowing there’s so much more ahead. Here I am in my 50s, still blundering and floundering at times, but hopefully, producing something interesting along the way (like that book). Meanwhile, family and friendships, old ones in Ontario and new ones in Nova Scotia, are my gateways to joy. I’ll take a bath in that any day.