Define Success

The blog I posted last week about work-life values attracted more interest than I had anticipated. It’s my first time dabbling in this sort of writing so I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction to expect, or indeed what reaction I wanted. I suppose as a starting point, I was curious to strike up a conversation and see where it would lead.

Since writing the blog, I’ve indeed had many conversations with men and women about their work-life balance stories, the reasons behind their choices and how the perceived – and real – judgments of others have made them feel. I’ve been sent articles and video clips on related issues and have done some Googling too.

What is obvious from the outset is that I am certainly not the first person to try and make sense of the complexity that lies behind the way that individuals and society define success, and the values we consequently attribute to work.

What is also obvious is that it is a subject that many people think and feel strongly about, particularly since Coronavirus has introduced new experiences and options both at work and home.

I’ve subsequently watched talks by articulate and accomplished women like the impressive and esteemed author Anne-Marie Slaughter. Her TED Talk from 2013 on work-based inequalities, which still holds and is worth a watch, makes a sharp and visionary assessment of how things should change to improve work-life balance options for both men and women.

I’ve read numerous articles about working motherhood, which often seemed to veer into discourses around the female tendency to experience guilt, self-doubt, self-criticism, and a desire to please everyone in their quest to “have it all”. 

Of them all though, the example that stands out for me is an article that came up in my search written by a lesser known writer, C. Horgan. She tells the story of when she picked up a TIME magazine in a supermarket because the front cover – something to do with great women changing the world – caught her eye. It got her thinking about the crossroads she had faced as a young woman when deciding how she would reconcile her desire for a family with her career ambitions. Unlike the role models depicted in TIME magazine, she had opted to pursue a career that could accommodate her ambitions for motherhood, one that would not require her to commit a disproportionate amount time to being “at work”.

She conceded that some may consider her a “second-class feminist” for this decision, but that she had constructed a new career path in pursuit of “having it all”.  True, she was not successful in the same way that those women featured in TIME magazine were depicted, but in her article, she recognised that she had defined her own success and attained it (not without episodes of self-doubt and guilt, mind you).

Her message stood out because it was one I’ve rarely seen in print, and one that contrasts with those of women in senior positions who champion equality and a leaning in mentality. Those bold voices are absolutely essential, inspiring, and have already affected significant positive changes in the workplace and beyond. But it was refreshing to hear, amongst the cacophony of opinions on work-life balance, that other voice – a quieter one, you might say – of a person who, together with her partner, had made a choice, not a sacrifice, to factor in the “life” aspect of her work-life balance to achieve what was right for her. In doing so, she acknowledged its value.

I’m sure that with more thorough research, I could find examples of role models closer to home too, and from a broader demographic spectrum. For now though, if getting the conversation going turns up the volume on a range of stories to inspire and enlighten, that can only be a good thing. If it helps people makes sense, and be more accepting, of their own and others’ choices, all the better.

2 thoughts on “Define Success

  1. You highlight a reflection on the way our society currently works, Dalya: I’d guess there are many women out there like Christa Hogan, whom you quote and who refers to herself as a ‘second-class feminist’ because she has chosen to pursue a freelance career that allows her both a non-corporate career and to be at home with her children – not working full-time but living a life that ‘brings me a lot of joy and gives my family the flexibility to do things we love, like travel’.
    She also acknowledges that none of this is perfect – and I wonder whether the notion of ‘having it all’ is simply both irrelevant and impossible. She says: ‘I was at least smart enough to know ‘either/or’ are rarely the only options and that if I wanted a both/and kind of life I could make it for myself. And that being a mother and a wife were fulfilling, but they wouldn’t be enough. I still needed something to call my own.’ And surely this is exactly it: there’s no either/or – rather there’s the choice that each person makes that works for them. It seems pretty important to me (albeit not necessarily easy) to create a life that brings you joy. Hogan is courageous – as Anne-Marie Slaughter has been in speaking publicly about the priorities she honoured in making a tough decision, and as she demonstrates in her moving and inspiring talk. There will always be sacrifices and compromises. Importantly, as you say, let’s start having a different kind of conversation – one that’s accepting, non-judgmental, curious and creative.

    Liked by 1 person

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