Working (Wo)Man

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook shared an article from The Guardian, citing a speech given by former Prime Minister Blair’s wife.  Well, rather than me telling you what I think the article says, you can read it for yourself first.

Audrey and I discuss this topic often, and she added an interesting article/interview she recently heard, written by a woman having her own awakening on her career.  In short, Mrs Slaughter realized, after struggling with a high-power governmental job and a son struggling through adolescence, that women actually can’t “have it all” – at least not all at once.

But, here’s the part she and everyone else seems to be missing: it should be the same for men!  We also can’t have it all, all at once!

My problem with the Blair article isn’t that she’s calling out stay-at-home-moms, though the writer tries to paint it that way.  If you look more closely at the quotes, she’s decrying a certain type of woman who simply marries for money and wants to be taken care of.  The portrait of the woman she paints is a dependent, snotty brat who just lives off the coattails of someone else’s success.  This woman’s shortcoming isn’t that she’s not working – but it’s that she’s not contributing.  What if this article had been written about the growing number of men who marry for money?  Gender dynamics are changing in this country – and the XBox playing, couch sitting, directionless demographic of men is growing while the highly educated, highly motivated demographic of women is also growing.  Had this article been written about men charting a similar life-course (ignoring education and career while all the time planning on marrying for money), the reaction would be – in a word – outrage.

Back to the Slaughter article, though.  Slaughter seems to come to the same conclusion  Audrey and I came to long ago – that we weren’t willing to put our career above our family.  Many women make that decision – and as a result of that decision end up putting their careers on hold to be a stay at home mom.  But in our case, we both agreed that neither of us should to put career above family!  The question we asked ourselves was, could both of us chart a career path that would allow both to work and both to contribute in the home?  It’s our little experiment, and so far (knock on wood) it seems to be working out.  We realized we might have to get off the ‘fast track’ to leadership and responsibility in our jobs in order to keep the right balance that would allow us both to work and have plenty of time with our son.  We also realize that it might change as our family changes or either of our careers change.  But for now – thanks to great employers and managers who are taking a greater interest in work-life balance – we feel like we’ve been successful.

What the women’s movement has done – evidenced in the Slaughter article – was to adopt the “man’s world” philosophy of “advance your career at any cost.”  Still today – in most households – especially one-earner households – it is generally accepted that the man’s career can/must advance at all cost to the family, whether that means moving more often, more business travel away from the family, more time in the office, or more outside pressure and stress being brought into the home. My assertion is that this “advance your career at any cost” philosophy is dangerous for both men and women.

I stumbled across a quote more than a year ago when Aud and I were going through the decision making process about what we should do with her career – whether it needed to be put on hold with WEJr’s birth, or whether there were other options that would work for our family.  This quote, from someone I deeply admire in our Church, opened my eyes.  This decision wasn’t really all about her, as I had originally thought.  I actually had a huge responsibility – as the man:

“I don’t think women [alone] need to think about children – I think fathers and mothers need to think about children… What seemed to be the talk [during the women’s movement of the 1960’s] was ‘How do I get out of the home?’ — ‘How does a woman get out of the home?’  Or maybe even out of marriage — or out of whatever… I think that model should have been turned 180 degrees and it should have been, ‘What do we do to guarantee that men stay in the home or than men contribute in the home?’  I’m all for shared workload.  We can wash dishes together and we can do the laundry together and we can pay the bills together and we can figure out what the income tax is together, but it seems to me that to just think of ways to get away from family, and away from home, was exactly, diametrically, opposite to the model we should have been pursuing.  And that is: In such times, how do you keep fighting to say in the home – including the husband – that he does not just blissfully walk out the door and take his little briefcase and go off and never have another thought all day or all week or all month about the greatest responsibility that he has and that is to be a husband and a father and a grandfather?  …  I think that all the forces that spin us centrifugally away from the home, we have to fight that, and have those forces reversed as best we can, and have that circle coming back into the home for men and for women.”

– Jeffrey Holland
from the MormonChannel podcast “Conversations” on 12/6/2010


Make, Master, Matter

With Audrey out of town this weekend, I decided to be super lazy and watch a lot of TV.  A lot.  I got home at 7 tonight and just turned the tube off at 11:30pm… about 2 hours after I told myself I was going to.

But here’s the scary thing; it wasn’t a completely mind-numbing vegetation session!

First, I caught a few minutes of Shark Tank – a show the entrepreneur in me used to enjoy more often, but which became a little to predictable as reality TV.  However, in the few minutes I tuned in, I saw a very sincere, well-meaning man watch his business idea go down in flames because he was so committed to the idea of manufacturing his product in America, that he missed the bigger picture.

His product isn’t employing anyone – not even himself.  He can make the product for $250 in the US, but can only sell it for about $300.  If he could make it overseas for $100 or even $150, he’d have a business — and probably a successful one at that!  (It was an impressive product)  Instead, clinging to his dogma, he was content to watch his dream (and probably unknowingly, his opportunity to truly make a difference in his small community) go down the drain.

Toward the end, one of the sharks told him that, in business, “first you make it, then you master it, then you can matter.” This phrase really struck a chord with me.

It’s not that small businesses don’t or can’t matter, or that I don’t think things should be made in the USA. It’s that a business that doesn’t yet even exist as a profitable venture can’t make any impact at all (except for a negative one). I think this guy has to get his dream off the ground – make it work – and then he will have the financial freedom to make it matter the way he wants.

Then I turned on The Descendants, the fairly recent George Clooney movie.  

I have to watch movies like this when Audrey is gone. This one had way more F-words than she’d take, and it’s one of those that leaves you just a little off balance, even though it mostly goes just the way you think it will.

It was really good, and I can see why it was nominated for writing awards during this last awards season.  It’s well-written, and leaves you with that distinct taste in your mouth afterward — the hallmark of a fine movie.  

My economic themed evening continued: In this movie, we see a man who is sitting on a massive fortune, and yet believes “your children should have just enough so they can do something, but not so much that they will do nothing.”  In the end, he makes the decision we are all hoping he would make – to keep the land and try to find a way to save it from ruthless development.  This isn’t the most important part of the film, but it is one that provided a fair amount of underlying dramatic tension throughout, as we watch the main plot points of his comatose wife and teenage daughters go through their girations.

Lastly, I saw the 60 Minutes interview with Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.  

I just have to say that Elon Musk inspires me.  There aren’t many billionaires in the world you cheer for, but Musk somehow earns that honor with a boy-like determination to do huge things.  While most of us would have enjoyed the PayPal fortune by cruising around the world on a huge yacht, Musk has spent much of it trying to redefine industries in which he is most unwelcome; the auto industry and the aerospace industry. In spite of the opposition, Musk is proving that nimble startups can outmatch the big companies with big pockets and years of experience. He became the first private enterprise to launch, orbit, and retrieve a vehicle, and more recently became the first non-government to fly to (and send cargo to) the ISS.

In the last year, I’ve yet to hear anyone rave about their Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf – and yet the Tesla Roadster drivers continue to gush about the experience of driving their all-electric cars, and Tesla’s Lexus competitor the “Model S” has a line of people waiting who’ve practically paid for a car that is not yet being built.  And yet, when really considered in context – the achievement of mobilizing an electric car (as daunting as that has been) pales in comparison to the complex task of putting rockets, payloads, and – eventually – people into space.

You have to really see Elon Musk in an interview to understand what I mean, though.  He is personable, humble, and fascinated with what he is doing.  Yet he doesn’t shy away when asked what he responds to critics who say it can’t be done.  His matter-of-fact reply: “We’ve already done it.”  Then, moments later, when asked what he thinks of his childhood heros Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan testifying before congress against commercialized space flight, he literally tears up and says, “I wish they would come vist and see the hardware that we’re doing here.”

You have to hand it to someone who can be a human and an entrepreneur; someone who can make it, master it, and then really matter.