Archives for : August2011

Redefining Life’s Blueprint: A Counter to Penelope Trunk

I live in an amazing ecosystem of women who defy convention, reinvent the rules, and passionately take risks to better the world around them.

This isn’t everyone’s habitat and the team at Women 2.0 brought it to my attention. The Women 2.0 leadership team was sent the latest blog posting by Penelope Trunk titled,“A Blueprint for a Woman’s Life.”  It wasn’t any blueprint I wanted, nor a doctrine I wanted the women I care about to pay attention to.  Perhaps she wrote it to incite controversy and its natural follower, dear ol’ fame. Perhaps she really believes in her words.  Perhaps she had a bad day. Regardless, I found her ‘blueprint’ not only useless but also misleading advice for women who want to achieve success.  As women, the worst thing we can do is strive to get ahead by being like men or bending to societal pressures.  Our value comes in our femininity and doing things differently. And there isn’t one blueprint for life.  There are millions. That’s the best part of being a woman in modern society.  We can each create our own master plan. Penelope lists 12 points in her blog post.  Point by point I will provide a counter to show that there are other alternatives:

1.     Do less homework. Penelope states that we should never be the hardest worker in class because men get ahead by playing sports and video games, not scholastics.  Men also have fewer college degrees and are starting to earn less money than women.  Why would we follow that? Education has always been the best way to end discrimination and level the playing field.  Of course we should kick ass on the soccer field, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for academic excellence at the same time.

2.     Get plastic surgery. The article claims it’s our only way to get ahead in careers and dating.  If we bend to this than we are just supporting the notion that we should be valued for our outside, not our inside.   Now, I cannot say that I’m going to turn down beauty enhancements as I get older, but I feel the same way about cosmetic enhancements as I feel about lacey lingerie.  First and foremost do it for yourself, not for anyone else.  True beauty and confidence comes within…the rest is just icing on our beautiful cake.

3.     Go to business school right out of the gate. Penelope claims women should start a MBA right after they’ve finished college without any relevant work experience.  Having a MBA myself, I know that I would have added little value to my classmates, let alone gotten as much out of the program had I not been in the workforce prior.  If you really want to use the MBA program as a way to obtain your Mrs. Title (as Penelope suggests) then skip the $100K in student loans and just go to MBA parties and get wildly drunk with those studying investment banking. Much cheaper.

4.     Start early to look for a husband seriously. Penelope says that our 20′s is the best husband hunting time.  However, our 20’s is also the time for self development. Personally, I think our focus should be on ourselves and our dreams while we are young and full of energy.  If true love happens, it will because we are at our best.  As I wrote in Happily Ever After, that timeframe is different for everyone.  Plus from my own observation the men that love us, love us because we have our own life outside of them.  I never believed in the Jerry Maguire, “You complete me” romance. We should complete ourselves so we can fully give to a partnership, not depend on it to define us.

5.     Milk maternity leave for all it’s worth. Penelope pretty much tells us to pick a career that gives a year off and is required to take us back. Shouldn’t we instead pick a career where we excel so we will be coveted for our skill set in a variety of places when we’re ready to start working again? (a timeframe, which again, is different for everyone. Some women need years with their children, others go crazy after spending a mere month home).  My good girlfriend quit her job to have two babies.  As she re-enters the workplace, her phone won’t stop ringing as multiple companies want her brainpower and powerful resume.

6.     Guard your marriage obsessively. I was ready to agree with her until she wrote,  “This means that the wife needs to just bite the bullet and maintain the marriage.” Isn’t marriage is a joint union where both parties make sacrifices?  As opposed to “guard obsessively” shouldn’t we say “work together with dedication.”  We don’t live in the 60′s anymore.  It’s not all on the woman to make things work.

7.     Practice austerity. Penelope tells us to be frugal. But….how do you be frugal while undergoing all of those cosmetic surgery enhancements she recommends?  Life is a worthwhile experience and some of my craziest expenditures (that whirlwind trip to Bali, that dinner at French Laundry, those pairs of 5 inch Manolos) were worth every penny.  Much more than injections in my forehead. Austerity is a tricky beast to pin down and a very boring attribute for life maximizers.  Life is short.  Spend money.

8.     Do a startup with a guy. Maybe.  But as a member of women 2.0 I can point to many successful teams of women leaders.  She claims that a woman co-founder won’t work as hard as a man because she’ll be on the baby track. She forgets that not all women are on the baby track.  And women have proven time and time again to be excellent multi-taskers, with and without babies.  My friend Maria Sipka, founder of Linqia is a prime example. She runs a company while passionately caring for her baby daughter.

9.     If you can’t get men to do a startup with you, do a lifestyle business. Lifestyle businesses are great.  I have one now.  But I didn’t start it because I couldn’t find a man to work with.  In fact, my next few ventures (non lifestyle) will be with all women teams.  No one is on a pure ‘baby track’ and all are able to achieve amazing things while maintaining a balanced life.

10.   Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t. There are numerous types of education and children benefit from all forms.  Each family needs to make the best decision for itself.  Personally I would want my children to encounter as many other types of children from various backgrounds at school so that their lives are as rich as possible.  I have never believed in isolation.

11.   Spend money on household help and Botox to keep more doors open longer.  Again, Penelope claims that plastic surgery is a must do unless we want to fade into irrelevance. I would say continue to do amazing things and the doors will stay open on their own.  Frozen facial features don’t get you promotions.  Hard work does.

12.   Break the mold in your 40s. She claims that women become unhappy as they get older and there is no good news about women in their 40s.  However, I know plenty of happy and unhappy people at every age.  The great thing about getting older (30, 40, and beyond) is that it comes with accomplishment and confidence if you keep doing what you believe in and loving the people you are with.  So dear Penelope I say break the mold every day, every year until you are 99.

F*** the Birthday Pressure, I’m Taking My Time

On August 8, 2011 the stock market sunk another 6%, making people’s 401K plans scream. Riots in London erupted, depleting stores of PDAs.  Also disastrous, I turned another year older.

As I said the digits aloud, San Francisco’s ‘summer’ felt especially grey. Frowning at the fog, I worried that I had not accomplished near enough for this age, was too far from the perfect balance I craved, and would suffocate under pressures that society puts on early 30something women.

The phone calls and emails that trickled in with “What are we doing for your birthday?” only continued to add stress to the day. I was on celebration strike, not feeling that I had any cause for bubbles. I spent my birthday week hibernating until my sister in law gave me a reprimand. “Why are you so focused on what you haven’t done? Why don’t you instead focus on all the things you have achieved? Why don’t you think about how you can use this to move forward?” She also hinted that I could focus on the people I had in my life, like, oh, my family.

Sigh. I really wanted to stay grouchy but as I started to list down things and people in my life, a hesitant smile started. As quick as the fog turns to sun, my glass went from near empty to overflowing.

I didn’t think about my unfinished book, but rather the work I’ve done on it. I decided to view my career ‘sidesteps’ as a dance with fantastic opportunities, not as job schizophrenia with ever changing business cards. I forgot about the list of things I ‘must accomplish’ and instead remembered the mountains I’ve (literally) already climbed. Ahhh dear Kilimanjaro…

In addition, I realized that it’s worthless to worry that I’m not married, and far better to celebrate that fact that I’ve been in love. A few times. Of course, not all of these love experiences were healthy…but they make good writing material for that unfinished book of mine.

By focusing on what I had, and not what I didn’t have, my life became brighter. Perhaps my crazy chest of experiences wasn’t too shabby for a young 30something. Perhaps it was the perfect foundation for my next leap forward. Perhaps I just am taking my time……

But rather than gag on my own autobiography or bore my readers with my next master plan, I thought I would list a few historical woman that didn’t make their major mark on society until their after 30th birthday. The thread that ties them together is simple: Keep trying, do what you believe in, and the best is after 30!

Try the daunting

Sally Ride was the first woman in space at age 32. She joined NASA by applying to a newspaper advertisement that sought candidates for the space program. She was selected out of 8,000 applicants. Sally Ride choose science and space not only because it intrigued her, but also because it afforded her a better career than tennis (she was a champion at that as well). Plus, the best things in life are often combustible. She once said,

“When you’re getting ready to launch into space, you’re sitting on a big explosion waiting to happen.”

Keep at what you love

Amelia Earhart became a nurses aid for the Red Cross after seeing wounded patients during World War I. After visiting airfields she fell in love with the art of flying. She worked a series of odd jobs to pay for flying school and then later worked as a teacher and social worker to support her airplane hobby, an odd one for a woman. She finally was chosen to make a transatlantic flight with a team of pilots at age 30. She was 34 when she made her solo transatlantic flight that made her a legend. On becoming one, she said,

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward.”

Stand up (or sit down) for what you believe in

Rosa Parks, known for propelling the Civil Rights movement, was the ripe old age of 42 when she refused to give up her seat on the bus and was arrested. Her jobs had varied from housekeeper, seamstress, and hospital aid but she was very active in the NAACP, confident that another way was possible. Of her experience she said,

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

Write what you live

Simone de Beauvoir, the famed French author didn’t start her writing career until she was 35. It was by living out of convention that propelled her to document another way of living, including her long term polyamorous relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre once asked her to marry him, but she declined and set up a joint household….with numerous guests.  The ultra feminist once said,

“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself — on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life . . .”

Perhaps loving oneself is also loving the path we are on, not comparing ourselves to the roads others take. And if we truly embrace the journey, we’ll likely arrive at a far better destination.  Plus as Pablo Picasso said, “It takes a long time to grow young.”

A Love Poem

“Write about love,” she asked.
Three weeks before her wedding, one of my closest friends asked me to create a poem to follow the exchange of vows.

The world stopped at her request.  My limbs stretched and my arms grasped for adjectives to describe this mysterious force. However, no matter how hard I scraped the air, my hands came back empty. My current life was filled with turbo jets, career ladders, and see and be seen parties. Love was too intimated to enter.  In desperation, I went back through my collection of memorabilia from a different time.

I dusted off an old tin and combed through par avion envelope sealed love letters, their contents full of passions past. I scoured my shelves for books of poetry, hoping my penciled thoughts in the margins of an e.e. cummings book may provide insights into an emotion I no longer understood.

However, I had a feeling that my past romances weren’t the correct material for a wedding ceremony.  I needed something that was solid, lasting, and current-just like my friendship with Colindra. I boarded the plane, hoping that I would be enlightened in the Pacific Northwest, a place I used to claim as my own.

Upon arrival at the Seatac airport, Colindra’s mom, Mrs. Evans, came to get me along with multiple other relatives. “It is SO good to see you,” she said in an accent still marked by the south.

We had a party at baggage claim while we waited for everyone to arrive.   Mrs. Evans was not the type of woman to leave others to fend for themselves.  Each wedding visitor was guaranteed a pickup and three hour ride to Whidbey Island, the magical wedding destination.  This human dedication was a warm surprise in my life of taxis, town cars, and general disinterest for how you got from point A to B.

As I hugged the expanse of relatives now crowding baggage claim # 16, I felt a little trickle of love.

After a rowdy ride in the Evan’s large van, we reached the Whidbey Island farmhouse at 1 am where Colindra was waiting for us, preparing decorations.   She thanked me for making it to her wedding…”I know how busy you are,” she said.

I gulped. “But of course I would be here,” I answered, realizing that my series of “I’m overloaded” Facebook and Twitter updates may have indicated otherwise.  Social media has documented my demise from a bohemian writer to an overcommitted workaholic.

I longed to turn back the clock to a different version of myself, a version that Colindra knew.   Our lives have interlaced through each other’s for 16 years. She’s seen me at my truest….and my most false.  As my body pressed in to hers for a hearty hug, I felt another surge of love. “Teach me,” I thought.

The next day more guests arrived from Ireland and Louisiana.  Accents filled the air and the Southern Baptists made friends with the Irish Catholics and whooped it up over crazy talk and dance.  Religion gets a bad reputation; I’ve never had this much fun with atheists.

I finally met the groom John, the Irishman that had wooed one of my dearest friends while I was far away.  Her phone voice had given away her twitterpated sensation long ago and I was eager to see the reciprocity in his.  However, John didn’t need to open his mouth.  His bright blue eyes sparkled with joy as he looked at Colindra with pure adoration.

To watch them was to love.

My parents finally arrived on the scene in matching dance outfits.  My mother had often spoken to me about love. “It a series of threads,” she said.  “Each day is another part of your tapestry.”   She and my father had woven a large one, enough to cover our family in warm security for a lifetime.

I started to wonder if I had my life all wrong.  I didn’t have a tapestry myself-just patches of different materials that refused to be quilted.   Could I find a thread to sew them together?

With my mind on story weaving, I joined the other bridesmaids at the nail salon for paint and champagne rounds to prepare for our celebration. My aesthetician had moved to Whidbey island from a metropolis life a few years ago to raise her children. “Here people don’t judge you by what you do, “ she said. “They judge you by who you are.”

Her comment haunted the corners of my mind for I knew that city convention was contrary to the love I was starting to reclaim on the island.  It was a land where tender caresses outdid college pedigrees and a witty joke was more valuable that your job title.

I returned to the farmhouse to change into my rehearsal dinner dress and paused to stare at myself naked in the mirror. My body had grown slightly rounder than the expired modeling contracts would allow, but perhaps there were other ways I could be valued.

With painted nails, a belly full of bubbly, and a newfound sense of purpose, I got out my Macbook and started to type my poem for the ceremony.  Perhaps writing about love wasn’t that hard after all.  All it takes is looking at the life around you.

My dear college friend Christine read over my lines and gave me a thumbs up.

She knew that happiness and love isn’t having what you want-it’s wanting that which you already have.