The Freshman class of Boomer-working women in the Gloria Steinem era basked in the glow of the potential of Having IT All.  Yes…we strove to achieve that mythical HAVE IT ALL status…but the critical element missing from most discussions was and still is what your definition of IT is.  (Sorry for quasi-plagiarizing Bill Clinton.)  OK…you’re  wondering where I’m going with this one?  And I admit that this blog isn’t about how I’m feeling or what I’m doing.  Instead, it’s a reaction to the the difference in the comments about my retirement from the women I worked with…vs those from the men.  

Here’s two comments that speak volumes.  After hearing about some of my retirement bucket list plans, one person said: “Susan….You’re Killin’ me”……And the other said  “You gotta keep on climbing”.   I really appreciated both and both were from good friends, who I believe really care about me.  See the difference?  And the very divergent implications?

You see…so many of the very successful financial women in my office expressed that they were “envious” or “jealous” or more humorously, “you’re killin me.”  Not that any of them wanted to retire now, because I was admittedly the Old Lady in the house…. but the thought of getting off the treadmill and slowing down and experiencing something other than 10 plus hour work days definitely had some appeal. In contrast, there wasn’t a single man who was even a teeny bit jealous of my plans …not in the least.  (Or if they were, none said it)

And then..as  Carrie Bradshaw would say—“I started to wonder” why did the men look at this decision one way…and why the women the other????

That brings me me back to the definition of “IT”.  For working women, the IT can have multiple parts:  

      First–IT is a full time, high pressure job where you compete on a level playing field with men and perhaps have to work doubly hard to stay in the game.

      Second—If you’re a working Mother, IT means a “full time evening job” taking care of your children’s needs and being on call from the moment you walk in the door every night to the minute your head hits the pillow…or way after that, to be honest. 

      Third—IT means a having a second part time day and evening job taking care of the household and being sure that everything is in tip top working order.

      Fourth—If you’re a single Mother, IT is also being responsible for your financial well being—insurance, financial planning, investments and the like.

And if you’re a guy, if we defined your IT, it’s typically that high pressure job and the financial planning stuff.

Ok…I’m not necessarily saying that women work harder than men. But I am saying that women have a whole lot on their plate.  That female IT involves pretty herculean tasks—with little time for self, or self reflection or rest…or whatever.   Ok, we do make time for shopping and what we all call “maintenance”.  Trust me, it’s exhausting, absolutely exhausting.  Years of doing IT start to wear away at your energy and make the idea of sitting still look compellingly attractive.  Bottom line, I think that’s why the women were a bit jealous that I had successfully navigated my way through this jungle of multi-tasks to come out sane, happy and ready to take a different route for a while.

It’s probably not a good idea for me to speak for the men, but I think it’s safe to say that even after working extremely hard for many years, many still have enough energy and drive to want to climb the next mountain.  As a result, the thought of stopping to “take a breather” or slowing down to concentrate on a travel-infused bucket list isn’t at the top of their radar screen. 

Of course, all retiring working mothers don’t necessarily look away from that new mountain to climb—and maybe I don’t either.  But I do see two paths—which aren’t mutually exclusive.  At the very least, I see the advantages in taking a step back from the multi-tasking marathon to look around at the world and see what it has to offer….outside the four walls of an office!

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  • Jessica Leader says:

    You know I always appreciate a good gender parsing. The varying definition of “it” makes total sense as a driver for men and women’s different reactions to retiring. I smell a New York Times Styles section article in the offing!

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