Dear Gens X and Y
katty I was twenty-nine years old and living in Tokyo as a foreign correspondent for the BBC when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I phoned up my best friend, a colleague from work, and burst into tears. "I don’t know if I want kids. What about my career? No one will ever take me seriously again.” For the first time in my life I was really loving my work, getting praise from my bosses and selfesteem from my rising profile. If I left work at 8 p. m. I felt I was going home early. I was convinced that having a baby would mean the end of all that. I’d be put on the "mommy track.” Thirteen years and four children later I realize that’s not true. My career has gone through various permutations, some fast-track, some slow, but it does still exist. I do know, however, that I have benefited, as I’ve sought flexibility over the years, from my early days of hard work, and from the career base I established for myself in my hard – charging twenties.
Women who are just starting out these days are well ahead of where we were twenty years ago. It never occurred to us to think ahead about children—we’d chugged back the corporate Kool – Aid. The confrontation with reality came hard. But today’s young women are different. They are already planning long term and asking balance questions right from the start. Gens X and Y, you are smarter than we were, and you’re right, it is never too soon to build healthy work habits.
But the reality is that you may not be able to walk into a company for your first job and demand significant flexibility. So in the early part of your career, you may well have to make sacrifices, adopt the dragon-slayer attitude, and pretend that you are dying to do nothing more than pull four all-nighters in a row.
Valerie Jarrett, President Barack Obama’s senior adviser and a family friend, says she’s worked hard to help her daughter, Laura, who is in law school, navigate the new work terrain. A lawyer herself who was running the Habitat Company in Chicago until last year, she tells her daughter to choose her profession carefully so she can have a life and a family.
“There are so many more options now for women, but you still have to be savvy about your choices, and know what the profession will demand,” she says.
Jarrett says she also encourages her daughter to do the hard work early, so that she will have earned the flexibility she needs, when she needs it.
“We had long conversations about goodwill. I told her, ‘Laura, this is what gets you through life, and you do want to build it up.’ So, for example, in the beginning of the summer she worked like a dog. I said there’s only one chance to make a first good impression, and so you’ve got to work exceptionally hard at the beginning if you want people to see what you’re made of basically.”
“I tell women, build up that goodwill bank, make those sacrifices early,” says Melissa James of Morgan Stanley. “It only gets harder over the course of your career to make those time sacrifices, and if you build up that goodwill bank, hopefully you’ll be able, at some later stage, to cash in on it.”
That said, you can still learn much from the techniques already discussed in chapters 3, 4, and 5. You should already be thinking big and using your time well. And we definitely don’t want you to become a doormat—work hard, but keep focused on your life-work priorities. Be certain that the projects you are spending time on will pay off for you. Don’t let yourself get handed all the drudge work. These are invaluable skills and will show from the start that you are leadership material. Start experimenting with our techniques now, when the stakes are not so high.
Thirty-two-year-old Anne Hurst, who has a master’s degree in public policy, just quit one nonprofit job as an educational consultant to move to another called Jump Start. She took a $10,000 or 20 percent annual pay cut to do it. Why? Like so many young women of her and perhaps your generation, work – life balance is already important to her.
“There was very little respect for the fact that I had needs and desires outside of work, the fact that I wanted to go to the gym or go running. Of course everyone would say it was fine, but in reality, the number of hours that I worked, the office situation that I was in, really didn’t respect making me a happy person.”
Anne is about to get married and wants to have children, so working for a company that would offer flexibility is already very much on her mind.
“I definitely thought about it when I was thinking about taking this job. I thought about the atmosphere in the office and how I would feel more relaxed if I have a kid, about my needs to adjust my schedule from time to time. My last job had horrible deadlines. You had to work through no matter what, which is completely not acceptable if you have to go home and get your kid from day care.”
It’s also important that you carefully study the industry where you are working or considering working. Do your research. Zero in on its track record with women. Is there a large percentage of women in the workforce? In management? Those would obviously be good signs. And what kinds of lives do those women lead? Talk to some of the women there about their experience in that business. Before you launch yourself on a certain path, ask if it’s an industry where it’s easier for women to pull off the New All.
Maybe you don’t have children at home, and maybe you aren’t thinking about having any yet, or even at all. Maybe you really do want to dedicate most of your free time to your career. Even then you will benefit from honing your skills at buying time, and being more efficient and ridding yourself of guilt.
And when you’ve earned a few years or decades of corporate credit and want to cash them in to buy more freedom because smart time isn’t enough, we’ve got the ultimate guide to negotiating a whole new deal. Just ahead you’ll find our road map to more formal flexibility and an entirely new life.
news you can use
1. If you try to be perfect all of the time, you will work all of the time.
2. Be savvy—delegate, self-promote, and learn when to say no, and yes, strategically.
3. Note to Gens X and Y—like your mothers said, you are never too young to adopt healthy habits.
O n Sunday as the day wore on,” remembers Christy Run – ningen, “I would become more unhappy, more cranky and more frantic.”
Oh, that Sunday evening feeling. It’s a state of mind we can relate to.
“You know that gross feeling you get in your stomach,” Christy explains, “before the workweek starts, thinking, ‘OK, now I’m going to be locked in, I’m going to be at the office, for these forty-plus hours.’ ”
How about a world where you never have that Sunday evening feeling? Where that nausea in the pit of your stomach is banished?
How about a world where even the concept of eight to five – thirty for forty-nine weeks a year doesn’t exist at all? A world where you can work when you want, where you want, how you want—as long as you get the job done and done well.
How about a world where you never have to swallow the panic
as you add up the waking hours you have out of the office and realize you just aren’t spending enough time with your children? A world where you don’t feel like crying once a week because you’re overstretched, underappreciated, and flat out at the end of your tether?
We are talking about a world where Monday morning feels (almost) like Friday afternoon. Where going to the office is no longer a depressing duty but a chosen pleasure. Where work is rewarding but not regimented.
That’s our nirvana. It can be yours too. You can change the whole structure of your work life—toss the whole thing up in the air and let it fall in a pattern of your choosing. Women all around the country are doing it. Many more than you think. In this chapter we will show you how to go beyond playing with the margins to squeeze minutes or hours out of your day. You will learn how to renegotiate the whole deal. We will teach you to think big and bold, and we will show you how other women have gone about getting a New All.
Oh, and by the way, we’ll show you how to make your bosses love nirvana too!