9 Lives for Women Blog

60 Second Elevator Advice from Anne-Marie Slaughter | April 18th, 2013

Late one night I was catching up on reading and I came upon an article in The Dartmouth about a lecture Anne-Marie Slaughter gave on campus on the topic of work-family balance.

There are two women who have been responsible for many compelling discussions among other women in the past year or so. Sheryl Sandberg’s widespread call for women to “lean in” to high-powered careers has been hotly debated, and Anne-Marie (now a professor at Princeton, previously appointed by Hillary Clinton to the State Department), wrote one of the most widely read articles in recent history: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”.

While at Dartmouth Anne-Marie discussed how rigid gender roles in the workplace can adversely affect both men and women. She left the State Department in search of a better work and life fit, and she has lent a strong voice to women struggling to balance their roles as both breadwinners and caregivers.

One quote in The Dartmouth article has not yet left my brain. When talking about career path flexibility, Anne-Marie advised women to slow down their career advancement and let their achievement arc extend later in life.

I think this is a brilliant suggestion—whether or not women ever take a hiatus from the workforce. The idea is that the pinnacle of your career—when you are energized to work around the clock, travel freely and share your wisdom—could be decades after your children are in diapers. This “arc”, as Anne-Marie calls it, could be well beyond our 20s and 30s at a time when we are free of guilt and the push-pull of work and family.

Perhaps it’s a silly parallel, but whenever my daughters have thought they should be the popular girl, the sports star, the class president or other marks of school age success, I’ve told them to just be who they are, continue to do their best and know that their time will come. I always say that you don’t want to peak in middle or high school—or even college. (Don’t we all know a former homecoming queen divorced four times or a former football star now pumping gas?)

Some people are just born under a shining star and can sustain success through many ages and stages. But there are plenty of famous child actors now in late night television commercials—and you have to wonder what will challenge Sara Blakeley of Spanx after becoming a billionaire at the young age of 42.

This is all to say that with the “arc” theory, Anne-Marie gives us all the ability to exhale, slow down, pace our careers and enjoy both work and life.

That’s right in line with my 9 Lives for Women blogs—acknowledging that at times we will be in or out of the workforce, foot on or off the career pedal. With luck, we each will have a long, healthy run, including many stages of work and life.

I asked Anne-Marie for what I call “60 Second Elevator Advice” for women who are building careers. Her advice, drawing from experience as both a mother and a professional in the news, is wise for women at every age and stage:

“Think of your profession not as a status to attain (lawyer, doctor, engineer) or a ladder to climb but as a portfolio of many different skills (writing, speaking, managing, strategizing, budgeting, caregiving, researching, fundraising, etc.). Figure out how to invest in that portfolio at different times in your life so that you can equip yourself for many different jobs at different levels of responsibility…

Follow your heart and do what you most care about doing. If that is being home with your children now, do it, but try hard to keep your hand in the work game somehow rather than dropping out completely. Whatever you choose, know there is nothing wrong with deferred gratification.”

Only you can decide where and when your career “arc” will be, and I’m sure you agree that in the path toward five or more decades of work and life fulfillment, it takes a village of wise women to offer advice and counsel. I’m grateful that women like Anne-Marie and Sheryl are willing to speak out with great food for thought, and hope that more women who don’t make newspaper headlines will share their thoughts and experiences, too.  —KAS

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8 thoughts on “60 Second Elevator Advice from Anne-Marie Slaughter”

  1. Susan says:

    The message in this blog is so true and appropriate for everyone. It was ~ 3 years after starting my first job with a Fortune 25 chemical company and balancing night school coursework for an MBA, when I voiced my apprehension to my mother about my ability to successfully balance work, school and marriage. Throughout my life she has offered very sage advice and this time was no different. She said, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.” I’ve never forgotten those words. I opted to climb the corporate ladder in sales while managing the busy lives of our four children, because this career path gave me the flexibility and balance I needed while raising our family. Now, the kids are grown with careers of their own and I have the time and energy to work and travel as required for my current job. Working for a much smaller company and still in the chemical industry, I am now in sales and business management. Work/life balance is important for all stages of your career, not just as a young person climbing the corporate ladder.

  2. Kathryn Sollmann says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Susan. You underscore my belief that it is possible to work while raising children–as long as you understand that there are many different definitions and structures for work. Not all jobs are chained to a desk 80 hours a week.

  3. Maria Botta says:

    Good piece Kathryn. Women cannot “have it all”, but what does that mean anyway? to me it means something very different than to any other woman – as women, and as individuals we CAN define ourselves by very different achievements. For example, I know women who solely define themselves by business, others, solely as mothers raising children. It seems to me that Sandberg and others choose to define their success and “having it All” by male terms – not their own terms. It is better to stress the individual choices and definitions of success – not what somebody else thinks “having it all” should mean.

  4. Lynne Marino says:

    Kathryn: I love the ‘arc’ and totally agree! As a recent empty nester, I have more time and energy to apply to my new career. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kathryn Sollmann says:

    Very good point, Maria. There is not a universal definition for having it all. And what Anne-Marie is saying in my blog post is that there is not a universal timetable either: you can have your definition of ultimate career fulfillment at a later point in your life when there is not as much of a pull to children and family.

  6. Kathryn Sollmann says:

    Lynne, you and other empty nesters do have more daily time and energy to apply to your careers–and a long span of time ahead. Often women who return to work in their 40s and 50s can have second careers that are actually longer than their first!

  7. Kelli Higgs says:

    I like the reference to “think[ing] of your profession not as a status to attain (lawyer, doctor, engineer) or a ladder to climb but as a portfolio of many different skills (writing, speaking, managing, strategizing, budgeting, caregiving, researching, fundraising, etc.). My background is diverse (attorney, professor, entrepreneur, etc.) and some recruiters do not know in “what box” my careerpath fits. Some people/women might be better served by not following the traditional “up or out” career model. A diverse career portfolio provides for many unexpected opportunities to have it all; albeit at different times and perhaps on more favorable terms. Non-traditional is the new norm ;-)!

  8. Kathryn Sollmann says:

    Kelli, I love your point that non-traditional work is the new norm. Too many women still believe that there is only one way to work, that there are only two choices: a demanding, power seeking, more than full-time job in an employer’s office or no work at all. Work and fulfillment have many definitions.

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