Let Your Life Speak

 

In my column last month, Live YOUR Life, I encouraged readers to stop listening to the endless stream of career and life advice that seems to be emanating from all directions. I cautioned that too often we look to external parties to provide the keys to our own fulfillment and in doing so, we fail to hear the most important voice on our journey – our own.

If you accept the premise that the best answers most often lie within, the next logical questions are “How do I listen to myself?” “How do I recognize the callings life is sending to me?” “How can I know myself better?” It’s easy for me to advise others to understand their joy, live by their values, and know their strengths and weaknesses, but how do we move from these abstract pearls of wisdom to actually practicing this approach in shaping our lives?

Let’s start at the very beginning, as Rodgers and Hammerstein suggested in The Sound of Music, “a very good place to start”. It can also be the most challenging place to start. In my teaching, I launch my students on their road to self-discovery by giving them a weighty assignment: “Write your own life story.” I ask them to take a minimum of 20 pages (typed, double-spaced) to do so. Most look at me in amazement when I assign this paper, wondering if I really believe their life stories can fill 20 pages.

Two weeks later when the students return to class with their autobiographies, I always ask them the same two questions. First, “Was it difficult to fill 20 pages?” For the vast majority the answer is “no.” In fact, many students report finding it difficult to fit everything into “a short 20 pages”. My second question is, “Did you find it meaningful to write the paper?” Virtually all respond with an emphatic “yes” (a very high positive response rate even after controlling for the general “sucking up” that many students may be engaging in). I offer two thoughts to my students:

  • First, taking the time to write your life story is a rich, powerful, enjoyable, sometimes painful, and always cathartic endeavor that yields tremendous benefits. As I often say, whether your life was filled with adversity or you grew up in a “Norman Rockwell painting,” nothing is more important in your journey toward self-discovery than taking a long look back.
  • Second, nothing reveals more about the person you are today and are likely to be in the future, than reflecting on the roads you’ve taken (or not taken). By writing your story you will learn so much – who influenced you most, what were the key turning points, what drove your decisions, what were the peak moments, what regrets you still carry with you and why.

Now, it is true that I can coerce the students into completing this project because of the threat of grading. Since I cannot grade your autobiographies, and it would likely be meaningless anyway, I’ll ask you to take the leap of faith that having the will and making the time to go through this exercise will be its own reward. In 2011, NY Times columnist and author David Brooks asked his readers who were at least age 70 to write what Brooks called a “life report“. He received over one thousand essays. I don’t have David Brooks reach and am not expecting a lot of submissions from my readers, but he and I did surface a number of common themes in reviewing our respective “assignments”:

  • Resilience is often an under-appreciated skill. We invest so much time these days trying to protect our children from adversity. But hard knocks take many forms, and as the saying goes “into every life, some rain must fall.” Life isn’t about just learning to avoid the falls (that’s a life free from risk taking, which is surely wanting), but also having the mettle to get back up when we do. No character trait might be more important in life.
  • We all have regrets, just don’t waste time dwelling on them. As my wise wife always says, “The sum of your life experiences is what brought you to where you are today. If you wallow in regrets from the past, does that mean you wish you were somewhere else in the present?” “No dear” I reply. And that’s not just me sucking up … honest.
  • Chance plays a huge role in all of our lives. I like to call it serendipity which in this instance I define not as “positive accidents”, but rather as “the faculty for finding positive outcomes in accidental occurrences” – a small but very significant difference. In reviewing our stories we come to fully realize that our lives are defined by not only our preparation and sense of purpose, but also by chance occurrences and our response to them.

Yesterday was graduation day at Boston College. We were blessed with warm sunshgrad capsine for our thousands of graduates and their guests. Our commencement speaker was Enda Kenny, Taoiseach (aka Prime Minister) of Ireland. One of Kenny’s helpful exhortations to the students was, “It matters less what happens to us, than how we deal with it. In life, we can allow our experience to strengthen us or diminish us. The choice is ours.” I couldn’t agree more. Remembering and reflecting on our life’s experiences, the good and the bad, the successes and the setbacks, the positive and the painful, will provide greater insights into who you are than any other undertaking I can imagine.

I am reasonably sure that few of you will embark on this exercise of recounting your life story, but I urge you to consider doing so. Looking back will always strengthen your insight and understanding about how to move forward. As the Quakers say, “let your life speak” – let yours speak to you. I am confident that those who do, will hear things that will alter them forever.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family and a Research Professor in the Carroll School of Management. He can be reached via cwf@bc.edu

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Live YOUR Life

Over the past year, the work-family discussion has been injected with a massive shot of adrenaline. Much of the resurgence of interest has resulted from the advice and actions of some highly accomplished women. Their overtures and the public reaction to them has enabled all to clearly see that those who thought the work-life dilemma has been resolved were very much mistaken.

The dramatic increase in our national discourse on work-family began with Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic addressing the issue of “why women still can’t have it all.” In her piece, which became one of The Atlantic’s most widely read articles, Slaughter discussed her experience as a senior State Department official and her frustrations dealing with the organizational barriers that prevent women from reaching and staying at the top. At roughly the same time, the story of Marissa Mayer appeared. Mayer is the Stanford educated multi-millionaire CEO of Yahoo! who decided that her maternity leave would be 1-2 weeks and that she would work during that time. After returning to work, she issued an edict that no employee in her organization would be allowed to work from home (neither occasionally nor on a full-time basis). To be clear, she wasn’t offering advice, she was just exercising her corporate prerogative as the organization’s Chief Executive Officer. That said, her decision to end all work from home met with a less than stellar reception, no doubt exacerbated by the nursery being built next to her office to address her own work-family challenges.

Next we heard from Sheryl Sandberg, the Harvard-educated billionaire COO of one of America’s most famous internet companies who encouraged women to “lean-in” and stop undermining their own career advancement. While her thoughtful message placed more responsibility on women’s actions and in doing so may have let employers off the hook, her well-researched book added much to the conversation. In response to Lean In, last month Erin Callan, another well-to-do Harvard educated former CFO of the now defunct investment-banking giant Lehman Brothers posed the question in a NY Times opinion piece, “Is there Life After Work?”. Callan had succeeded in a man’s world but decried the price that she paid personally for pursuing her ambition.

And finally, just a few days ago Susan Patton, president of Princeton’s class of 1977, wrote a letter to The Daily Princetonian, “Advice for the young women of Princeton: the daughters I never had.” In it, Patton cautioned her younger fellow female “Princetonians” to stop worrying about leaning in or leaning out and do the thing that no one else had advised them to do – find a husband. And by all means they should do so while still at Princeton. Patton’s article stated that “Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again – you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”

Isn’t it reassuring to know that there are still a few hopeless romantics left in this crazy world of ours?

The reaction to all of these words of wisdom and actions has been swift, loud, and most of all loaded with the values that under-pin a very wide ranging set of perspectives. Let me add one more voice to the Greek chorus. I didn’t go to Princeton or Stanford or Harvard although my wife did (now she must finally understand the magnitude of the mistake she made 23 years ago when she uttered “I do”). I am not a CEO. I don’t make or have millions of dollars, and if I publish a book on how to be “successful”, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a NY Times bestseller before its release date, or likely any time soon thereafter. That said I have been truly blessed in my life with a loving family, good health, and deeply interesting work. So you can be the judge of my credibility as I offer my own few words of advice.

For the past decade I have taught courses on careers and “following your life’s calling” to graduate and undergraduate students at a wonderful university. Beyond anything else, my courses are intended to take the students on an exotic and sometimes exhaustive journey to a place that too few have had the opportunity to fully explore – inside themselves. In my class, students reflect on their own life histories, their peak experiences, the values that drive them, the skills they’ve nurtured, their loves and their passions. They try to develop a vision for their lives that is guided by all of these and, dare I say, sometimes by their spiritual calling.

Hopefully without being seen as class warrior or a critic of these incredibly successful women, I can say that their life experiences are at least two standard deviations from the norm of the majority of women and men in America. Most of us haven’t spent nearly as much time breathing such rarified air. I would ask them, and everyone else, to challenge the view that “success” equates to reaching the top of a corporate ladder or the top of one’s field or marrying only someone whose pedigree is the equivalent of our own. Doing so seems so retro. At best, we are advancing a singular and I believe outdated view of success based on a historically male perspective.

I don’t happen to believe that he or she who “dies with the most toys wins”. But that’s just my view. I do believe that each of us must find our own path, develop our own definition of success, and live our own lives. And if we’re blessed enough, as these individuals have been, to achieve great financial success and attain powerful positions of leadership and influence, then we should use those to help others in their own personal journey to self-discovery and fulfillment.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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Searching for stability in changing times

2013 is just two months old and already headlines from the national and international stage leave us wondering, “Does anything endure? When we wake up tomorrow, can we count on something (or someone) that will remain intact?” Perhaps a small sample of “for instances” best illustrate:

• 2013 stories from the world of sport have rocked the credibility of our great athletic heroes. The young football star, runner-up for the Heisman trophy and captain of the revered Notre Dame team admits that he never met the “love of his life” whose tragic, but fictitious, death attracted universal sympathy and support for the player throughout the 2012 season. The greatest cyclist of all time, a hero on the bike and off for his brave and philanthropic battles against cancer, admits he cheated; that all the lives he ruined and fans and sponsors he duped were victims of a crueler, intentional, self-serving hoax. And most tragic of all, the double-amputee South African sprinter who captured the world’s imagination and universal respect at the London Olympics, admitted to killing his defenseless girlfriend under highly questionable circumstances.

• In politics, the across the board budget cuts that both US Presidential candidates and all congressional leaders said would never happen, did. While more than two-thirds of the American public feel that these arbitrary cuts will hurt the economy and agree that a mix of increased revenues and thoughtful budget cuts are necessary to get the economy on the right track, US leaders cannot find a way past their differences to perform their most basic function: agree on a budget for the government. And these problems pale when compared to the continuing instability in the Middle East and persistent poverty elsewhere in the world that seem more precarious and give us reason to be more pessimistic than ever.

• In perhaps the most stable organization in the world, the Catholic Church, its Holy Father swiftly and unexpectedly resigns – the first time a Pope has done so in over 600 years. While many Catholics may find this news understandable in light of the Pope’s age and diminished health, the news sent shock waves through the Church that claims more than one-billion members worldwide.

It is against this backdrop, a moderately large, but struggling internet company makes headlines by taking a giant step … backwards. Its young, female CEO, ostensibly in an effort to increase innovation and productivity by getting “all hands on-deck,” makes a decision to return to an entirely face-to-face culture, eliminating one of the most highly valued contemporary workplace features – flexibility.

The Yahoo! decision had many dubious aspects to it. First, the value proposition of any technology company will prominently include providing users with the ability to access information where and when they need it, making trips to the office far less necessary. That is a major reason why so many organizations have invested heavily in the internet and portable technology devices. Second, there is little research that supports that working from home or remotely costs money or undermines productivity, quite the contrary. Most employers embrace these as productivity enhancers, to cut costs, as well as to increase employee well-being and engagement. Third, when a CEO is trying to reenergize a troubled organization, there are two leadership strategies that hardly ever work: A) making across the boards changes to improve outcomes regardless of whether they make business sense and (B) eliminating highly-valued employee programs when employee commitment is needed most.

Yahoo Sign

Does the idea of eliminating some remote work have any basis for support? Yes. If a goal is to increase collaboration, some face-to-face interaction will help. If there was abuse by some employees utilizing flexibility, those cases need to be addressed (although flexibility abuse is often wildly exaggerated to justify not commencing or discontinuing such programs). If employees require an urgent, in-depth understanding of the critical strategic changes needed to “right the ship”, some increased office presence is useful. Do any of these reasons mean that eliminating telecommuting and remote work for all was a wise decision? Absolutely not. Hence the hugely public and overwhelmingly negative outcry resulting from a corporate decision by a second-tier player in the high-technology sector – a sector generally known for being in the vanguard of progressive workplace practices.

So what could be the rationale for making such a decision and why such a dramatic and swift reaction from so many? My guess would be as follows: A young, relatively new, female (sorry, but that is part of the story) CEO, who’s entire work history is in one highly successful “show up at the office every day” culture (i.e. Google) is charged with turning around a struggling corporation. Yes, being female is part of the story for two reasons. First, unfortunately, the decisions and actions of a female CEO are more closely scrutinized than their male counterparts. Second, the expectation is that female managers are more supportive of work-life issues than their male counterparts, but this is not supported by research. She is also new to the demands of being a working parent (and personally has unlimited financial resources to support her in this arena.) She may well have assessed that a key to establishing herself as a successful turnaround leader is by issuing a sweeping, one-size-fits-all corporate edict. Following such decisions, few in the organization will be in doubt regarding who’s in charge. If the edict plays well with cautious investors and more conservative managers who are inclined to believe that these “new ways of working don’t work,” all the better. Make a sweeping change and people will sit-up and pay attention, even if most do so for the wrong reasons.

Or it may just be an example of a person grasping for what’s familiar. Trying to find stability in a highly unstable world. Finding comfort in what we “know” works. Perhaps because every day the world around us makes us feel our moral and institutional foundations are crumbling faster than we can assimilate and deal with. This shift towards a more traditional way of operating, that represents an attempt to find firm footing in a rapidly changing world, may have exactly the opposite effect it is aiming for. The result will likely be far more cars in the parking lot but far fewer committed employees.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post

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Front-lines and Sidelines: Time to Let Go of Gender Stereotypes

Last week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced their intention to lift the military ban on women in combat. To say this is a dramatic step would be a significant understatement. General Dempsey catalyzed this breakthrough decision with a letter to Secretary Panetta which stated that all of the armed service chiefs agreed that “the time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”

The change in the military options available to women is controversial and for many good reasons. But the will to make these changes expeditiously signals an unmistakable message from the Department of Defense. While things are still far from equal for the genders in the armed services, it appears that exclusion of women from even the most “manly” military roles will not be accepted without significant deliberation. Whether you agree with this decision or not, it is a continuing sign of the progress women are making in the workplace (in this case, the workplace being the battlefield) and the continuing reduction of the limits that have historically been imposed based on gender. There is some evidence that this decision will have a significant impact on women in military leadership. Today, 80% of the highest leadership positions in the military are held by men and a major reason for this is their combat experience. While I’d personally rather see the trend moving in the opposite direction (i.e. let’s limit both genders involvement on the battlefield), this decision shows continued progress in the on-going battle against limits based on gender stereotypes.

On a seemingly very different topic, you may have noticed that this is also Super Bowl week – the event that celebrates another of the last male bastions – professional football. Super Bowl week’s television coverage is often filled with more hyperbole, testosterone, and macho stereotypes than any week of the year. On the field, the gender roles obviously will not be changing – the women will still be doing the cheerleading while the players will remain all male. Having women participate on the field would doubtless prove unwise. Recent efforts by the NFL suggest that the game itself, with its current rules, may be too rough and damaging for the toughest of men. I doubt even the most ardent feminist would suggest that we integrate women into the NFL in the spirit of equality.

But Sunday’s game will share the spotlight with that other great Super Bowl tradition, the Super Bowl ads. And if recent history is any indicator, those ads, which cost over $3.5 million for 30 seconds, will probably do more to reinforce gender stereotypes than a bone-jarring hit from the Ravens’ Ray Lewis. Sunday’s advertisements will no doubt pay homage to men behaving badly, or at least not “dadly” (to borrow a term from Al Watts from the National At-Home Fathers Network). The men depicted will likely be a throwback to the past: inept in the home, more interested in beer than babies, and on the sidelines of family life. Think I’m off the mark?

While I haven’t seen this year’s crop of Mad Men’s wizardry, past evidence is compelling. In a 2010 marketing journal article, Professors Jim Gentry and Robert Harrison shared the results of a study they conducted on the depiction of men in advertising between 2007-2009. They reviewed nearly 1400 advertisements targeted at men that aired during major sports programming. Gentry and Harrison found that 0.1% of those ads showed men in a domestic role and 0.5% showed fathers with emotional connections to their children. 12% of the ads did depict meals and food, but in all, the men were dining out (and trust me, they weren’t taking their kids to health food establishments). Nearly 1 in 10 of the ads depicted violent images of men but virtually none showed men in a positive family light.

So as women make significant strides in one of the last exclusively-male workplaces, the military, men continue to be mired in outdated, limiting stereotypes that pigeon-hole them as something less than whole persons. A handful of companies are trying to change this – take the Dove for Men campaign for example – but most seem content continuing to convey the same old clichés. Maybe I’ll register my dissatisfaction by boycotting this year’s Super Bowl Sunday spectacle and not return until images of men and fathers are brought into the 21st Century (or at least until the Patriots are playing again).

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It’s time men and fathers get off the sidelines and become vocal about the ways in which our lives are limited by gender stereotypes as the women’s movement has done so well. Let’s exert some pressure on advertisers for men to be seen in a more realistic and holistic light. I could exhort men to action with a “Come on Guys” or “Go Daddy”, but somehow I think that latter chant will likely conjure up exactly the wrong image.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post
 
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Dickens’ Enduring Lessons

With December’s arrival, we turn our attention to Christmas – the most wonderful, wondrous, and unfortunately, overwrought holiday for most Christians around the world. Last year, I wrote a piece on how “presence trumps presents” – encouraging people to think less about rushing to a mall in a panicked state to shop for gifts and rather, to spend our time with loved ones, realizing that giving them our time might well prove the most precious gift of all.

One of the ways our family does this is by collectively engaging in a number of annual family holiday traditions. One of the most cherished is attending an annual performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI, one of the most respected regional theatre companies in the country.

Of all the great English-language authors, Charles Dickens has always been my personal favorite. His turns of phrase, humorous anecdotes, and unforgettable characters are second to none. But so too is his passion for social justice and his ability to help us see that his most common and simple characters are the ones that engage in the most noble and selfless acts.

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A Christmas Carol, written 170 years ago and extremely short compared to most of Dickens’ works, offers more than its share of wisdom, as relevant today as it was in 1843. Three lessons stand out in particular. The first two are from the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past who “invites” Scrooge to relive Christmases of his own days gone by.

The first lesson Dickens offers is to simply look back. If not often, at least occasionally, ask yourself, “What led me to where I am today?” In my teaching at Boston College, often the first assignment I require of my students is to write a 20-page autobiography. As it did for Scrooge, the students’ long look back brings up so many memories, both good and not so good, of the people and events that have shaped their lives. The insights students gain from this exercise are invaluable. Many find answers to their most important life questions – some of which had been long and often pondered, others never before considered. Whatever the case, the past is filled with answers to many of our most vexing and important questions, if we only take the time to reflect on it.

The second lesson from Scrooge’s return to the past comes on the occasion of a Christmas party he had attended as a young apprentice working for “old Fezziwig.” Fezziwig, though a somewhat minor character in the novel, is nonetheless a very important one. He serves as the counterpoint to Scrooge who treated his own employee, Bob Cratchit, with such callousness. Fezziwig’s joyous Christmas celebration for his employees and friends by contrast, shows the impact of a good manager on the spirit and well-being of his or her people. When the Ghost of Christmas past questions Scrooge’s admiration for Fezziwig’s “trivial” acts of kindness, (“He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”), Scrooge defends Fezziwig ardently and eloquently:

“It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Fezziwig’s small acts of kindness that cost so little have left a lasting, though temporarily forgotten, impression on Scrooge. Such seemingly small acts of kindness can make all of our journeys lighter. I aspire to be Fezziwig, in my work and personal life, but worry that I sometimes better resemble the main character in this beloved tale. In fact, on my shelf at work, I keep a small statue of Scrooge which I have had for over 30 years. It was given to me by an old friend many Christmases ago. I believe she felt it best captured my then Yuletide spirit. That small artifact represents to me the third of Dickens’ lessons.

For many, Scrooge is remembered as Dickens initially described him – “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck a generous fire.” But A Christmas Carol, after all, is more than anything a story of transformation and redemption. Thanks to the insights he gains from the past (and the present and future), Scrooge reinvents himself to such an extent that he himself was sure that many would look upon his change with great skepticism. As Dickens described:

“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these may be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him.”

Reflection, small acts of kindness, and ultimately, transformation. These are just three of the many lessons offered in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. On reflection, I’m sure it was that transformed character of Scrooge that my old friend was thinking of when she gave me that tiny statue of Scrooge so many Christmases ago.

It had to be, right?

Happy holidays and as Tiny Tim observed “God bless us, every one!”

Professor Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family

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The Masculine Critique

In 2009, the Center decided it was time for a greater focus on men and work-family issues. At the time, the field was predominantly women – researchers, practitioners, and consumers – and seemingly all discussion was focused on women’s struggles. While that was entirely appropriate given women’s central role in the family and the (relatively) recent struggles of professional / managerial women to balance work and family issues, it kept our field in something of a box. That box suggested that family was a woman’s world and that men’s work-family struggles were confined to the bumps and bruises that went with climbing the corporate ladder in their breadwinning role.

So we jumped in with both feet and in the ensuing three years published three reports titled The New Dad that looked at the transition to fatherhood, how men managed career and family priorities, and the growing ranks of pioneering “at-home dads”. All three reports met with a very warm reception and suggested that the work was much needed and long overdue.

It was likely coincidental or perhaps one of those times when you hear about something and then it’s everywhere you look, but it seemed that the issue of the changing roles of women and men in families, and the world, really was a major topic of conversation and I wasn’t really sure I liked much of what I was seeing. Beginning with Michael Kimmel’s Guyland which painted a picture of the young adult male as a sexist, drinking, bullying, homophobic individual who sees hazing and conformance as the guy norms as the key to survival, and ending with Hannah Rosin’s End of Men with its picture of men in decline and more graphic details about “hooking up” than any parent of teenagers or young adults should ever know (sometimes ignorance is bliss). I have great respect for Professor Kimmel and Ms. Rosin, but were they accurate in their assertions? Suddenly my rare visits to my son’s 5th grade classroom, where the girls sat politely working and the boys seemed unfocused and chaotic, were just further “hard evidence” that the world of men (and boys) was on a deep downward decline.

In my more reflective moments, these hyped-up views of boys and men in decline didn’t mesh with the research we were doing with new fathers. Nor did it match my experience teaching hundreds of young men career-life courses in Boston College’s MBA program. These men were taking work-life-family issues seriously and were sincerely looking for a way to have it all. And if they couldn’t have it all they were clear that their families would not be the ones that paid the price. While I recognized these somewhat privileged part-time graduate students were hardly a nationally representative sample, their experiences gelled more with my perceptions than the more hyperbolic views I was reading in the press.

Finally, this weekend, Professor Stephanie Coontz, a researcher who speaks from a strong, data-based position, published a piece in Sunday’s NY Times The Myth of Male Decline. In it she offered a well-grounded, balanced view that gave credence to unmistakable trends based on gender in the US, but which also sorted fact from fiction. (It’s a good read and provides excellent information on careers and family from both genders’ perspectives.)

While my male MBA’s may not be a nationally representative sample of men, according to Coontz “among dual-earner couples, husbands with the least education do as much or more housework than their educated counterparts” (which of course is still less than their female counterparts). She also points out that there are some positive statistics regarding male behavior and misbehavior that are worth noting. Since 1993, domestic violence is down 50% and rapes and sexual assaults are down by 70%. And in discussing men’s less egregious but nonetheless problematic actions, she asserts “What’s different today is that it’s harder for men to get away with [bad] behavior in long-term relationships. Women no longer feel compelled to put up with it and the legal system no longer condones it. The result is many guys who would have been obnoxious husbands, behaving badly behind closed doors, are now obnoxious singles, trumpeting their bad behavior on YouTube”. Or if you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, on 60 Minutes.

Based on the Center’s research and Coontz’s research, it seems to me that we are more likely at the dawn of men than the end. Perhaps the shift in the playing field at work for men and women, the new economic realities, and an increasing awareness in both men and women about what it means to have had a life well-lived, offer the opportunity for men, along with (or catching up to) women, to recreate their family and work roles on balance.

At the risk of spending any more time than I’d like on the Governator, he may have spoken for all men in when he uttered his cinematic line for the ages, “I’ll be back.”

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

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Having it all – the last word

In reflecting on this summer, the stories that stick with me most were the London Summer Olympics and the “having it all” debate that has stimulated so much conversation. The latter was initiated by Anne Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic and was continued by the appointment of Marissa Mayer as the new CEO of Yahoo. Let’s start there.

In her piece in The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a political science professor and former US State Department senior executive, put forth her views on “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” She candidly described her overwrought life working as a senior policy director in the Obama administration and offered many useful insights into the challenge of balancing work and family in a very senior, highly demanding role. Her teenage son was having difficulties and acting out as she worked countless hours in a job that also had her living away from home every week.

As a result, Slaughter felt she needed to return to her tenured position at Princeton which she described as follows: “I teach a full course load, write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book.” Yet somehow in spite of this seemingly Utopian, highly prestigious, and obviously demanding job, the comments of her colleagues when she left the State Department made her feel “less than.” Really? This isn’t having it all?

Then there was the case of Marissa Meyer, the new Yahoo CEO who is in the “unimaginable” situation of being pregnant. That this is worthy of more than a small footnote in her story is the first problem. The last time I checked, in order to deliver children women need to get pregnant, and all of us are here thanks to that series of fortunate events. Yet this is seen as newsworthy. To counter any skeptics of a “pregnant CEO”, Ms. Meyer announced that she will only take a few weeks off for the birth of her child and will work throughout that time. Is this necessary in order for others to feel that Yahoo made the right choice? How about pointing to her degrees from Stanford and her stellar track record at Google, one of the world’s most successful technology companies? Shouldn’t those suffice? Ms. Meyer has a husband and personal worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars, yet feels compelled to show that she can work through the birth of her first child. With all she has going for her, this doesn’t allow her to “have it all?”

The other story was this summer’s Olympics, which I loved. But despite my thorough enjoyment in watching this amazing event, I was troubled by the syndrome often expressed that you either win gold, or you are somehow “less than.” I had difficulty watching some members of our Olympic team receiving their silver medal as if it was an unworthy consolation prize. The media plays into this notion that the athletes “disappointing performance” must be an inconsolable loss. Imagine those silver medalists are only second best in the world at what they do. How can they live with that? How do they bear up under the weight of knowing that they couldn’t have it all?

No one believes more than I do that striving to have a full life is a noble and desirable goal. We all want to have career success, rich family lives, and rewarding personal experiences. But at what point do we say – “This is enough.” At what point do we realize that we do have it all? At what point do we, who are blessed with good educations and good jobs, comprehend that making trade-offs or not reaching the pinnacle in everything isn’t a tragedy, it’s simply reality.

I’m sure there are those that, quite rightly, would see Michael Phelps as the great Olympic icon. After all, he’s the person with the most hardware in Olympic history and virtually every medal Phelps won was gold. But to me the person who best symbolized the Olympic ideal was Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who was the first double amputee to participate in the Games. Losing his legs as a child obviously meant he would live in a world with limits, yet somehow he achieved his dream of making it to the Olympics. He raced in the semi-finals of the 400 meters and finished last. Yet he earned the respect and admiration of fellow athletes and the world because of his spirit of optimism, courage, and good sportsmanship.

Pistorius’s motto is, “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.” To paraphrase his words in the spirit of the “having it all” debate, I would suggest: Don’t measure your life by the things you can’t have, but rather, by the many blessings you do have.

That is having it all.

Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in our member newsletter.

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