Throughout my youth in the 70s and 80s, the image of the Superwoman was the model of success. Like so many women of my era, I set out to become the model without any idea how reality would get in the way.
After accumulating ten years of work experience, I went back to college for my BA. In the process, I spent a year in France. Upon graduation, I was confident that my portfolio of education and experience would fast track me to success. I set out to achieve my goal with jubilance and fierce determination thinking that surely if Wonder Woman could do it, so could I.
The first two years after graduation I was well on my way to achieving my goals. Career, committees, and community service absorbed me. I loved it! Although I also had a full personal life, I had no aspirations to become a wife and mother. Then it happened. I met Mr. Right.
The problem was Mr. Right lived in the wrong place. Over the previous fifteen years, he had built a business offloading cargo from ships in the Bering Sea. This island oasis; Unalaska-Port of Dutch Harbor is a small island of about 4,000 rugged and innovative modern adventurers. It’s where the fishermen of the Bering Sea gather to off load their bounty and it’s where beauty is as abundant as the wicked scourge that torments those who stay too long. This remote, wild place is where Mr. Right made his home and where I must move if I choose to become his wife. Now in my thirties, I believed this was my chance for true love.
As a staunch believer of informed choice, it was time to meet with the professionals. To discover if our spiritual views matched we met with a seasoned man of the cloth. To verify if our financial goals were on track, we met with a financial advisor, to confirm compatibility, we met with a marriage counselor, finally to put my mind at ease concerning any question of drug and alcohol dependency (drug and alcohol dependence for men who live alone in bush Alaska is statistically through the roof), we met with a drug and alcohol counselor. The checklist was now complete, the data was tabulated and it looked good. Now, it was time to make a choice: leave the career for the unknown and jump for love—or not.
Confidence in my own abilities helped me make the choice. I made the jump secure in the belief that I could carve out a new career on that tiny rock. Three months after I moved to the island, I was well on my way to doing just that.
Two years later, I gave birth to our first child. Then, I was promoted to Risk Manager for the City. For fourteen months I lived the dream: I was the Superwoman model. Behind the scenes was the support crew that made my professional life possible: my mother was our live in nanny, my husband cooked, and we could afford anything we needed. Life was perfect for fourteen months.
One day I came home to find my husband waiting for me. He decided to close his business and move to the mainland. For a while now he had been tormented by the isolation. The same day, my mom determined it was time to move back to the Midwest. Suddenly, I was faced with unplanned, unwanted personal changes that would send me onto the career off ramp and into the unknown. With my support network gone, I was forced to leave my position behind and move to the mainland with my husband and child.
One year later, I was a full time mother of two and a part time self-employed Project Manager. My career choice was not planned. It was motivated by several visits to day care centers, nanny interviews, and various childcare providers. The smells, sights, and sounds I absorbed during those visits were like waves crashing into me from the Bering Sea. It was a cold, harsh reality. Leave my newborn and toddler or let go of the Superwoman model. Something had to give. I now found myself choosing a direction that would again steer me away from my pre-programmed image of success. I accepted that for me the cost of Superwoman was too high. I chose to focus on a career of a lifetime that held no raises, no promotions, and no status. My title? Simply Mom.
Ten years after giving birth for the first time, I am amazed at my own renovation and at the profound naiveté in the belief that we can have it all and do it all without great cost. Today, I find myself transforming again as a new MBA graduate, recently divorced (Mr. Right turned out to be Mr. Wrong), and an off ramper facing the on ramp. Believe me, the on ramp never looked so scary. In fact, I think I’m developing a nervous twitch!
But that twitch diminishes to a solid smile every moment I think of my contribution thus far. This contribution is one that has altered lives beyond my own. It has made a profound difference on our planet as it is a contribution that has helped other humans develop and grow. While it is true that I am not the image of professional success, I am not a Superwoman, and I don’t even have a career at the moment, life has taught me a lot of lessons. The first and most important is that if we can dedicate ourselves to a career of nurturing, loving, and caring for and about others in whatever capacity we are able, we have lived the ideal.
I believe that this is the model of Superwomen. It is imperfect and continuous and it is one we have the privilege to model and shape for future generations.
It is important to remember despite our best laid plans, successful careers are those which encompass our professional and personal life skills. Build yours to the fullest!