Not Sure You Should Be So Career Focused? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a young professional woman in the biotech space. I started with one company right out of college and then was recruited away to the company I am with now. I double majored in biology and business, and my company is paying for me to get an MBA right now. I love my job, I love school, and I have big dreams to someday be a member of a team that uncovers new medical approaches with plant compounds.

Here is my dilemma: I spend time with my friends from college (not much, because of work and grad school), and the conversation always seems to turn to balancing career and life, not wanting to be a slave to a company, and not letting our job define us. Most of my friends are pairing up, and it seems that one person (usually the woman) tends to sacrifice their ambition for their partner.

I don’t say much in these conversations because I don’t want to have to defend myself. But the fact is that I am delighted to work all the time, I love what I am doing, and I think my dreams and ambitions very much define me.

My mother is worried I am going to end up alone and will regret being so career-focused right now. Also, she wants grandchildren and I am not at all certain I even want to have kids.

What do you think? Am I making a mistake?

All In for Work

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Dear All In for Work,

Short answer: No. It is a beautiful thing to have a compelling mission. It makes life super fun and interesting. As long as you are reasonably happy, this can make for a very rewarding life—and you sound perfectly happy right now. There is no reason to let yourself be pressured by peers who aren’t having the same experience you are having. Or by your mother (sorry, Mom), who, of course, wants only the best for you but does not seem to see who you truly are. There is one moment in your life when you can focus on your work with no distractions or obligations, and it is now. I say enjoy the heck out of it while it lasts.

Longer answer:

I was born in 1960, so when I was at your stage in life I was being fed what turned out to be a bit of a lie (from the older wave of Boomers) that “women can have it all.” My experience was that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. The other secrets no one mentioned was that the women who want it all need to have three critical things:

  1. An unusual amount of stamina. The person who needs to get a solid ten hours of sleep every night, to exercise for at least an hour a day, and to meditate for another hour is going to have a tough time raising kids and crushing a career.
  2. A job situation which allows a great deal of flexibility to get work done on their own schedule.
  3. A partner (eventually) who is as dedicated to their success as they are to their own.

The thing you have now that so many generations of women didn’t have is choice.

Keep this in mind: the best thing you can do for yourself is keep your options open as you go. As you near your thirties and find yourself on the fence about having kids, you can always freeze your eggs. What you are noticing about how one partner in a relationship tends to sacrifice opportunities is statistically accurate. So if you meet a potential partner who feels right for you, make sure you are upfront about your ambitions and be clear that is not something you are signed up to do, so there is never any confusion. Many young people make the decision to become part of a duo out of fear of ending up alone, but I can tell you from where I stand that making big life decisions out of fear rarely turns out well.

You are asking the right questions, All In. The key is to keep checking in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure you still want exactly what you have created and are creating for yourself. Values—the things most important to us—do change. And yours may change. You just don’t want that to happen without noticing it. The thing you most want to avoid is regret. The more experience and education you accrue, the more choices you will generate for yourself.

You are one hundred percent allowed to design your own life exactly the way you want. Everyone you talk to will have an opinion about it (including me!) and, as interesting as the opinions may be, the only one that matters is yours. As long as you are keeping your options open and your finger on the pulse of what matters most to you, you will be ready to pivot quickly should you desire.

So go, go, go! Study hard, work harder, and enjoy your progress. As long as you stay tuned in to your inner voice, you will be just fine.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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