Having it all?

Career and love: can we ever have it all?

So, I’ve got a bit of a situation here, and I’ve no idea how it’ll turn out.

I want my personal relationships to bring me happiness. I want to have a successful, fulfilling career. But it seems that wanting both simultaneously is just too much to ask.

You can’t have it all.

This whole situation would be so much easier – in fact, probably wouldn’t have occurred – if I weren’t so ambitious… Or, if my chosen ambition didn’t take me far away from the comforts of ‘home’. (Alas, it does.) My first boyfriend was extremely critical of my ambition, saying I was ‘too ambitious’ and implying that this would destroy all my relationships.

I’ve ALWAYS been of the opinion that no one and nothing can stop me on my chosen path (whatever that might be at the time). This was something I inherited from my mother, whose ‘Fuck you, I’m doing it anyway!’ attitude I’ve long admired.

My dad, too, has always helped me feel that the world is mine to conquer and that ANYTHING is possible if I put my mind to it. The highest compliment in our home is being ‘bright’ – one that is dished out plenty. So, working towards something, getting rewarded and taking my place in my own grand scheme of things has always seemed the natural progression. I’m doing what I want with my life, because I’ve made it possible for myself (partly without intending to).

The thing is, I want to be an academic, and my chosen field of study (though specifics still elude me) is very specialist and takes me far from my UK home (I’m leaving for China this week, and won’t be back until July).

So, how on earth do I follow my chosen path AND find love and maintain relationships?

Well, the problem (and delight) is that I’ve already found love. My issue is maintenance, which ain’t going too well – in fact, ain’t going AT ALL right now.

Let me explain.

My personal situation led me to question which lifestyle was the lesser of two evils:

a) ‘Career-bitch’, super successful in my field, jet-setting but perpetually alone;

OR

b) Happily settled (married, kids?) in a loving relationship but working a basic data-entry office job in the town I grew up in for the next 20 years.

Reductive and dramatic, perhaps – but you get the idea.

This is where my desperation arose as I was preparing to graduate just over a year ago. Unable to voice my worries or to change the unrealised stirrings of my dream-like ambitions, I broke up with the guy who’d supported, inspired and buoyed me for the past 4 years and whom I still (yes, still) love and don’t want to leave behind.

My fear of the one drove me far closer to the other. Ok – neither is at all bad if it’s what YOU want, what you (and you alone) have chosen as your path.

careers and love friends joy

(Image via)

But WHY does this have to be a choice? Can’t I have my career and love too?

Casting around, I’ve found similar stories that don’t exactly inspire me.

Women who get high up in their industry either:

a) put their career ahead of their personal life (and get judged and labelled for this decision);

OR

b) end up quitting or collapsing under the strain of juggling family and professional life simultaneously.

For example, Josie Rourke, the first female artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, who also just happens to be single (right now) and childless at 34, was dubbed as a ‘sterile careerist’ on Twitter, within weeks of her appointment.

On the other hand, ‘high-flying MP Louise Mensch resigned her seat to be with her husband and kids in New York. Then, in July 2012, Princeton dean Anne-Marie Slaughter explained why she had given up a “foreign-policy dream job’”in Washington because her fourteen-year-old son back in New Jersey was having problems’ (from Elaine Showalter in Fifty Shades of Feminism).

It’s not just that there aren’t sufficient measures in place to help women in pressurised careers deal with difficult personal situations – women with families, young kids or relationship issues – it’s that society does not make allowances for people to juggle careers and personal lives because we’re still stuck in the dark ages in which gender roles determine our professional and social abilities.

True, this is not JUST a women’s issue – I’ve noticed male academics too seem to struggle maintaining personal relationships (though I don’t know the statistics), and I do wonder: is it to do with their deep involvement in their work, the necessity of travel, or what?!

However, I do think this affects women more than men and is something we need to look at more closely. It’s an issue that’s troubled me for some time, and I feel it worries women far more than men of the same age – how do I make these elements of my life work in tandem?

Can I ever be successful AND happy?

Short of my ex moving to China, or me giving up on a, as yet unchartered, fledgling career, I’m pretty stuck for options right now. (Long distance just does not work when you’re thousands of miles apart for months on end, believe me).

For me, all I’ve got to hold onto is hope for the future and the reassurance that, yes, I do know what love is.

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