This week marked “Equal Pay Day,” which, though a myth, as this publication describes, remains a point of contention for women because for many, it speaks to a broader point about happiness. Many women feel not making as much — or having to work more, instead of spend time with their kids — prevents them from living the life they’d dreamed of living. That doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s a few ways women can make their dreams their reality, regardless of what politicians and the media say about a “wage gap.”
1 If you don’t want kids, pursue your calling, not your job
An increasing number of women are delaying parenting because either they’re unsure if they want children or, more likely, are unsure how to maintain both the career they’ve worked hard to achieve and raise children. If you find yourself in the lot with the former, it’s important not to allow yourself to get caught up doing something for too long, just to pay the bills. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself ten years down the road, still wishing for that vocation you find fulfilling.
This may be difficult. The Independent Women’s Forum works tirelessly to promote women’s ideals. In their new report “Working for Women: A Modern Agenda for Improving Women’s Lives,” they described some of the challenges women face when it comes to the workforce.
“In 2015, there were 56.2 million women outside the labor force, which is 6.6 million more than in 2009,” the report says. “The number of employed women increased by 3.5 million during that period, which means that for every woman who became employed during this time period, nearly two did not participate in the labor force at all. As a result, women’s labor force participation rate is at the lowest level since 1988.” Their suggestions for what policy makers and politicians can do to correct these problems are worth understanding.
That said, if you’re employed but still fight that nagging feeling you’re not fulfilling your calling, Forbes suggests trying to answer these questions, to guide you towards your dream job. That doesn’t mean quit doing work that’s just paying bills either–at least right away. As Jon Acuff said in his book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job, “Quitting a job doesn’t jump-start a dream because dreams take planning, purpose, and progress to succeed. That stuff has to happen before you quit your day job.”
In an interview with Woman’s Day a few years ago, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, the Executive VP & artistic director of OPI nail products said she’d offer this advice to women: “I think it’s important to be focused. Of course, there will be many bumps along the way, but don’t get distracted by the zigzags in the road. Vision and passion are very clear; if you believe in something, other people will too.”
Utilize the people you know, the tips you’ve gleaned, and the education you have, to pursue the thing that makes your heart yearn, and fills a void in the world–while paying your bills–and you’ll be an effective, happy member of society, at least when it comes to work.
2 If you want kids, don’t delay them
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2014, 47.6 percent of women between age 15 and 44 had never had children, up from 46.5 percent in 2012. This represents the highest percentage of childless women since the bureau started tracking that data in 1976. Additionally, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2013, there were just 62.9 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the U.S. In essence, more women are waiting longer to have kids, if they have them at all.
If I may be so controversial, I think this is a mistake. Many women wait longer, striving to develop their career, only to struggle to conceive when they’re older, just due to biology. Outspoken UK-based feminist Kirstie Allsopp says women should put off university and have children because “fertility falls off a cliff when you’re 35.” She offers the same advice I was given in my early twenties based on the same logic: “[It] might sound wholly unrealistic. But we have all this time at the end. You can do your career afterwards.”
Of course some careers are trickier to put on hold than others. But now, with the way many can telecommute, it’s a feasible goal. Many jobs, even medicine, pharmaceuticals, law and engineering–jobs women typically think of as demanding, 50-plus hours a week fields–are offering flex time positions.
3 Don’t try to have it all, try to have what matters
Of course if you’re going to raise kids and work, it’s imperative you face one caveat: You cannot have it all. On this matter, it’s better to channel Oprah, who said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.” How?
Michelle McRae, a mom of two in Virginia, who went back to work full-time recently told me the key to making her career at work and job as a mom function in tandem was knowing what was important, and tossing all the rest. “Ironically, in many ways my schedule actually feels much more sane now than it did when I stayed home. Why? I’m ruthless in setting and keeping priorities, particularly in regards to my schedules and commitments.”
Sabrina Schaeffer is the Executive Director of the aforementioned Independent Women’s Forum, a mother of three, and is a regular panelist on Fox News’ “Forbes on Fox” e-mailed me her tips for trying to balance the calling of her work and motherhood:
“No working mother will tell you that balancing work and home is easy, but I benefit tremendously from working in a ‘virtual office.’ This means that I’m often at my desk at 6am and back online in the evening, but this allows me to have the ability also to get dinner on the table and be able to help children with homework when they return from school. Allowing women flexible work arrangements is one of the best ways to ensure productivity and a happy workforce!”
4 Don’t forget yourself
Many women will balk at this idea either because it sounds selfish, or impossible, or, let’s face it, both. But every person, man or woman, needs time to recharge and refocus, whether a weekend once a year or a few minutes every day. For working women, or working moms, this can be a difficult, if monumental, task. But it’s key to sanity, energy–and to doing what you love, even better.
Sepi Asefnia, President of SEPI Engineering, a North Carolina–based civil engineering firm had this to say on the topic, “If you are not a whole person –– a happy and content person –– then your career does not matter. Respect your personal life; take time for it and don’t feel that you are detracting from your efforts at work by doing so. The more joy you have in your private life, the better your performance will be at work.”
I know one working mom who gets a pedicure about every quarter; another who views it as a treat to go to a salon a few times a year to get her hair done. A homeschooling mom I know goes away for a weekend a year — to plan her upcoming year. Whatever you like to do to recharge and refocus, make time for it in your schedule. You’ll feel better and you’ll be a better employee, mom, sister, and friend to those around you.