For nearly two years now, I've been part of an amazing event that isn't widely publicized and is, shockingly (for me, anyway), invite only. It's invite only because it takes place in women's kitchens and dining rooms and assumes a good amount of trust and intimacy. This event was christened Comfort Food Club because of the original intent to comfort me after a breakup with a nice meal and conversation in a trusted space. Our conversations are private and our bonds are palpable because of the trust. So this post isn't going to break that bond of trust, but I do want to bring a question forward that I've posed in three cities where CFC has taken place: Do you have to sacrifice love for greatness? And, if so, what would be your choice?
And yes, I do believe that the sacrifice has to be made especially for women. Statistically, the realm of love and family falls more on the shoulders of women according to research from many sources. According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, the majority of married household responsibilities still fall on the shoulders of working women (and a larger percentage for those with kids). In Why She Buys, author and expert on marketing to women, Bridget Brennan, discusses the fact that more women are delaying marriage in order to get ahead in their careers and focus on themselves. And a special issue of TIME Magazine on the State of the American Woman in October of 2009 uncovered research that showed that even though 40% of women are the primary breadwinner in the household, they are also the primary caregivers in the household.
And it would be all well and fine to suggest that the role of women in family is necessary to the well-being of the family, their community and the world, but it just isn't really valued. There is much lip-service paid to the importance of family and child-raising, but when we take a look at the way it is treated in North America, money isn't put into that realm. I can't find the article, but over a year ago, I read an article by a prominent business success leader (as described in the intro) who said success required sacrifice: time and chutzpah and really prioritizing one's worklife (if you can recall this article, please let me know). Then Clay Shirky recently wrote a highly controversial post ranting about women and their lack of taking risks. And though I think Clay was partially right (the more risks I take and the more chutzpah I have, the better I've done), women just aren't socialized to be that public and it's partially because we spend so much time taking care of our private lives.
And then I take a look at the history of women who have achieved what I deem as greatness: changing the world in significant ways. Women throughout history like Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale and Susan B. Anthony were never married and those who were, like Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Indira Ghandi and Katharine Hepburn were very untraditional in their approach to marriage (Amelia Earhart called her marriage a 'dual control partnership') and married later on to equally powerful, impressive men. Even our current heroine, Oprah, remains unmarried and focused very much on her career.
And I don't necessarily conflate business success with greatness, though the two require a similar amount of dedication to one's goals. That dedication takes a great deal of time and energy - time and energy that most people don't have after a day of working to get by, then working the second shift at home. Believe me. I'm a single mom and if it weren't for the help of my family and my son spending many of his early years with other family members (including his father), I wouldn't have got the leg up on my education and early career I needed to get ahead.
So what is there to choose here? Love or greatness. On one hand, you will have a life partner, someone to lean on and grow old with. Someone to keep you warm at night and share those beautiful moments with - like silently reading together, sharing a crossword or slow dancing in the middle of the street spontaneously. Someone to grow with and share experiences with. Someone you can trust with your deepest desires and secrets and who makes you feel safe and warm even on the coldest winter night. That's love. Amazing connectedness to one person (and potentially a few little people). On the other hand you take the world on your shoulders. You dedicate your passion, love and energy to many - often to people you don't even know. You will be told you are doing something futile or, even worse, selfish. You will be told you are wrong. Every day is frustrating and, yet, so rewarding. You connect with many people - but often drift off to sleep alone at night. I think of Spiderman all of the time. He had to do this, right? He had to give up Mary Jane to save the world. Batman had to give up many loves to become the Dark Knight. (and yes, both Batman and Spiderman are obviously men, but they are also fictional) If you are able to be a superhero AND have found the love of your life, rock on. You have a rare experience.
Greatness sounds awful and lonely and like a huge burden. It's no fun and the hours and pay are bad. You have no guarantee of achieving anything significant in your lifetime. And you certainly never know if what you are doing is 100% right because you have your own idea of justice. Joan of Arc learnt that the hard way. Who in their right mind would choose a path of greatness over love?
Well, I would for one. Not that I don't think about the love path everyday and envy those who choose it. And when I made that realization, I genuinely mourned letting go of any semblance of normalcy in my life. Whenever I think of dipping my toes into the love pool, I'm reminded that it's an uncomfortable temperature for me. I can't help but rant on a first date. I've canceled many other dates because I was getting into yet another big project and couldn't be bothered to dress up. And I'm sure that talking to any number of my exes would bring out stories about the extreme pressure I put on myself and others to meet my ideal of the world. But at the same time, I'm surrounded by amazing people who I love and love me - just not romantically. And I would be miserable on any other path than this one. If I'm not working on something to change the world or talking to somebody about how we should do proceed, I get depressed. I feel lost. Food tastes blah. Colours dull. As soon as I have a purpose, my community of friends and supporters and a path, I come alive. My turn-on is a fire in the belly. My intimacy is a meeting of the minds. And my love is a wide net of compassion and support.
What would you choose?