Modern women have been taught that a successful career should be the most important goal in life. Get a job, work hard, climb the corporate ladder, and you’ll be happy. But when women reach the age of thirty, many of them realize that mindset doesn’t square with reality.
Career is only part – and often a smaller part than most people think – of the emotional fulfillment equation. Consider this: despite all the advancements women have made in their careers and education over the last few decades, women are, on average, less happy now than they were in the 1970s. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that, according to Morgan Stanley Research, “single women will [soon] make up an estimated 45 percent of all prime working age women (aged 25 to 44) – the largest portion in history.”
Today, more women than ever before are putting off getting married and having children in favor of professional pursuits. But when many of these career-driven single women reach their late thirties/early forties, they want children and are hit with the harsh realization that it might be too late for them to conceive. Ignoring the basic biological yearnings for a family is making women today miserable.
Women are, on average, less happy now than they were in the 1970s.
Dr. Jordan Peterson speaks to the balance of career and motherhood in many of his lectures. As a working psychologist, he dealt with many major law firms that kept losing their talented female partners (most of whom were about thirty) and wondering why. The answer is simple, really.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a single woman,” says Peterson, “Who hadn’t seriously flipped in attitude towards the balance of family and career by the time they were thirty. And then you see a lot of women who, at forty, haven’t had kids and perhaps wanted to, and that is not a pleasant situation.”
I’ve found this to be true in my own personal experience. In my early twenties, I was hyper-focused on my career. I moved across the country to Los Angeles (a city where I knew no one), threw myself into my job, worked long hours, and let my love life take a back seat. Then I hit thirty and realized that my career was not bringing me the ultimate levels of happiness I thought it would. I yearned for a family of my own, but had built zero foundation upon which I could start one.
You Should Still Pursue Your Professional Goals, but…
None of this is to say that women shouldn’t set lofty career goals or chase their dreams. They should! Setting professional goals and achieving them, learning new things, growing your skills – these are all admirable pursuits and well worth your while.
While I eventually decided to leave my job in LA, I still learned so much during my time there. I met interesting people, gained valuable experiences, and discovered a lot about myself. In life, learning what you don’t want is a critical step towards understanding what you do want.
But there’s something else that’s just as significant in a woman’s life that the modern feminist movement doesn’t want to talk about: having babies and starting a family. The balance between career and family is important, and for many women, the scale is massively weighted in the wrong direction.
No matter what your job is, you’re ultimately replaceable in the eyes of your employer.
For most women – not all, but more than you might think – when they hit the age of thirty, they experience a shift in their perspective on life: they’ll begin to focus less on their career and more on starting a family. For women who grew up in the “I am woman, hear me roar” feminist movement, this desire can feel wrong – almost like a betrayal to their gender. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!” the feminists said! That’s all well and good until you want to have a baby and realize a man would come in pretty handy.
Everyone should go after the things they want in life, just realize that no matter what your job is or how hard you work or how much you get paid, you’re ultimately replaceable in the eyes of your employer. But do you know the one place in life where you’re never replaceable? In the eyes of your family. The goal of getting married and having children is just as (if not more!) admirable as any career goal.
Why Does Your Perspective Shift at 30?
There’s already a stigma in our society about women hitting the age of thirty and how it changes them. An entire Friends episode revolves around Rachel having an emotional breakdown on her 30th birthday when she concludes that her life is not playing out according to plan, despite Monica’s assurances that, “You’re at a great place in your life. You have an amazing job, good friends!” But Rachel doesn’t just want a great career, she wants children. Hitting the 30-year milestone makes her realize she’d better get started soon because her biological clock is ticking.
Once a woman turns thirty, her fertility begins to decline. We can feel that, if we want to have children, our window is closing. We don’t like to talk about fertility issues in our society because it’s not a fun topic to discuss, but infertility is far more common than most people think, and ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist altogether will not make it go away. It’s much harder to continue putting off children when you’re in your thirties than when you’re in your twenties.
Author and marriage coach, Suzanne Venker, talks about this thirties “wake-up call” phenomenon in much of her work: “No one warned [women] that this would happen because we’re not supposed to talk about the fact that women want to nest… That is why if you want to be successful in love and marriage today, you have to think differently than the culture wants you to think.”
Consider what your happiness equation looks like and how the important things in your life factor into it.
Society is setting many women up for lives filled with heartache and regret as they age and suddenly realize that it’s too late for them to create the family they didn’t even realize they desired. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things you can do in your twenties and in your thirties to prepare for and deal with this shift in perspective so that it doesn’t result in whiplash but instead produces a positive outcome.
It’s okay if you’re in your twenties and don’t want kids yet. You don’t need to get pregnant tomorrow, just bear in mind what you might want your future to look like and how you can begin preparing for it now. Date with purpose, choose a career that will allow you the amount of time you want for motherhood, and live in a place where you would want to raise a family. The same rules apply if you’re already in your thirties and, like Rachel Green, you’re concerned that your childbearing window is closing. Maintain an awareness of your fertility, consult a fertility specialist, and learn how lifestyle, diet, and targeted supplementation can help preserve your natural fertility. Doing these things now will set you up for less stress in the future.
Shifting priorities doesn’t mean you need to give up your career in order to start a family, simply consider what your happiness equation looks like and how the important things in your life (family, career, friends, hobbies) factor into it. Every woman’s happiness equation is going to look different, and that’s okay. Life is all about balance and maintaining equilibrium can be tricky – if not impossible, at times – but that doesn’t mean you should completely forsake one priority in pursuit of another.
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