Published on March 14th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
The Unlikelihood Of Our Daughters Following In Our Footsteps
By Stacy DeBroff—
Our generation tried mightily to juggle our kids and careers—I know I ratcheted down my hours while directing the Office of Public Interest Advising at Harvard Law School with a ground-breaking job share and waited to start my business until my kids were older—but what did our daughters really think about our efforts? And what will they do, now that they’re finishing college and embarking on graduate school or first jobs?
Will these young women—who grew up watching us juggle conference calls and concert performances—follow the trail we blazed before them and for them . . . or will they chart their own course?
So many current Moms grew up with mothers who didn’t pursue careers outside of the home. While they may have worked prior to or in the early days of marriage in the few fields open to women at the time—namely nursing, teaching, or administrative support—societal norms of the times dictated that women pull back from their career aspirations when they started their families.
For the most part, exceptions to this traditional path proved to be women who found themselves as the sole support of their kids or a few trailblazing women who marched to their own drummer—regardless of society’s views.
When the Women’s Movement gained momentum and we began to think about pursuing our own careers after college, instead of looking to our mothers as role models, we typically turned to our fathers—following in their footsteps and embarking on careers in the professions, namely law or medicine.
This certainly proved true in my career trajectory. I grew up with a Mom who studied English and children’s library sciences in college but stayed home to raise my brother and me, and a father who worked as a partner in a law firm in Pittsburgh. When I was 12, my parents died in a plane crash, and I believe my decision to attend law school represented both a way to follow my Dad’s path, as well as a tribute to the work he could never complete.
Yet as often happens when we make decisions based on other people—I quickly discovered I couldn’t bear to spend my career as a litigator. Moving to Harvard Law School proved a better fit for me, as I loved founding and building the Public Interest Advising Office from the ground up and counseling emerging lawyers—but I eventually realized I needed something different, something that allowed me to express more of my creativity and that tapped into my passions. I left when work/life balance issues became too much of a challenge and took the first step toward my own entrepreneurial journey.
And I’m not alone. As I’ve built my digital and social consultancy over the past decade, I’ve traveled extensively meeting entrepreneurs and business executives from all walks of life, and I’ve met a lot of women who are former lawyers.
Why have so many successful women moved away from the legal field? For many women of my era, the professions represented legitimacy, success, and the chance to break into the traditional world from which previous generations of bright, energetic, and capable women had been discouraged. Attending law or medical school became the natural progression for us in defining our professional lives.
Much as the women of our mother’s generation worked as teachers or nurses when they had the opportunity—even if a stint in the general counsel’s office would have been a better fit—many of today’s Moms graduated from professional schools in droves, hurtling ourselves toward buttoned-up careers that, too, may not have been the best choice for us. At the time, blazing the trail for ourselves—and more importantly, the generations of young women who would come after us—mattered more than realizing whether or not we would actually like working as a litigator or a surgeon.
When we approached our 40s or 50s, many women realized that the time had come to realign our careers to our personal passions. We paid our dues, burned the midnight oil, climbed the ladder, and stifled our creativity—and now we could put our own passions and interests first. For many of us, that meant leaving an established career behind and exploring the joys, challenges, and adventures of entrepreneurism.
As we look back on our career journey—with all the twists, turns, and course corrections—we also need to think about how we discuss work and family issues with the next generation: our daughters.
If I had to make a prediction, I’m not convinced this generation will choose to follow in our footsteps. I don’t see them focusing solely on work or gunning for that next promotion. They want fulfilling work, but it’s equally important for them to have friends and a lifestyle that allows them to pursue their own interests.
While it’s a different road than we took—I think it’s a more honest and noble path. These women won’t wait till they reach 40 or 50 to discover their passion. They’re demanding it now. And they won’t abide by what society says they should do. Through us, they’ve seen what one road to success looks like—and they stand ready to forge their own trail, on their own terms.
I can’t imagine a better way to embark on a career adventure.
Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central, is a social media strategist, attorney, and best-selling parenting author. A frequent national and international speaker, she consults with brands on consumer and social media trends. You can reach her at [email protected].