Monday, July 2, 2012

A Happy, State Dept Parent's Response to Slaughter

Came across this great Slaughter response from Dana Shell Smith, a globetrotting bigwig in Foreign Service at the US State Department, titled "How to Have an Insanely Demanding Job and 2 Happy Children."

And what I want to say is A-fucking-men, sister. Tell it!

To me, Shell Smith's Both/And message of "With a lot of ingenuity and hard work, it can be done and your family can be happy" rings a whole hell of a lot truer than Slaughter's Either/Or message of "Despite my wealth, my family wouldn't make the arrangements that are necessary to have this particular job and make us all happy, so therefore no one else in the whole wide world can either."

Not to worry, Shell Smith's piece is much shorter than Slaughter's - in fact, you can read it in under 5 minutes. Dare I say, it is even almost as good as what most of my regular commenters could have written while half-asleep. ;) Yes, Atlantic editors, that's me taking a shot at you again.

Here's a flavor of the raison d'ĂȘtre for Shell Smith's response:
In conversation after conversation, my colleagues and I puzzled over why Dr. Slaughter's experience had so contrasted with ours. Was it because she had tasted another life, that of an academic who had a level of control over her schedule that we could not even imagine? Was it because she tried out government work while living in a different city from her family?

Regardless of why our experiences differed so greatly, I was left thinking not only about my own experience, but about the responsibility we women have to create change by introducing a different environment for the younger, more junior officers -- both male and female -- whether in government or elsewhere. After a stream of officers in the bureau I lead stopped in to tell me that they wished I would weigh in, I decided to add some of my thoughts and experiences to the conversation.


One thing about the reaction to this piece has struck me. That Shell Smith and her husband haven't seen a non-animated movie in the theatre in the last 10 years has apparently managed to make some people on the internets sad. But I say to each their own (obviously.)

Look folks, whether we choose to admit it or not, most (but certainly not all, insert privilege disclaimer here) of us are actually making time for the things that are truly the most important things to us. How do you spend most of your time? Then that's your actual priority right there. Ok, now consider my already dead horse yet again beaten. Honestly, what's so "sad" about a couple's filmgoing hobby taking a backseat to their family and careers for awhile? I'm sure they'll once again throw away their hard-earned cash at the cineplex when the kids are older! Can anyone ever win on the internets? Sheesh.

What I'm trying to say here is that Shell Smith's perspective is shared across many industries. My friend the successful surgeon and mother could have written this. And in my old corporate line of work, this is how the higher ups all make it work. Work and family are the top priorities. Friendships, hobbies, perhaps they're not as much of a priority, but they are also not entirely absent either. Take exercise for example - it often gets a lot of short shrift amongst this set. There's a reason you hear about people hitting the gym at 4:30am if fitness is a true priority.

They're happy to live like this. Really and truly. They're also telling the truth.

We all need to accept that not everyone shares our personality type. Not everyone likes the same things you do. We all define the term "priority" so very differently. The popularity of Ugg boots and the Kardashians are living proofs of that one for me. But I don't go around getting sad that not everyone is prioritizing downhill skiing and reading like my family does.

Hit me with your best shot...


Anonymous said...

Wow, that is a great article!

Also, I think it reinforces the difference I've seen between political appointees, who do generally burn out after 1, 2, or 4 years and career bureaucrats. The frenetic pace just isn't sustainable for longer than the standard appointment term. And that is true for men and women in government.

Cloud said...

Holy cow, I could have written much of what she wrote. Right down to the monthly book club as my sole fixed "me time" appointment in the evening. What an awesome article. THAT is the conversation I want us to have. The honest discussion of what it takes from a person who is happy with her decisions and their consequences.

I wonder if there is some generational difference at play in addition to the difference between a political appointee and a career diplomat? As I read the Slaughter piece, I found myself thinking that she has some deeply buried scars from her earlier days, of needing to prove herself as good (or actually better) than the men in order to succeed.

And also- amen to what you write about how different types of lives make different people happy.

Anandi Raman Creath said...

Love that article - thanks for "making" me read it :)

I do like how she calls out honestly that her social life is where she takes the hit.

feMOMhist said...

I too rarely see movies in theaters, just not a priority for me, but almost 6 hour a week of Pilates is. We all get to decide right? As for control over schedule, hell yes, that is a HUGE reason I decided to be an academic and one of the reasons I find my life "do-able."

hush said...

@N&M - I think it is also true of anyone who does not perceive of a given job as critical part of their longer-term career: in their mind, they're freer to chuck it if the going gets too tough.

@Cloud - Maybe there is a generational difference at play, or maybe she failed to prepare her case. I think Slaughter just didn't do her proverbial homework before turning in her assignment - and her evolving view of the world that she's now sharing in her follow up interviews and article are reflecting that. I think it's healthy - we all have our own journeys I suppose.

@Anandi - And thank you for taking my reading advice! I love her honesty too.

@feMOMhist - Your priorities sound great! Control over schedule is a big part of why I'm where I am, too. Hard to be a balla when you're working for the man.

Anonymous said...

@hush... Well, no, that's probably true generally, but the point I'd been making (mostly on other blogs) is about how awful these political appointee jobs are. They're really long hours and hard work for a short period of time. Academics work really hard at them (reputation is important, as is the fact that they're actually having a direct and real effect on policy and people) and they often lose money doing them (lower salary, higher cost of living, have to rent out the house etc.), but they're not sustainable long-term. Nor are they generally meant to be unless you're Ben Bernanke (and I bet he doesn't work 80 hour weeks).

mom2boy said...

Marissa Mayer - 37, pregnant, Yahoo CEO. Take that glass ceiling.

hush said...

@mom2boy - Excellent news for women everywhere, and at the same time I'm trying not to hear the media reports of Mayer's refusal to call herself a feminist "because it's not a good word." Don't wanna know! lalalala!!