What Success Looks Like, According To The Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review sets the bar pretty high with this piece titled “Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life.” (Read it free or buy it as a .pdf for $9? That is … not a hard choice.) Maybe you currently only “Assist” or “Supervise” your life, but you’re hoping for a title bump if you put in a lot of work this year. Let HBR help!

When work and family responsibilities collide, for example, men may lay claim to the cultural narrative of the good provider. Several male executives who admitted to spending inadequate time with their families consider absence an acceptable price for providing their children with opportunities they themselves never had. One of these men, poor during his childhood, said that his financial success both protects his children and validates his parents’ struggles. Another even put a positive spin on the breakup of his family: “Looking back, I would have still made a similar decision to focus on work, as I was able to provide for my family and become a leader in my area, and these things were important to me. Now I focus on my kids’ education…and spend a lot more time with them over weekends.”

Even the men who pride themselves on having achieved some degree of balance between work and other realms of their lives measure themselves against a traditional male ideal. “The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work,” one interviewee said. It’s difficult to imagine a woman congratulating herself for spending 10 minutes a day with her children, but a man may consider the same behavior exemplary.

Anyone else hearing “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing faintly in the background? And thinking of buying a Nissan?

There’s totally more:

Both men and women expressed versions of this guilt [FOMO] and associated personal success with not having regrets. They often cope by assigning special significance to a particular metric, such as never missing a Little League game or checking in once a day no matter what. “I just prioritize dinner with my family as if it was a 6 PM meeting with my most important client,” said one interviewee. Another offered this suggestion: “Design your house right — have a table in the kitchen where your kids can do homework while your husband cooks and you drink a glass of red wine.” Though expressed as advice, this is clearly her very personal, concrete image of what success at home looks like.

This advice is broadly applicable, in that you can buy boxed wine from Trader Joe’s and maybe you also have a kitchen!

Across the board, senior executives insisted that managing family and professional life requires a strong network of behind-the-scenes supporters. Absent a primary caregiver who stays at home, they see paid help or assistance from extended family as a necessity. The women in our sample are adamant about this. One said, “We hire people to do the more tactical things — groceries, cooking, helping the children dress — so that we can be there for the most important things.”

Helping the children dress? I mean, it’s true, my kid is not over-fond of putting on pants, but putting her clothes on is not exactly a time-intensive part of the day.

Anyway, I had to stop reading this at some point because I got tired of rolling my eyes, but I do think the question of “what defines success?” is an interesting one. Because “success” to me does not = having to check a BlackBerry at the dinner table. It might mean, though, being able to make enough that my life partner is free to pursue various passions and interests without having to be too concerned with whether he can make them profitable, and that my offspring can have a childhood that is reasonably enjoyable, educational, and safe.

By one definition, “winning” is getting a job at the New Republic — now more modern/digital and less racist! — or so we learn in an article by Rebecca Traister about why the US hates mothers who work. Unfortunately, not even being a Harvard lady helps that much.

University of Massachusetts sociologist Michelle Budig has found that, on average, an American woman’s earnings decrease by 4 percent for every child that she bears, a figure that sounds even more brutal when compared to the fact that after men have kids, their earnings increase, on average, by 6 percent. Researchers have also found that fathers are more likely to be hired and to be regarded as more competent employees than mothers. …

And, of course, there is the stratospheric cost of unsubsidized American childcare, a factor that leads many more women than men to drop out of the workforce or cut back on their professional commitments. These realities are abhorrent, but they are, at least, studied. What goes less noticed is the way pregnancy and immediate postpartum life itself plays a serious role in slowing professional momentum for women for whom the simple — and celebrated — act of having a baby turns out to be a stunningly precarious economic and professional choice.

TL;DR? Here:

For the majority of new parents, whose penniless postpartum months (or weeks, or days, or whatever they can afford to take without pay, which is often nothing) are simply the result of the way things are in a country that venerates motherhood but in practice accords it zero economic value, the situation is far more dire. It makes parenting a privileged pursuit, takes women out of the workforce, and ultimately affirms public and professional life as being built for men.

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