Celebrating a Whole Life

This year I’m going to throw a party. A year long celebration of something I haven’t quite defined yet. This is my, dare I say it, New Year’s resolution.

I saw a dear friend recently. We were meeting up with our two kids of roughly the same age in tow, and we had a great conversation, in the moments that we weren’t chasing after our kids. And the conversation worked its way around to careers – she just got a very impressive PhD and is thinking through next steps.

And in this conversation, we talked about the way that being a mother and a professional can have a slight dampening effect on one’s career. She mentioned how rare it was to meet a tenured female professor with kids. The reasons for this phenomenon boils down to something we called, for the purpose of simplicity, “choices.”

No blame, no victims, just choices.

The choices I make are not just about being with my children, but about trying to create some sort of whole life. But it feels like unchartered territory and every move is shadowed by a totally useless sense that I’m not making the right choices. What has been most useful to me in this process is conversations with women who are a few years ahead of me working on this same project of making a life. Women with kids or serious commitments to family, with careers, with a powerful sense of their unique contribution to the world. I have met a few of these women over the course of my life, and they amaze and inspire me.

They impact people’s lives, care for their families, and walk in the world as pioneers of a new kind of achievement. One that, as far as I know, remains largely uncelebrated. And it absolutely should be celebrated. Hence the New Year’s resolution. To more fully understand and celebrate this thing that some women do so beautifully and that I would like to do well. Rather than aim to “master” this ability to create a multi-faceted life, I’d like to commit to celebrating the women who inspire me, and to imagine a world where people (not just women) are honored for the wholeness of their life, not just the spikes in their ability to lead others, make money, make a name for themselves.

So, rather than wish for a different world, I’ll see if I can help build it, one celebration at a time. Stay tuned…and share your thoughts here on what a “whole life” looks like and who inspires you.



Filed under Careers, Celebrating a Whole Life, Work and Life

3 responses to “Celebrating a Whole Life

  1. Mara

    Thanks for this, Yasmina! I love it – and it really made me want to write. Some issues that come to mind are a) thinking of family responsibilities in a capacious sense, including not just children (though that deserves, as you point out and we discussed, far more time and thought than it achieves!!) and b) the problematic language of “choice.”

    This got me to thinking about the language of “choices” — about the choices we make consciously, as well as those we perform without giving them explicit or rational prior evaluation. How we often make choices as we are in motion, not standing back and reflect.

    Family, especially, confounds the language of ‘choice.’ We famously do not choose whom we love, those we take on and inherit as our family. Even becoming a parent, when it is sought and wanted, confounds traditional liberal understandings of choice. Having children can feel (or be) more like something we are chosen by as something we are masterfully willing and creating.

    Your post also made me think about how the delights and weights of family come in all different forms – forms of fostering, caretaking, and mourning of all generations. This again is sometimes anticipated, sometimes unexpected. Sometimes chosen, sometimes thrust to us. I’d love to hear more stories of these “choices,” responses of mothers/daughters/sisters as varied as are families.

    Of these many forms of whole lives, and how we answer their demands on us, I know that you’re thinking today about choices of childbearing and childrearing. How the care of wanted and loved children shifts us and the ways we live our lives. Let’s keep the conversation going about how the integration of responsibilities and care into our lives changes us — our professional identities and performance, our understanding of ourselves, our relationships. Thank you!

  2. Yasmina! You are so thoughtful and intentional about your choices — I love that about you. But as a 58-year old woman, mother, wife, writer & former ad queen, I have to tell you something: life is not a race, it’s a marathon. And women are beautifully well-equipped for it, because we are so good at recreating ourselves. I know it’s hard to believe at this stage in your children’s young lives, but literally before you know it, they’ll be grown and gone. And you’ll never get these years back — so by all means, do your important work and follow your career dreams, but always know that you hopefully will have many lives to live — and sometimes you have to make one thing a priority and simply not go as fast and as far as you might have otherwise… because you’re holding a family together or tending to a little heart that needs you. I believe I was really lucky (we ALL are if we have any choices about work whatsoever) because I was able to work all-out when I was young through my early 40s, (when my daughter was a toddler), but then cut back on some of the ego-boosting job titles and salary when I inherited 3 stepchildren. And then, now that all the kids have flown the coop, I’ve been blessed with finding something I absolutely love doing that earns me nothing (but total satisfaction) in writing my blog and helping philanthropic organizations. So .. I always try to remind young moms that it’s not an all-or-nothing equation, and there’s plenty of time to have a second big burst of ambition, fulfillment and passion. Don’t worry, be happy… and Happy New Year!!

    • Betty, you are exactly the kind of woman I want to celebrate, who makes intentional choices, who takes the long view, who creates a life with so many beautiful facets that it gleams like a diamond.

      I just think that these beautiful diamonds aren’t always recognized as much as the shiny image of the super woman who does it all, and I want to draw out stories of women who build something complex and unique that is true to who they are.

      And for those of you who don’t know Betty, she is a true whole-lifer with an incredible story and a blog about giving and doing what matters that completely sucked me in last year – it’s the Julie & Julia of philanthropy, giving $100 a day every day for a year to a carefully selected non-profit, and telling the story. Check it out. http://whatgives365.wordpress.com/

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