Balancing conflicting fairytale dreams
Words by Sarah Benson
Having a family or changing location is not the end of the story and achieving my country house dream does not mean that my career ceases to exist.
I have a dream. Wait no, I have two dreams. One is to be an awesome product designer, working to change the world in whatever way I can. The other is to have a picturesque house in the country with two kids and a dog called Graham. The second of these dreams has always sat in the back of my mind as a far off picture — something that I’ll do one day. But as I get older, I’m starting to wonder when “one day” is meant to become today and if I should be preparing for it in some way. As I recently bought a one bed flat on a busy London road, a move to the idyllic postcard picture seems like a big leap right now! A little while ago I did the Enneagram personality test. You answer a series of questions and get a result of one or a mixture of 9 personality types. I came out as a 9 (the peacemaker) with a sprinkling of 2 (the helper). One peacemaker trait I particularly relate to is the need to maintain inner peace. This means that I seek to squash inner conflicts as fast as possible to restore my inner pool of calm. As you can imagine, having two life goals that don’t quite line up does not help this inner pool! Up until now my general peacekeeping tactic has been to well and truly ignore the conflict – telling myself that one day it’s obviously going to magically fall into place. When I first noticed I was doing this I thought it was quite an unhealthy approach, but after reading some of Sheryl Sandberg’s writings now I’m not so sure. Sheryl talks about her experiences with many women leaning back from their career in preparation for the possibility of a family “one day”. She suggests I should be doing the opposite. “What I am arguing is that the time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives – not before, and certainly not years in advance. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in.” She talks about keeping your foot on the pedal of your career right up until the moment that you need to leave. This way you have a career that you’re excited to get back into when the time is right. After all, having a family or changing location is not the end of the story and achieving my country dream does not mean that my career ceases to exist. Trying to take steps to prepare for that future, treating it like an end goal, could impact the career that I’ll want to get back into. Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.
One day I expect my ambitions for a family will take over, but until that day comes I’m going to lean in to my career
Have you ever had that conversation about your future plan? It’s the one where you and your friends compare timelines for your wedding or your first child. We seem to want to have a plan, a step by step schedule for when we’ll achieve our various milestones. James Clear wrote a great article about humanity’s need for instant gratification. It talks about how traditionally anxiety is a reaction that prompts us to act to protect ourselves. Things like “run away from that lion” or “find shelter from that storm” require immediate responses. But now, our modern day fears and worries have suspended resolutions. "Humans live in what researchers call a Delayed Return Environment. Most of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately. If you do a good job at work today, you’ll get a paycheck in a few weeks. If you save money now, you’ll have enough for retirement later. Many aspects of modern society are designed to delay rewards until some point in the future." The fear of not achieving your dreams cannot be resolved immediately but we lessen the worry by planning how we can get there. You may have felt this feeling when checking something off a checklist. If you have a stressful project that seems hard to pull off, writing a plan of how to get there can instantly make you feel better. So I could write a plan and take small steps towards my potential future but who’s to say that vision will stay the same forever anyway? Though I’m fairly certain that my dream for a family won’t change, maybe the time or place will. One day I expect my ambitions for a family will take over, but until that day comes I’m going to lean in to my career and make my peace with not knowing exactly what the journey to my future looks like.
Sarah is a product designer working in London and she loves it! She enjoys coming up with ideas and seeing them come to fruitition. Beyond design she plays the violin and is part of an orchestra. Sarah is also a bit of a film and game fan too. You can find her on Instagram (@bensonator5000) or view her work (http://sarahbensondesign.com) Main image by Icons8
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