I have been rattled. I'm confused. And I'm not sure what to believe anymore. All my life, I've been brought up to trust in one thing: My career is a continuous strive towards perfection marked by never ending successes. Of course family comes first, but work is pretty damn close. This is the only way to get respect and be treated as an equal. I work 9-10 hours a day and come into the office on weekends more often than not. Sure I've had my setbacks but I've always tried to remain focused. If I am not happy with my job, it's because I need to change it. I never considered an alternative.
Enter Dutch women. I just read this article, written from the point of view of a workaholic American woman who was investigating why so many Dutch women work part time. In a nutshell? Because they want to and they are happier that way. They are not concerned with the prestige and power struggles of corporate and political life. They want to enjoy their own life, have coffee with friends, raise their children the right way, volunteer in causes they care about, and explore their passions. In numbers, only 25% of working Dutch women are full timers such that women in Holland contribute only 25% of the household income. Hardly a sign of the modern female. The American writer was dumbfounded. "Have we gotten it all wrong? After all, studies of female happiness in the U.S. find that even as our options have increased and we have become financially more independent than in any previous time in our history, American women as a whole are not getting any happier."
So what about us? We haven't even come close to the level of equality that American women have fought so hard for and I'm already doubting the struggle. What are we fighting for exactly? To be able to contribute 50% of the household income and still have to take care of our children, though not have enough quality time to spend with them? But let's say we go Dutch, wouldn't we be giving up our right to have a say in our world? Isn't that what it's all about?
This got me thinking. What would be an ideal life for me? The first option would be living like I do now. 40% of my waking hours are spent working, 40% are spent de-stressing and relaxing and 20% are spent doing something I actually enjoy. The other option would be to cut down my working hours making it almost impossible to climb the ladder of success because of the stigma placed on part-timers in our society. I will also lose the financial comfort zone I've become accustomed to. However, I could expend more of my remaining energy enjoying sunlight, reading that book that normally spends months on my night-stand, dedicating a reasonable amount of time to blogging, until that venture fails (I'm an optimist at heart), then moving on to another hobby. I can also exercise to get rid of those neck pains and hang out more with friends and family.
I had recently read a BBC article on happiness in which a survey concluded that people were most likely to be happy when they are exercising, having a conversation or making love. People were likely to be unhappy when they are resting, working or using computers. (which is what I do 80% of my time!) So with this reasoning, the full-time option will lead to general unhappiness while the part-time one will lead to, let's say, a happier life. But will that satisfy us? And by us I mean women with ambition who want to have a major role in the world. Or do we have it all wrong? Maybe we can be part of this world without giving our all to our careers.
The answer is not that simple and I don't know if I will ever find it. Maybe there is a hidden option that I'm missing. But hey, there's a silver lining here, at least we have have the option. Men rarely do.