“Women at the top, often have to make a choice. They’re either gonna have a full life- family, kids all that. Or they’re gonna have a more successful one- corner office, high-powered, all with a grain of salt.”
I love the women who mentor me, often for their ability to keep it real with me. But when a mentor of mine said that to me over coffee, I wasn’t quite convinced. I wanted to think there was a way for driven women to have it all, no compromise of happiness required.
But over the years, I’ve had my doubts. I’ve had moments where I’ve thought, maybe she was right, maybe I was just too naïve to see it. Maybe in time I’d realize that this compromise was what women had to do to have fulfilling, filled lives.
Thankfully, a closer look into what keeps us going is proving that logic wrong. In their recent and much buzzed about release, “The Longevity Project,” researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin looked at the lives of several high-IQ subject from their birth to their death. The goal of their work: to find out what some of the smartest people on earth did to keep them from getting to the finish line too soon.
The results were not what most inspected. Instead of finding that the most optimistic, the most cheerful of subjects were the ones living the longest, Friedman and Martin found they often had the shortest life.
So if not a cheerful spirit, what is it that set those with long lives apart? Working until the day they died.
In her review of “The Longevity Project,” Emily Yoffe of Salon writes:
“As Friedman says, ’fun can be overrated’ and stress can be unfairly maligned. Many study participants who lived vigorously into old age had highly stressful jobs…Success, even in challenging jobs with demanding hours and responsibility, is a tonic.”
Mondays always bring with them a renewed energy, a renewed drive. Whether heading to the office, getting through the semester or facing another week of trying to bring a dream to life, we often make declarative mental statements to motivate ourselves. “I am going to pour everything into my work.” “I am going to be even more productive this week than last.” I know I have. I also know that many times I have felt somewhat guilty about those declarations, as if I was using them in place of something else.
Oftentimes work is seen as the thing that takes up the majority of our time, but not meant to be the majority of who we are. Messing with that balance makes you a social outlier- and for many women, it often comes with a stigma of being unbalanced. According to popular belief, there should be work and something else. Work is the proverbial “grain of salt,” the thing you have to do to keep going. By this logic, throwing yourself into your work can only be avoidance, an escape that can only last so long.
The truth is, for me and for many women who believe in the work they do, there is no greater reward than giving everything to it. This is not so say we are mindless worker bees with no emotional fulfillment elsewhere, quite the opposite. As women who often give to families, lovers, friends, our work allows us to see what we are giving returned. It allows us to mark in some small way the progress gained through our self-investment. And even when that measurement may be small, it is not insignificant.
Today, choose to add a spoonful of salt, if that is what makes you most challenged, most put to use. Don’t make excuses for loving the work in front of you. You can love the people in your life and the work in it too. Its loving both, that can make us feel alive.
Turns out, having it all isn’t just something you can do. For a life worth living a long time, its something you must.