Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On Not Wasting My Talents

By Mary C. Tillotson

one of my city council clips!
I ran across two articles today, one of them emailed to me from a friend, discussing women and the professional life – one argued that pay inequality is more a result of professional choices that men and women tend tomake, not discrimination; the second about the difficulties moms have getting back into the workforce after they’ve taken time off for kids. The women/family/work issue has been on my mind lately since it’s mid-August and I’m sorting out what I’ll be doing this fall when school starts. These decisions aren’t always easy.

I graduated from college a couple years ago with a solid resume for journalism. About a month later, I began working full-time as a reporter at a small-town weekly newspaper, covering the local city politics, writing features, and previewing events. I spent the first six months hoping Luke would propose and the next six months planning our wedding. I could have put him off – I really should put in another year at the newspaper, then maybe step it up with a job in a bigger city. But he was more important to me than a journalism career, and I knew that together we could make things work.

I left that job after a year, and, failing to find another full-time reporting job in the town we moved to, I spent our first year together running around to several different homes, babysitting and helping families with homeschooling. I enjoyed it – from chuckling at the three-year-old’s silly remarks (“I want to go fishing, too. But how? I don’t have a fish stick!”) to explaining polynomials and exponents to my algebra students. I met some great people, connected with my community, and learned so much from my conversations with other women. It wasn’t the work I would have chosen, but I was happier there than I’ve ever been in an office.

I have friends with more “status” than I have, and better resumes – one is working full-time at a national newspaper in Washington, D.C.; another is a research fellow and newspaper editor who travels the country addressing state senates about policy; another is in Los Angeles in the film industry. Several are teaching, and some are in graduate school. Sometimes I look on with envy, but then I think – bylines in the New York Times, or Luke? Advanced-degree letters after my name, or Luke? I’d pick Luke any time. Of those friends of mine, some are single; some are married to other men. Some are happy with their jobs; some are putting in their time to pay the bills and hoping to find something else. It’s not always the best decision to leave a full-time job for a man, or for children. We have different skills, different strengths, and different passions. We’ve had different opportunities, and have made different choices. And that’s okay!

Women are constantly reminded that we don’t have to let our families interfere with our professional prestige or moneymaking. I’ve griped with many of my women friends about the “don’t waste your talent” line we hear whenever we get engaged or pregnant; it’s an admonition not to let people we love affect our lives. It’s so frustrating. Are my only talents the ones I can employ professionally? What about these ones: an ability to pick up enough miscellaneous work to pay the bills, cheerfulness, craftiness, prudence, patience, teaching, walking in someone else’s shoes, listening, working through difficult disagreements, and algebra – I employed all of these regularly last year; do they not count as talents because I’m not wearing a pencil skirt and reporting to someone in a suit?

Many women, married and single, mothers and childless, are working professionally because they love their work, because what they’re getting paid for is important, or because their families need their paycheck to make ends meet or reach important financial goals. This is all good! Some of us made other choices, and that’s also good. We women know we can pursue careers just as well as men can; nobody is telling us otherwise. Many women quit their jobs or go part-time because of family anyway. Many of those women are happier for it, even though there’s no prestige or money in home-making and child-raising.

For me – and for many women – it’s a choice between work we love and work that’s prestigious.  We choose the work we love and are guilt-tripped for not chasing prestige. But – and I think many women feel similarly – I’d trade prestige, any day, for my family.

h/t to Julie for helping me talk through this the other day!


  1. I love it when you figure things out at a young age that it took me until the age of 50 to learn! I told my mother the other day that I've been able to do everything I ever wanted to do - be a stay-at-home mom, teach piano, have a teaching career, and teach part-time in a college - all while staying married to the same man. What a blessing to be a woman!

  2. "It wasn’t the work I would have chosen, but I was happier there than I’ve ever been in an office." Glad to hear it! ;-) My experience has been very similar to yours. One of these days I'll write about it . . . .


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