Redefining Ambition

What Women Really Think
April 6 2011 5:38 PM

Redefining Ambition

I think there’s a connection between Jess’s post on Meredith Vieira leaving the Today show, and Rachael’s on the McKinsey report that many middle-aged working women lose their ambition – and I think it’s a spot of good news. As Rachael pointed out, the common assumption is that it’s hardest to balance work and family when one’s children are little. But in reality they continue to need your attention just as intensely the older they get. As they pass through grade school into middle school, you not only want to help them negotiate the shoals of school and friends, but you start realizing how quickly they’re growing and how brief your time together is.

That may be a reason why many women supposedly ratchet down their ambition in middle age. Maybe they are feeling, "Hey, I’ve accomplished a lot, I’m happy with where my career is, but right now I can’t put in the hours to propel me to the top because I want to see my kids grow up." As Jess writes, Vieira, a mother of three, left the prestige of hard news reporting with all its relentless travel obligations, for the softer realm of chat shows. But I agree with Jess that this move made her an even bigger star. I have a friend who was quickly climbing the editorial-management side of a big newspaper just as her children were heading toward their teens. She realized the hours needed on the job were incompatible with seeing her kids, so she made what was a wrenching decision to step off that track. Instead, she has become hugely successful as a columnist.  She, too, might have answered the McKinsey survey that she was "less ambitious" than she had been in her twenties and thirties. But she certainly isn’t less successful.

Advertisement

So it’s possible that in middle-age this generation of professional women – the first in big numbers to make it – are not stalling in their careers, but instead redefining success and ambition. It’s also possible that as today’s young women start their climb they will figure out ways to have the family life they want while continuing to make it to the top. (And from the perspective of the mother of a high school student, at a certain point it does get easier. What my daughter wants most from me now is a ride and cash.)

 

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.