I went to see a good female friend of mine this week. I was feeling pretty low about not hearing about a new job and the grind of the upcoming semester. We have both been traveling quite a bit (me more than her, but she just got back from a vacation) and have been busy. When all of the chaos surrounding my job application happened, there wasn’t really time to consult with my friends here where I live (nor did I want to announce it, in case I didn’t get an interview). We hadn’t really spoken about it yet.
When she asked me how I was doing, and I told her, I was surprised that she wasn’t very sympathetic. Didn’t I realize how lucky I was? Why didn’t I just accept my position and move on? Why couldn’t I find satisfaction in the health and success of my husband and children? Didn’t I realize that I was the author of my own misery? How dare I even consider breaking up my family for a job?
Sitting there, being attacked by a close friend, was not a good feeling. Doubt crept into my heart. Was I being selfish, greedy, insensitive? I couldn’t articulate why the job was so important to me, why I wanted to move up, why I couldn’t just be happy for my husband and children and learn to live with what I have. I agreed with her that we in part the author our own happiness, but I couldn’t remember why I wasn’t able to do that here. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, but also hurt. Hurt that my friend couldn’t recognize or understand why I was upset, or muster any sympathy for me.
Her lecture was well-meaning; basically, it was a slightly harsher version of, suck it up and make the best of it. I’ve heard that speech countless times here, in the comments of my blog posts. But I can’t help but wonder if my husband had applied for a better job if her reaction (or the reaction of the commentators) would be the same? Good for him, being ambitious, looking to be paid what he is worth, going to a place where his skills are utilized and appreciated. No matter that his wife and kids have are settled in jobs and schools, in the community, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! And, after all, a better job is better for the whole family. If he is unhappy in his current position, it’s important that he find something that suits him better, and we all need to support him in that goal.
Isn’t that what we say when men, husbands and fathers, who look to move up the ranks? That isn’t what I hear from a lot people when I tell them about my job dissatisfaction, my ambition, my plans for the future. My plans should be about making my husband and children happy, that their happiness must be the source my happiness. My job will never satisfy me, I will always be paid less, always underappreciated, so I’d better just accept it and make the best of it.
I just didn’t expect it from such a close female friend.
I’m still trying to make plans, to make the best of where we are right now. I need challenges, intellectual challenges, something that makes me feel like I’m moving forward instead of staying in the same place, like I’m building something meaningful. I want these things for myself, but I also know that having this will make me a better wife, a better mother. No one is going to give me these opportunities, and I know I am going to have to fight (unfortunately) to get them. But it’s a hard lesson to learn sometimes that the people we think we can rely on don’t actually think there is any reason to fight at all.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed