Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This I Believe

I love the NPR series "This I Believe," and I've had some thoughts (helpful rationalizations?) floating around in my head over the past year that I finally got onto my laptop last night. Lots of times women approach me and ask me how I can do a start up with two young kids and a spouse. For what it's worth, I thought I'd share my reflections on navigating work, family, and my mechanism for coping with the inevitable feelings of inadequacy. I'd love to hear any feedback from any of you on these thoughts.

“Paying the Price”

I believe in paying the price. For a hand-thrown, wood-fire glazed ceramic pitcher, I know that I will have to pay more than for its mass produced acrylic counterpart at Target. And I’m happy to do it, because it’s worth it to me.

Unfortunately, in today’s no hassle, no down payment, no-interest-until-they-foreclose-on-your-house world, it’s hard to remember that everything has a price. In America, “free” is almost as constitutional a right as “freedom.”

But to me, free is always a fishy proposition. I believe there is always a price to be paid for the things that are worthwhile.

This principle holds truest for the things that money can’t buy. It is the price of love, fulfillment and self-respect that I add up each day.

As a partner in a marriage and a mom who works outside the home, I know first-hand the price of my definition of an engaging life. What moms who work for pay share with moms who work inside the home is that we’re all paying a price for the lives we choose to lead. We share in this economy of cost - and pay-off.

In my twenties, I was focused on “having it all,” and I was frustrated. A decade and a half later, I now realize that I don’t really want it all, so not having it is not such a big deal. I want only what is meaningful to me, and I’m willing to earn it and fight for it. I’m laden and tired, but engaged in my life and loving it.

It is a constant struggle to prioritize and attach relative value to the different aspects of my life, but engaging in this conversation is necessary to my survival. Without this economics of value, I would drown in a sea of self-criticism for falling short on every critical dimension. The alternative to a world of recognizing relative value is a world in which one is constantly failing to live up to an impossible standard:

“I’m a terrible mom because I forgot to pick up my son at school on his early closure day.”

“I said the world’s stupidest thing to an important investor.”

“I’m an insensitive idiot who deserves to be shot.”

Unfortunately, these are all real reactions I’ve had to real, real unfortunate events.

I’ve come to realize, though, that against the standard of the organized, perfect earth mother or insightful but steady, ovaries-of-steel businesswoman, I can only but fail. When I look up from literally hitting my head in disproportionate self-flagellation, I can now realize that the question I should be asking myself isn’t one about how far I fall short of the unattainable standard of perfection (answer: VERY). The true question I try to remember to ask myself is, “Is it worth it?”

It’s a very powerful question.

For me, sometimes the answer is yes, many times it’s no, and more times than not, I’m not sure.

But the times it is “yes” are what I think they used to call “character building.” When I can remember that the price I pay for an engaging life is a few balls dropped (and shattered) here and there, I can mourn the dropped balls in proportion the balls that are still arcing gracefully through the air. I can find the strength to forgive myself and put the force of energy with which I used to slap myself upside the head into the more productive goal of trying harder next time.

I believe that seeing and weighing the price of things is absolutely necessary to achieving self-respect, and living a life worth living.