Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
This is not a book about settling. Or mediocrity. Or about anything other than getting exactly what we want as mothers, professionals and women. (Not everything we sort of want, but the things we want the most.)
This is a book about refusing to live by other people's rules. It's about taking control and accepting that we're not going to Have It All just by working a little harder.
But it's also about choosing to work hardnot because it's the "next logical step" or someone else's dreambut because we love what we do. It's about reaching stunning heights of success by pursuing our passions at work and at home.
We wanted to point this out right up front because we're full-disclosure women, and we know a few people take issue with our title. Including a couple of the women featured in the book. Including one of Hollee's good friends, who suggested that we might as well call the book Sucky Is the New Awesome.
We can live with that. Because, in our minds, good enough is not about aiming lower or doing less or slacking off. It's about knowing that what's good enough for one woman isn't necessarily what's good enough for another. And that if we're living up to our own standards, there isn't anything more to want.
Some people call this perfect. We call it the New Perfect.
* * *Before we go further, though, allow us to introduce ourselves. Becky is a journalist (married to a lawyer) and Hollee is a lawyer (married to a journalist)and like all the women we interviewed, we're also mothers who have struggled to blend family and ambition. Becky was a newspaper reporter when the first of her two daughters was born; she was working in a job she loved, surrounded by people she respected. When the first of Hollee's two sons came along, she was a lawyer at a prestigious firm, a job she'd earned after years of hard work and academic achievement.
And, yet, we each left our jobs within seven months of returning from maternity leave.
The difficult decisions we've made as mothers, and the things that happened afterward, inspired us to write this book. And the people we met while writing itwell, they inspired us in countless other ways.
Good Enough Is the New Perfect is based on journalistic research we conducted over two years, beginning in 2008. It draws on exclusive dataour survey of 905 working mothers born between 1965 and 1980 and representing almost every state in the nationas well as in-depth interviews with more than 100 working mothers. Some of these women were subjects of multiple interviews conducted regularly over one or two years; their generous gifts of time gave us deep insight into the wide range of factors that shape women's choices today. We also have drawn from expert research into issues ranging from marriage to feminism to business; some of the experts we consulted shared hours of time to help us better understand our findings.
Our key findings, by the way, surprised us. Our research revealed two types of working mothers: the Never Enoughs, who felt a constant need to be "the best," and the Good Enoughs, who said that being "the best" wasn't important, as long as they were good enough and happy at work and at home. What caught our attention wasn't that these two groups existedit was how differently they fared in their attempts to balance work and family.
We want to be clear on one point right away. We intentionally chose to examine only a slice of the maternal populationmothers who had the privilege of education and a certain amount of choice regarding work, including the ability to temporarily scale back hours, switch jobs or take time off. Almost all the women we interviewedthough diverse in race, geography, profession and family backgroundwere college-educated and relatively secure financially. (Which isn't to say that they didn't feel money pressures; many did. But most weren't worried about putting food on the table at night.) Almost all of our survey respondents had attended college, and nearly half worked in jobs that required an advanced degree. We're very much aware that other groups face work/life issues, and that many women do not have much (or any) choice with respect to their workbut that's not the focus of this book.
We also decided not to concentrate on women who defined themselves as at-home mothers; we believe there's a new Mommy War (chapter 3), and it's not about working versus staying home. That being said, several of the mothers we feature (including Becky) stayed home for significant stretches, and in chapter I0, we discuss career makeovers and transformations for moms who have spent time outside the paid workforce.
The final point we'd like to address, since it will undoubtedly be made, is that both of usand all the women we interviewedknow that we are luckier than most. These women spoke very honestly about their happiness and challenges and guilt. They talked about settling for jobs that didn't quite fit because they didn't think other opportunities existedand because they worried that expressing this would make them seem "ungrateful." Women told us over and over again that they felt alone. And we think a good deal of this loneliness stems from our reluctance to talk honestly with each other about the parts of our lives that don't work, the stuff that pushes us to the brinkand the things we'd like to change. Some of us stay mum because we don't know how or where to bring this up (work/life has been seen as a private issue until very recently).
But, also, a lot of us don't want to seem whiny.
In fact, we have witnessed a certain amount of vitriol aimed at women who do open up about the struggle to find the right fit between work and home. We've seen women harshly criticized for admitting that they feel overwhelmed by their choices or that they are unhappy because their choices aren't working. Sometimes these condemnations have come from other women facing similar struggleswomen who have needed empathy themselves. We have even seen it on our own blog, where critics have lashed out against women who have walked away from their big-money, high-prestige jobs because they weren't the right fit. ("Boo hoo, poor you and your six-figure salary," wrote one particularly angry person.)
But we invested our hearts in this project because we don't want to perpetuate a new Problem That Has No Name: This issue deserves a place in the national conversation. Mothers shouldn't be afraid to discuss what so many told us was "the most pressing issue" in their lives. Fitting family and career into the same life is really hard, despite what we may have believed growing up. And these challenges are also exceptionally common, despite how alone we may have felt.
It's okay to say these things out loud.
Because we feel so strongly about this, we decided (against our journalistic instincts) to include our own stories, to share our very private feelings about our experiences as wives and mothers.
At the start of each chapter, we've offered some bullet-point "tips"some insights shared by the women we've interviewed or gleaned from our research. These are points of guidance but the real work is up to each of us. What really makes you feel alive? What stirs your passion and makes you eager to get up each morning? What does success mean to you?
For modern moms, there is no clear-cut path, no one right way. This book shares stories of women who have forged their own paths professionally and personallyas employees, employers, wives and mothers. It is our hope that you will come away from this book understanding the myriad options out there for working mothers; but we also hope that you come away with a strong understanding of how you, too, can find greater happiness and success by creating your own New Perfect.
The stories of the women of Good Enough Is the New Perfect filled us with optimism and inspiration. Most of all, that's what we hope you will find here.
Becky and Hollee April 2011