Making Our Own Path to Happiness

I’ve been reading all the the press recently about whether women can “have it all” and what that even means (see Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All“). My own perspective on this is, as usual, “off the grid,” so I thought I’d share. My reflexive answer was, “Why the hell would I want that?”

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to help my children find true happiness in life. Note that happiness does not equal achievement in my book. Why? Doesn’t every parent of a gifted child routinely say they want their child to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer? Isn’t that why we all spend so much time on the “right” schooling –  thus getting into the “right” college? Once they’re working as a doctor or a lawyer, game “won”, right?

I’ll let you in on a secret: I am one of the only happy female doctors I know. I love being an internal medicine physician, and the years of medical school and residency, although tough (never mind paying the medical school loans), and now twelve years in practice, has not dimmed my love of my profession. I work part-time, in a very flexible position where I can set my hours day-t0-day, which obviously helps my happiness quotient. It’s hard work, rewarding, and intellectually interesting.

So, after all those years of school and training, what do my fellow female physicians want to do? Most of them, when asked, say that they would like to stay home with their kids.  Perhaps not full-time, but a lot of the time. That, they say, would make them happy.  Publicly, they will all deny they feel this way, because it’s not politically correct to be wishing to be a mommy when you’ve become a doctor. Privately, though, it’s what we all talk about: the elusive work-life balance. No less important: most of my male colleagues struggle with this, too.  I can’t speak for lawyers – although my sibling is one – but I would bet the same conversations come up.

It presents an interesting conundrum for the parent of a gifted child, especially a gifted daughter. We continually tell them they can be anything they want to be, and if they work hard and go after their dreams, they will be “fulfilling their amazing potential”. But what does that really mean? And what if they have fulfilled their potential, in highly educated professions, but are unhappy with their life? Haven’t we then failed them as gifted kids – because then what would be the point of being gifted in the first place?

As has been said many times, by many others before me, I wholeheartedly agree that the solution is to change the conversation. I have been reading some different ideas over the last year from people who are really, truly, changing the conversation.

A recent Equality Blog post from Equally Shared Parenting’s Amy Vachon really cuts to the chase :

“Many of us want all the nontangible, nonmonetary things that come with true equality. Not for the sake of equality but for so much more, including balanced lives for both partners that include all of what each considers important. And to choose equality (and balance), we often need to dethrone Money as the reason for all decisions. And dethrone its friend, Prestige. We have to decide how much money is enough, and exchange the neverending prestige quest for the joy of being an artisan worker in whatever career we choose. Then, the whole world opens up for both partners.”

The Center for a New American Dream continues the discussion. Their video, “Visualizing a Plenitude Economy,” gives a profound visual of what’s possible when we let go of what we’ve been told is the goal.

We need many more intelligent people to model and speak out about the fact that being gifted gives you more choices, and more potential, on your way to your own happiness path in life. Achievement by itself will not make you happy for the rest of your life. Working hard on something you love so you can have more real choices, however, just might. Teach them about working less, spending less, having less stuff, educating themselves for the sake of knowledge, doing what they love, and sharing their lives equally with each other and their children. Let’s have conversations with our gifted children about joy in work, balance, and the importance of designing a life where they can spend lots of time with their (likely gifted) kids. It will be more important than anything they learn in school.

My small pledge: next time I’m talking about my hopes for my children, I promise to not reflexively jump to any of them being a doctor or a lawyer. I will focus on happiness. In my own small way, I will start changing the conversation.

One response to this post.

  1. […] educational experiences – or, really the lack thereof.  I’ve discussed in my previous posts that our only goal is for them to be as happy as they can be. We don’t care if they save the […]


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