Choosing Otherhood over Motherhood

Sally’s World, May 2003


New research in the United Kingdom has found that among women born between 1954 and 1958, college graduates were 50% more likely than non-graduates to remain childless throughout their lives. Studies conducted in the United States and Germany had similar findings.

These trends register as true for my generation of college-educated women, but I am betting that findings might be different for women younger than I am.

I have seen three circles of friends choose motherhood at different phases of their lives. When I was in my early 20s, many of my neighborhood friends from grade school were married and had their first children shortly afterward. When I was in my late 20s and early 30s another circle – these women my college friends – married and had kids a few years into their careers. And finally during my late 30s and early 40s, during the 90s, another circle – this time high-level executive women – decided that to follow their hearts, they would put corporate America behind and have families.

I made a different choice. When I was 13, I decided that I would not marry and that I would not have children. My youthful decision, arrived at so easily, emerged organically from the political, social and economic climate of the time. It was my personal hard line against what I saw as an erosive devaluing of women’s contribution to the world.

Sometimes we doubt the powers of our intentions, our ability to do what we intend to do. But this youthful commitment was something that I accomplished with little difficulty. Throughout my adult life, as time passed, with considerable reflection and equal doses of gladness and sadness, I have stayed that initial course.

At times, I have felt as though my head intended one thing, but my heart expected another. There is a way, I think, that women of my generation, no matter how well-developed our desires, still believe at some gut level that a knight on a white horse will ride in to save us from ourselves.

When I told a client of mine recently that the main reason I didn’t have children was because I had chosen a career over home-making, he said he didn’t believe it. I suspect many people just a squeak younger than me don’t believe it. But it’s true.

The way I perceived things as a teenager, the role of wife and mother was limited, especially financially. I really didn’t like the idea of not having my own source of income. My mother worked hard creating a loving home environment, raising four children and being wife to my energetic, responsible and loving father. Still some inner voice urged her out into the world, and in 1971, like so many women in their 40s at the time, she headed off to do office work. It was a point of, well, umm, discussion in our family’s household, and it met with a little resistance (I love you, Dad!)

But in the end my mother won. She took deep pride in the work she did, the money she earned, and the substantial contribution her income made to the well-being of our family. My mother loved working outside the home. As a result, she was always very supportive of my life choices – no matter how hare-brained they seemed to others – and she always urged me to aim for personal happiness.

At the time I made my youthful decision, there were few visible and positive examples of the myriad ways to be a woman, raise a family and have a career. After watching my mother’s happiness with her work, I took the road most natural to me. It seemed that to have two full-time jobs, and to try to do them both well – was not an option for me.

Since that time, many women have taken creative plunges into unknown seas of work and motherhood. Their powerful excursions – into business, politics, family and community – have opened doors for women and men alike. The most fortunate of us now have full freedom to choose our roles in accordance with our unique desires as individuals rather than by rules of gender and conformity.

For Mother’s Day, I offer them deep gratitude for their courage in finding their own way, clearing the path and making transparent and accessible for all of us what was once invisible: our unique hearts and our unique paths.

Recommended reading for this Mother’s Day: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh; The Price of Motherhood: Why the most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least valued by Anne Crittenden; Bold Women, Big Ideas by Kay Koplovitz; and Toward a New Psychology of Women by Jean baker Miller.

By the way, the opinions presented in Sally’s World are mine and do not in any way represent those of WorldWIT. I invite your rage, your praise and your suggested readings. Email me!

Passion – it’s on the ceiling!

Sally’s World, April 2003


In the 80s, we worked hard. In the early 90s, we worked smart. In the late 90s, we worked fast. But now, firmly established in the first decade of the new millennium, we are working all three, but most of all we are working passion.

Today many of us have switched careers or spun out of traditional organizations into smaller more intimate ones – maybe even our own. It’s a realignment of values – we are giving up what doesn’t matter for what does matter. In seeking to live from our hearts in our work and personal lives, we are responding to the irresistible tug of passion.
When passion is present, we don’t stop simply because something goes wrong. We feel the pain, yet we keep going. Having passion doesn’t mean that we will succeed. It simply means that our endurance and resilience are boosted by the power of our authentic presence. Working from passion might improve the likelihood of our success, while most certainly changing our definition of success.
But don’t mistake drive for passion. Drive is a push, not a pull. It takes us away from, not into our hearts.

Sometimes I can’t believe what a wonderful life I have because as a writer and a journalist, I often get to experience mind meld with fascinating and insightful people. Because of a book project that I am working on, I had one of those conversations the other day with
Randy Komisar, author of The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living.

Komisar, who is a long-time practitioner of Buddhism, integrates his life and his work with a powerful core belief: Time is short. Don’t squander any of it. Invest your time in only those things that are important.

We were talking about passion and its role in start-up business. Komisar believes that women are better at recognizing and following passion than men are.

I agree.

To live from passion, you have to listen to your intuition and be open to hearing the beat of your personal drummer. Komisar says that women are more open-minded than men in this way, in part because men are slotted into the breadwinner role that women have traditionally been excluded from.

“Women – it’s the other side of the curse, the curse being that they’ve not had the opportunities,” Komisar says.” Women because of that are open-minded about finding what matters. They are empowered because they are disempowered in the traditional sense. Women are much more creative, I think, and much more courageous in terms of looking for those things that really matter.”

“If you think about it, (passion is at the core) of the traditional dilemma of being the super mom,” Komisar says. “You have your family and you have your career. What you see (in the struggle) is balancing two passions.”

“Most of the women involved in the dialogue about balance of life and career are involved because they care about both, because they have passion.”

Men are suffering more than women in this equation, Komisar says.
“Talk to a 50-year old man about what he wants to do next, and he looks at you (lost) … I”ll play golf. There’s no dimensionality. Their whole identity is in one thing.

Komisar, who teaches classes in entrepreneurship at Stanford, says he has learned much from students pushing against his ideas. He now more fully understands the multiplicity of passion. You may have many passions, and you will follow different passions at different times in your life.

Personally, I have been giving passion free rein in my work for a while now. I can attest that it’s difficult, financial lunacy, and often lonely. But I can also attest to the breathless creative flow that occurs when I and my passion are working side by side. There’ s nothing like it.
Except maybe this.

When I was a 10-year-old kid, I and my best friend of the week would do shoulder stands on my living room couch and imagine that we were walking from room to room on the ceiling. We would step over the tops of door frames, whose structures formed little barriers between the rooms, creating an archipelago of ceiling space, and walk from island to island, checking the treasure that laid in the bowls of the glass light fixtures.

Maybe it was the blood rushing to my head, but I used to wonder if my friend were seeing the same thing I was seeing as we explored the upside down world. I would fantasize that I was inside her brain, looking out from behind her eyes, walking on the ceiling from room to room, until it was time to go and I walked down the walls and out the door and across the street to eat dinner with her family. I would be me, but inside her head for just an hour or two, just long enough to understand what it was like to be her.

I haven’t learned yet how to get inside the mind of another, but I have found the next best thing – the wisdom I am exposed to in a great interview and the fact that I can pass it on to you. What could be better? That’s passion!

Slicing the pie of public opinion on peace

Some 2,000 antiwar protesters with torches form a peace symbol at Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, in 2005. The event marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Photograph by Zsolt Szigetvary/epa/ CORBIS
Sally’s World, March 2003


I heard a conservative commentator on the radio a week or so ago, using the dirty word “peace,” coupling it with its usual complements of “loonies” and “fringe” and talking about how “stupid” the advocates for peace were because they had announced where their rallies were going to be held. His reasoning was that anyone opposed to unilateral action against Iraq would want to hold secret meetings – perhaps in catacombs lit by candlelight?

This assumption reflects a reality: For quite a while now to publicly say that you are not in support of any action taken by the United states in the “war on terrorism” is a bit like tossing up your hands and saying, “Throw me to the lions!

I am perplexed. I thought this was America and that unlike many other places in the world we had the right to assemble and to speak our opinions freely. And that indeed if we had a point of view we wanted to express that it was well within our rights and the parameters of common sense to express that POV in a visible way (as long as our actions are legal and law abiding).

I was thinking about this when I was eating $1 burgers with my friends Brook and Iva at Laurie’s Polka Inn in Bridgman, Michigan, and we were talking about the State of the Union, not the speech that President George W. Bush gave in January, but the actual state of the union.

Brook’s 7 year old daughter was falling asleep cuddled in her mom’s lap, and Brook says:” I wonder what my daughter will say to me when she looks back at this time, when she looks at the way my generation has led this country…”

“I was so angry at my parents when I learned that Marshall Tito was a dictator and did horrible things to people,” says Iva. Iva’s a bit younger than Brook and me. Her family moved to the United States in 1996 after trudging from one country to the next fleeing their war-ravaged home of Sarajevo. “My mother and father told me that Tito was the great one and that everything was peace and harmony, and I grew up believing in these myths because nobody would speak the truth. So war, I couldn’t believe it when it broke out!”

“When I think of the war it was like yesterday. And I know war, when it happens it happens overnight.”

And that’s how families are feeling in war-torn places around the globe – horrified at their bad luck and frightened for their lives. That’s what war and intense conflict does to people – it creates unbearable uncertainty. That’s what the incomprehensible acts of Sept. 11, 2001, did to us. The people of the United States are on edge and rightly so – we must protect ourselves and those we love.

The complexities of this situation are mind numbing.

What isn’t complex is that in the United States we have the right to speak our personal truths – whether well-reasoned or directly transmitted into our cerebral cortex from Pluto.

In the United Sates, we are not ruled by Tito. We are a Democracy. Silence does not rule the day.

In a macabre twist, the terrorists of September 11 used our freedom and our wealth as a weapon against us. The things that make this such a great country — the way we welcome people from other lands, the way we move about freely, the technology that allows us to access our money, the trust most of us have that people will follow the rules — enabled this action.

Despite our deep hurt, and this cruel turn on our freedoms and good will, we shouldn’t forget our core value of political freedom.

And that’s why I bring up that dirty word “peace.” A single syllable that some of us have been muttering under our breath worried that someone might hear and label us “loony” or worse. For a long time, the media – newspapers, broadcast outlets and others in the mainstream – have characterized anyone willing to stand with a different opinion that way.

In part, the reason for this is coalition politics. Those who stood up first were those with unequivocal moral opposition to any war – like the American Friends Service Committee – or those political groups with an axe to grind and little to lose – like the Communist Party.

The bottom line is that the early coalition couldn’t agree on a common message. Combine this with the universal horror of the terrorist action and the well-coordinated communication effort coming from the White House and you have a powerful wall of thought impenetrable by multiple points of communication and multiple points of view. All messages – from President Bush’s administration to the grassroots – are tried in the press. The message of those opposing war appeared to be a big mish-mosh, and it simply did not look credible enough to support the mainstream population. And the numbers simply were not out there.

But that is changing.

I believe the Web as a tool for global communication is deeply affecting our current state of the union. Now anyone with Internet access can sample many, many different points of view – from CNN to the BBC to their equivalents in countries around the world and to hundreds of independent media outlets ranging in perspective from so-far-right to so-far-left that they actually meet at the backend.
It is easier now than it has ever been to get the information you need to form your own opinion.

The new tool of the internet, combined with the mish-mosh coalition message and my own inherent skepticism inspired me to create a personal litmus test for developing my opinion related to any action related to controlling terrorism in the world. I ask myself: Does this action by my government make me feel safer?

Evidence is mounting that others have developed similar tests, and when the answer is “no,” they are taking to the streets. Even the New York Times in a January 20th editorial says that recent demonstrations in Washington displayed concern from America’s mainstream, not the fringe, about the United State’s proposed intervention in Iraq.
Still, the magnitude of the numbers of protestors is a point of dispute in Manhattan where the City has refused to issue a parade and rally permit for more than 10,000 people, and the coalition holding the rally, United for Peace and Justice, is seeking a permit for 100,000. At this writing in early February, the issue is unresolved, but Peace and Justice is urging supporters to continue their plans to come to New York.

Public opinion is always divided – the size of each slice of the pie is decided by who’s serving the pieces. And there are always several pies on the table to be tasted.

These rallies are a sign that our Democracy is healthy. By freely speaking our personal truth, we can keep it that way.

Women blow whistle on conflict and cause growth

GREGORY HEISLER FOR TIME THE WHISTLE-BLOWERS: Cynthia Cooper, WorldCom; (left to right), Coleen Rowley, the FBI; and Sherron Watkins, Enron

Sally’s World, January 10, 2003
Did you see that TIME Magazine chose three women as their persons of the year? Sharing the honor are Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom, Coleen Rowley of the FBI and Sherron Watkins of Enron.

On its cover TIME dubbed them “The Whisltleblowers.” In the photo, the three women look at the camera straight on, stern-faced, arms crossed, silhouettes dramatically lit, their hair framing their faces like haloes. They look annoyed, a bit like moms who’ve caught their 10-year olds throwing firecrackers at each other in the basement.

The photo portrait of this triumvirate doesn’t exactly fit the formula of what we think of as “out of the box” thinkers, but that is precisely what they are. To think out of the box is to be truly radical. It’s not simply to zig when you see a sign that says “zag,” but to blaze with a light that signals a whole new direction. It’s a risk and it’s a signal of what’s to come.

And in stepping out of the box, what did these three expose? Conflict, pure and simple. The conflict between what their organizations said they were doing and what they were REALLY doing.

I understand why TIME called them whistleblowers, but the term can be seen as, well, negative. It brings to mind other words like snitch and disgruntled. None of these women went to the press. The press went to them when their internal memos were leaked. None of them had an ax to grind. They all loved their jobs and believed in their organizations. As TIME says in its report, they are more like “the truest of the true believers.”

If not whistleblowers, then what to call them? These three “Persons of the Year” wriggled just as uncomfortably with being called heroes or role models.
Here’s a proposal: Let’s call them a harbinger.

And here’s why. Like the first robins of spring, our “Persons of the Year” are a signal of new growth to come in the cultures of our organizations.

If you read the TIME reports about what they did and why they did it, you will see that they were motivated by a desire to help their organizations to succeed and grow.
If this succeed and grow motivation sounds like a “chick” thing to you, well it has for a long time considered to be so. But since these women are a harbinger, it won’t be a “chick” thing for long.

The fact that they stood up could be a sign of an opening in our business organizations of benefit to all of us – men and women and future generations of employees. If we look beyond the headlines and read the subtext, this story is about how people – men and women alike – are driven to connect with each other in mutually enhancing relationships – inside and outside of organization.

It’s an opening that’s been a long time coming and was effectively advanced by Jean Baker Miller in her book, Toward a New Psychology of Women. Penned in 1976 at a time of dramatic change for women, this work is, in my layperson’s opinion, a work of remarkable clarity and brilliance.

Baker-Miller recognized that, socially, women through their activities carry human essentials that are not valued. Of these, the most important woman’s life activity is participating in growth fostering relationships – the process of acting in relationship with another person so that person can develop and grow.

This is the everyday stuff of rising children, and it is often described as nurturing or mothering. But these are gender-based words that negate the fact that all people – men and women alike -want to participate in growth-fostering relationships. Baker-Miller and her colleagues call this mutual psychological development and they say that it is essential to all of life and functioning.

So where do our whistleblowers/harbingers fit into this?

These three were so driven to foster growth within their organizations that they risked the conflict to make the growth happen.

Because women are usually subordinates, they do not actively engage in conflict with their dominants – their bosses. When the conflict is forced underground, it becomes covert, distorted and saturated with “destructive force.” But conflict doesn’t have to be that way, and by it’s nature it is not.

Conflict is actually good for us. Entered into with integrity, respect, confidence and hope, conflict is the source of all growth. “The infant would never grow if it interacted with a mirror image of itself,” Baker-Miller writes. “Growth requires engagement with difference and with people embodying the difference.”

28 years ago in her book, Baker-Miller called on women to reclaim conflict.

That is exactly what the ladies of the harbinger have done.

Their actions show that we have learned at least that much – that some conflict is necessary if we are to grow. Twenty years ago, these three would have had neither the position nor the means to even ponder a conflict. The fact that they stepped forward is a very good sign.

It’s not the end of the road but a beginning. For a long time, many of us have questioned the values of our institutions. We have looked for evolution to a more responsive organization that is more tolerant of authenticity. There’s been a lot of dissatisfaction but few guideposts to the next destination. Many of us have wondered how we have gotten into this mess and how we will get out of it.

“One adopts measures in keeping with his past training–and the very soundness of this training may lead him to adopt the wrong measures. People may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness,” said the noted theorist of rhetoric, Kenneth Burke, who Baker-Miller quotes in her book.

That’s good for a giggle and it’s also true. Our three harbingers have pushed back against the “unfit fitness.”

With a little luck, they have cleared a path and planted a tiny seed for a new type of organization, one that is geared toward engendering authenticity and relationships of mutual growth.

And one that will allow us to have a good, clean fight when we need to.