I’ve noticed that people like to tell women what to do especially when it comes to their life choices. I decided to join in the fun. Here is my advice to an 18 year old me.
First of all, 18 year old me, you drink too much and you date assholes. But that’s the easy stuff. The harder stuff comes later. When you’re 18, it feels like the world is a grocery store with aisles of and aisles of your favorite things to choose from. But the truth is, everyone makes choices in life. And those choices narrow your opportunities. You CAN have a family life and a career. But it is very difficult to have a high-powered career AND have small children.
So my first advice is to decide what is most important to you, a career or a family. Everyone is going to tell you what you should want on this one. But there is no right or wrong answer. Your heart’s desire should guide you.
If you desire to have a high-powered career, I recommend choosing a profession and sticking with it. Put all of your energy into building your resume. The more focus you are the better off you will be. You will be told that it doesn’t matter what you study in college because you will change careers three or four times in your life. In my view, this is a mistake. If you really want to be at the top of your game you need to make a decision and stay the course. Unless it becomes clear that you made a terrible mistake (ahem, law school), then cut your losses. Even if you decide that you want to be something that is less than high octane, you will still benefit from building a professional reputation from many years of hard work.
I noticed that Penelope Trunk advises women who want families and careers to have babies at 25 then jump into a career later. I think this is a mistake if your priority is a career. I think Ms. Trunk’s advice would work if a Clinton is in office and the economy is great. But it is very difficult to start a new career in a rough economy. Because frankly, if an employer has to choose between middle age you and a 25 year old, the 25 year old is going to get the job.
My advice, if career is your priority, focus on it in your twenties and thirties, and steel yourself for IVF or adoption expenses if you decide to become a mother later.
If you decide that family is more important, you still need to think about your career. It’s important to be economically self-sufficient. My advice would be to find a job that is in a female dominated industry. Nursing and education are good choices. You may decide to stay at home. I’m fine with that. But nursing and education offer enough flexibility that if you want to work and have quality time with your family you should be able to. (Honestly, 18 year old me, nursing is a fantastic choice and that’s probably what you should gone into.)
So that’s my advice. Of course, 18 year old me knew it all and wouldn’t listen one way or the other. She was off kissing girls and writing poems.