I’m a sucker for a post about how a high-powered woman, who is also a mother, “does it all” and “fits it all in.” Give me some Sheryl Sandberg-type wisdom, and I’m all ears.
Recently, I read about Audrey Cooper, mother of a 3-year-old son and the editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, who has an intense job leading a major newspaper. She’s the big boss over in San Francisco. She’s definitely “arrived.”
This article gave me the shakes as I tried to imagine stepping into Cooper’s uber-successful shoes. What would that require of me? For starters, I’d have to work upwards of 90 hours a week, including “almost” every weekend. I’d have to field 2,000 emails a day, and my schedule would be full three weeks in advance. My typical work day would involve 16 different meetings.
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How long would I last as a big shot woman who’d made it to the top? Less than 24 hours.
Let me be clear: I’m not hating on Cooper. In fact, I admire her endurance, ambition and ability to make her life work. I’m also grateful to her for admitting that sometimes she’s 20 minutes late to read to her son’s preschool class or that a whole week passed and she failed to cross a single item off her to-do list. Her willingness to highlight those moments is both generous and humble. I like this lady. I want to be friends with her, except I would have to make a coffee date with her three months in advance, and even then, she’d probably have to reschedule multiple times.
What does it mean to climb in the ladder to a place that sounds like torture? At the same time, who wants to stand on the same rung for 20 more years?
To a lesser extent I have to do what she does. We all do, right? We all have to figure out childcare. We’ve all tried to cram in a gym session only to find ourselves running late for a meeting at school. Like Cooper, I struggle to find the right outfit for events. I eat lunch on the go. I ping pong between eating carbs and cutting them out.
Cooper and I are not so different—except she’s at the top of her industry and her schedule is my schedule on steroids. She is unambiguously a highly successful woman.
Am I supposed to be aspiring to that?
Maybe. But if that's success, I say "no thanks." I don’t want what she has. Her schedule is punishing. I’m already exhausted, and I work less than half the hours she works, a measly 40 hours a week. She also has work commitments three nights a week. The thought of wearing a bra past sundown more than once a week makes me weep in agony.
I simply couldn’t do it.
But reading about Cooper calls my own ambition into question. It’s painful to admit that I could never hack it. And since that’s the case, what do I do with my ambition? If the top is not something that looks appealing to me, then where am I going? What does it mean to climb in the ladder to a place that sounds like torture? At the same time, who wants to stand on the same rung for 20 more years?
Why, after all this time, are there so few definitions of success for women?
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To be clear, I have the same reaction when I read about the grueling schedules of male corporate executives. When I read them, I think: “There’s no F-ing way I could do that.” But when I see women like Cooper making it work, it hits closer to home. We’re both working moms, trying to balance our disparate roles as professionals and mothers. Her profile in New York Magazine makes me feel like I should be reaching for what she has: success in the top of my field. If not, it seems like I should have a better reason than, “Nah, that looks kind of tiring.”