I was sitting at the gate at the airport on my way to Boston for a job interview. I was looking out the window at Ft. Lauderdale’s bright sky and thinking about how much I really didn’t want to trade in warm days, bright skies and beaches for slush, rust and an annoying accent – but I would do it if I got the job, I had to.
I looked away from the window and went back to reading Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. I was reading it for the second time. Sheryl Sandberg’s narrative on how and why women need to man-up was all that was keeping me motivated in my job search.
I heard a woman yelling at her children as I read. I looked up and the woman sitting next to me said, “She’s so mean,” speaking of the woman that was yelling at her children. I closed the book and started a conversation with her. I asked if she lived in Boston. What was the city like? Where was she from originally? She asked me why I was going to Boston and what I studied in school. She told me she was from Virginia, lived in Chicago for 15 years and had lived in Boston for the past five years.
She and her husband moved to Boston because he got a great job offer there. She has a law degree but has never practiced law. They got married right after law school and she has been a housewife ever since. She’s one of the lucky ones, I thought to myself. A man found her, loved her and took care of her. She landed on her feet. Housewife is a dream job to me. I’ll take crying kids over asshole bosses any day.
I continued to talk to her until we were boarding the plane. We were standing in line in the jetway when she said to me, “I’m looking for a new city. I’m going through a divorce and I have to move out of my house. I don’t have a job and looking for one is a joke because I don’t know what any of the things they are looking for even mean. I haven’t worked in over twenty years.” Immediately, I went from admiring her to pitying her. “My children are grown, they’re gone,” she continued and then paused. “So, good luck to you. Take that job,” she told me and grinned as she took her seat. I nodded, thanked her and wished her well.
The conversation I had with her was short but impactful. Sheryl Sandberg is right. Women need to lean in, all the way in! We need to keep some of our power to be financially independent if necessary. Women are the ones that get left behind when traditional, or should I say old-fashioned, families break down. American society needs to evolve to make it easier for women to maintain careers and families. Women shouldn’t have to feel the need to choose one. American companies need to make it easier to have a balance between work and family so more women can stay in the work force, thus protecting their financial future. More women need to be in leaderships positions so they can make these changes for women.
Sometimes I get down thinking about the fact that I’m not married and I don’t have any children, but after speaking with the woman in the airport, I think I may be the lucky one. I can do what I want, when I want and my future depends on me. More importantly, I have the chance to meet people like her, who share their stories which serve as advice for me on what to do and not do as I fight to get ahead personally and professionally.