I could be anything, do anything. Whatever career path I wanted, it was there for the taking; whatever relationship I sought, I could create. I have changed career path three times so far – and have the tertiary debt to prove it. And after twenty years of marriage, I now tick ‘Divorced’ when identifying my marital status.
I was going to be a doctor.
It was the mid-eighties and I was in Year 10. I organised my own work experience at the then Camperdown Children’s Hospital, Sydney, in the Paediatric Oncology unit. When the head of the unit presumed that one of my parents was a doctor, I had to correct him and explain that my father worked in a factory and my mother was a cleaner. He was taken aback; I was amused by his surprise.
I’d been brought up on a heady dose of possibility; supported by migrant parents to make the most of every opportunity and educated by a system which was actively encouraging girls to flex their intellectual muscle and aim for the stars.
I could be anything, do anything. Whatever career path I wanted, it was there for the taking; whatever relationship I sought, I could create. When, and even if, to have children would be entirely up to me, and parenting and household chores would (of course) be equally shared.
Fast forward to my mid-forties and little of my current context has evolved according to plan.
I have changed career path three times so far – and have the tertiary debt to prove it. My superannuation balance is not what financial advisors would consider ideal, and after twenty years of marriage, I now tick ‘Divorced’ when identifying my marital status.
My eldest daughter has moved back home after two years at university; and my youngest, having just completed her secondary studies, is planning to stay home so that she can build a nest-egg to fund her dreams.
My situation is not isolated.
The average Australian adult can expect to change careers 4-5 times during their working lives, and for many women their employment trajectory will be marked by stops and starts, usually due to duties associated with caring for children or ageing parents. And when it comes to wedded bliss, roughly 20% of marriages currently end in divorce, and women today will most commonly be aged in their forties when they do.
The cumulative result of all of this being that, as women, we’re far less likely than our male counterparts to have secured for ourselves an adequate retirement income by the time that milestone comes around.
“ have changed career path three times so far – and have the tertiary debt to prove it.”
The gender pay gap remains real.
According to statistics released in March of 2016 by the federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, that gender pay gap has hovered at around 15-20% for the past two decades. Even more concerning, gendered pay inequity peaks in my age group (45-54 years) at 21%.
None of this was part of the future envisioned by my adolescent self.
There’s a wonderful scene in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, where the Red Queen challenges Alice to a race. An exhausted Alice is explaining to the Queen that dogged persistence eventually pays off, to which the Queen responds, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
I used to think the Red Queen was right, and I used to feel much like Alice in that no matter how fast my legs spun, I still felt like I was standing on the spot. But the tide is turning.
Smarter choices outmaneuver wasted effort every time.
Maybe if Alice had called an Uber, she wouldn’t have been as fatigued.
My adolescent self could not have envisaged her future. She couldn’t foresee the joys and despairs yet to come, and she might well have pitied my current context.
But she’d have been wrong. I love my life. I’m stronger and more confident today than I’ve ever been. And I’m astute enough to know that I can have it all – as long as I’m clear about what that means and smart about how to get there.