Hassler herself left a fast-moving career that wasn't right for her and instead took the risk of starting her own business. Now, based on her own experience and interviews with hundreds of women, she shares heartfelt stories on issues from career to parents to boyfriends to babies. Yet she provides practical exercises, too, to enable the woman of today to chart a new direction for her own life.
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20 Something 20 Everything
A Quarter-Life Woman's Guide to Balance and Direction
By Christine Hassler
New World LibraryCopyright © 2005 Christine Hassler
All rights reserved.
WHO AM I?
From our first breath on this planet, we are influenced by our surroundings. Although each of us is born with an inherent personality and body type, for the most part we are molded by our environment. In our twenties, we have not yet had enough life experience to fully know who we are separate from our parents' and society's views of us. "Who am I?" we wonder. While this question about identity might seem somewhat ethereal, and the mystery of who you are cannot be solved by this book alone, we can start by breaking down the question into several smaller, more understandable parts. First, it is imperative to look at all the people and events in your life thus far that have had an impact on you.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE ... LIKE MOM
When we are formulating our identity, we often look to role models for clues about how, what, and who to be. Perhaps our most significant female role models are the people who have been with us from the very beginning — our mothers. In fact, almost half the women I interviewed named their mothers as their primary role models and/or primary sources of influence. There is no doubt that our mothers — our relationship with them, their choices, their behavior, and our feelings about these things — have made significant impressions on us and will continue to affect our identity throughout our lives. If your mother was not in your life, think about the person you consider to be your main parental role model as you read through this section.
Heather is a twenty-five-year-old associate producer at a local news show. As the first woman in her family to go to college, she watched her mother live vicariously through her children while never doing anything for herself. Heather decided at a young age that she did not want to be like her mother, who never established an identity of her own. Her mother's life seemed boring, degrading, and, quite frankly, "beneath her." At her college graduation ceremony, Heather remembers, she gazed over at her mother, wishing she could truly connect and share the moment with her. Now, as Heather tackles the real world by herself, she is aware that "I often feel jealous of my girlfriends who have savvy working mothers who they can turn to for advice. I am even a little resentful that my mom did not really prepare me for the life I want. It sounds terrible, but sometimes I wish my mom had taught me how to balance a checkbook rather than how to bake banana bread."
Our Mothers' Role in Our Lives
Heather's experience highlights how the lives of our mothers (or whoever else our strongest female influences are) and our judgments of them affect who we choose to become. Our generation is the first to be raised in a time when women's roles were undergoing significant change. Our mothers were part of the baby boom generation, and most of their own mothers stayed home, instilling in their daughters the values of cooking, sewing, and attaining an "MRS" degree. Yet unlike Heather's mother, many of our moms began to challenge women's traditional role and fought to make a working woman as common as one with a killer apple pie recipe (Donna Reed, rest in peace). As the feminist movement gained momentum, more women chose to go to work and to have lives outside the home. Even if they didn't identify themselves as feminists, many of our mothers passed on to their daughters a desire to be part of the workforce. Gloria, twenty-five, says, "My mom is my role model. She had a great career as a pediatrician and has always been extremely supportive of my dream to pursue a career in medicine as well."
In my research, I found an even split between twenty-something women who had mothers who worked and those with mothers who stayed home. Ina, a thirty-year-old technology buyer in Dallas, says that having a mom who worked full-time had both a positive and a negative effect on her. "Her strong work ethic was an excellent example, but the negative side was that I thought she was Superwoman. She worked at least forty to fifty hours a week, kept a very clean house, and was always there when we got home from school because she worked nights. When I started working, I was struggling to pay the bills, get everything done, and spend time with family and friends, while working fifty to sixty hours a week. I kept telling myself, 'Mom did it and had even more to do! You're not trying hard enough.'" Ina's opinion changed after she finally talked to her mother about this. "She said that she struggled every day. It was hard for her; she would go into her room and cry after we went to bed at night, physically and emotionally exhausted!" Perhaps if Ina had been aware of her mother's struggle, she would not be so disappointed in herself.
Like Heather's mom, many of our mothers made careers out of being mothers and wives. They packed our lunches and attended PTA meetings. Yet even if we had great home lives and our mothers were happy, many twenty-something women still want more than their mothers had, and might have been encouraged to think this way by their stay-at-home mothers. Twenty-four-year-old Diana told me this when I asked her how having a stay-at-home mom has influenced her desire for a career. "My mom did stay at home, but she'd kill me if I called her a housewife. She did a lot of volunteer work and was always busy. She has influenced and encouraged me to work and strive hard for what I want. I want to raise my children, but I want to still have my career and use the skills I spent so many years building."
Some of us saw our mothers take on the roles of both parents as divorce became more common and our moms were forced to do it all. Maggie, twenty-seven, who was raised by a single mom, says, "My mom and I didn't really have such a great relationship. I respect her because she worked a lot, carrying two or three jobs to pay rent and support us. I got used to not seeing her and to being very independent. I respect her for being hardworking and having the guts to accomplish a lot." Explaining the downside, Maggie says, "My mom complains that I am too obsessed with the future and I work too much. Well, because I grew up with a single parent living from paycheck to paycheck, I want a better plan for my life. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am like this, but I don't want my children to have to worry about money like I did."
Given all the different types of mothers we have, we are faced with a question: "To be or not to be like Mom?" Now, it's obvious that our mothers passed on to us some unavoidable traits, such as hair color, the size of our hips, or an undeniable love for the Beatles. And we fight tooth and nail not to inherit other things from our mothers, such as their fashion sense or the irritating way they offer "constructive" criticism. Finally, there are subtler things our mothers pass on to us, such as beliefs and behaviors, that are often more influential than their marital or professional status.
Annette, a twenty-four-year-old nurse from North Carolina, has always had a hot-and-cold relationship with her mother. Annette once thought this was because her mother was stressed out, but as she grew older she realized that her mom had deep issues she never had dealt with. "She never allowed her own self-expression but instead directed any emotion she had toward other people. She was a good caretaker and tried to be happy through other people. I've tried to learn how to express myself better. I'm sure it will be an ongoing challenge, but I'm confident in my awareness. My relationship with my mom and the emotional distance between us sped up the crisis during my twenties."
For those of you who have amazing relationships with your mothers — you consider her your best role model, you want to follow in her footsteps, and you are completely happy with who you are and where you are in life — I'd like to nominate them for mothers of the year. Most of us, however, have mothers who are human, and although they taught us a lot, we do not want to become exactly like them. One important thing to keep in mind as you continue to think about your mom is that our moms did the best they could given their life circumstances and experiences. Moving forward, it is in our own best interest to forgive our mothers for anything we hold on to and accept them for who they are. As savvy twenty-something women, we can look to our mothers for clues about why we are who we are, but we can no longer hold them responsible.
Your Mother's Influence
Now that you've read several stories of other women's relationships with their mothers, think about some of your mother's (or your most significant role model's) "ways of being" that you might consciously fight or unconsciously adopt. The following questions are designed to help you discover how the most influential woman in your life shaped your identity. Write the answers in your journal.
1. Among the women quoted above, whose story resonated with you most, and why?
2. What was your mother's role in your home? Do you think she liked it?
3. Did your mother work outside your home, and how did that affect your desire to work?
4. What did you admire about your mother?
5. What did you not like about your mother?
6. In what ways was or is your mother your role model?
7. Have you followed in the footsteps of your mother? In what ways do you think you are similar to her?
8. In what ways did you consciously decide to take another path? Why?
9. What advice did your mother give you that really has stuck with you?
10. Did your mother have any behaviors that you vowed never to repeat?
11. What things did your mother say to you that influenced the decisions you have made in your twenties?
12. Has your mother said, or does she continue to say, certain things to or about you that affect your self-esteem or self-image?
13. What was your mother's relationship like with your father or her husband (or with men in general)?
14. How was your mother's relationship with her mother?
15. How do you think your mother's relationships with others impacted how you behave in relationships with others?
After answering those questions, in what ways do you think your mother has influenced your definition of yourself? Overall, how do you feel about the influence she has had? Look at your answer to question number 5 and consider whether you need to forgive your mother for anything. This information is essential as we continue our journey toward a deeper understanding of ourselves.
* * *
Who Is Mom, Anyway?
One of the most telling parts of my research was talking to women of our mothers' generation. Paying attention to how older women reflect on their twenties provides more insight into our experiences as we carve out our identity. We all think we know our mothers, but we knew or know them in their thirties, forties, fifties, and so on. We did not know who they were in their twenties — we were either too young or not yet born. Our frame of reference has always been from the perspective of a daughter.
Among my most fascinating interviews was the one with my own mother. I was surprised at how much I had not known about her. Although I'd always seen her as financially dependent on my dad, I learned that not only was she financially independent from her parents before the age of twenty-one, but she paid her own college tuition. I also thought she got married pretty young (twenty-four), and I never thought she had much of a life. Wrong again. She was out on the town, dating and having a great time. She told me that transitioning from having a career to being a mom was like becoming the CEO of a home. She approached it with a tremendous amount of pride and always knew she could go back to work if she wanted to someday (and eventually she did).
I had a significant realization after talking with my mother and her peers. We think we must decide in our twenties who we want to be for the rest of our lives, but we don't — our goals can and do change. This was a relief because I realized that the answer to the question "Who am I?" is not written in stone. Sure, some things about our identity remain constant throughout our lives, but we do have breathing room.
EXERCISE 2 __________
Interviewing Other Women
You are going to interview your mother (if your mother is not living or is not in your life, pick the most significant female in your life) and two additional women around your mother's age. As you might have noticed already, I share bits of our preceding generation's wisdom throughout the book, but you'll find it valuable to do a little of your own research. Below is the list of questions that I asked women between the ages of forty-eight and sixty-three (roughly our mothers' generation) that you can use in your interviews. Feel free to stray from these suggested questions and make the interview more personal.
1. Overall, how would you describe your twenties?
2. What were your goals during your twenties?
3. What were your primary interests in your twenties?
4. What were the three most fun and exciting aspects or events of your twenties?
5. What were the three most challenging aspects or events of your twenties?
6. If you could go back to your twenties, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? Do you have any regrets?
7. Do you have any other words of wisdom that you think could be of value to women in their twenties today?
Now that you have this information, it is up to you to decide what parts of it resonate with your life and experiences. Did the information these women, especially your own mother, shared surprise or inspire you? Remember, information from older women is often more valuable than the advice we get from our peers simply because it tends to be more objective and comes from experience rather than opinions.
Now look back at the list of questions above, and consider yourself in twenty or thirty years' time. How do you want to answer these questions then? Do you want to look back with fondness and pride or with regret? Are you making the most of your twenty-something experience? If not, what are you waiting for?
* * *
MOLDING OUR IDENTITY
Throughout our lives, we also look outside the home for clues about what kind of women we want to be. But when we open this window, a gust of mixed messages from our environment comes blowing in (as if the hodgepodge of roles our own mothers assumed wasn't enough!). We don't always choose who or what makes a lasting impression on us, so we might have conflicting ideas about who we are or should be.
Jessica, a twenty-seven-year-old pharmaceutical sales rep in Washington, D.C., was always told by her feminist mother that she could be whoever she wanted to be, but she was never given any specific ideas about how to determine who that was. So Jessica turned to television shows and movies that reinforced the notion that women can play many roles. She recalls the romance stories in which the dreamy-eyed woman is fulfilled by falling in love. She remembers seeing women portrayed in corporate roles who were sexy and smart and sometimes had families as well. Now that she is a full-fledged adult struggling with her identity, she is looking for real-life role models. She envies the women in her company who land the big accounts and earn big money. These women seem so together, intelligent, and sophisticated. On the other hand, she sees a lot of women beginning to settle into relationships and have children, and she envies them, too. They seem so secure, in love, and domestic. She observes satisfied women in her community and in the media with both families and careers. They seem to have and do it all. Each of these women seems happy to her, but whose situation is most ideal? Jessica's experience presents us with questions: Who is the prototype for the modern woman — Carol Brady, Kelly Ripa, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey? — and what is a woman's role right now?
Excerpted from 20 Something 20 Everything by Christine Hassler. Copyright © 2005 Christine Hassler. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Exercises,
Preface: My Story,
Introduction: Welcome to Your Twenty-Something Crisis,
PART 1: THE TWENTIES TRIANGLE,
Chapter 1. Who Am I?,
Chapter 2. What Do I Want?,
Chapter 3. How Do I Get What I Want?,
PART 2: BUILDING A SECURE FOUNDATION,
Chapter 4. Securing Your Independence,
Chapter 5. Self-Security,
Chapter 6. Financial Security,
PART 3: RELATIONSHIPS AND CAREER DURING YOUR QUARTER-LIFE,
Chapter 7. Twenty-Something Love,
Chapter 8. Twenty-Something Work,
Conclusion: Twenty-Something Can Be Everything,
About the Author,