Waiting for Super(wo)man
December 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve been thinking a lot about stress lately. It seems like it’s becoming an epidemic within America as people keep striving for the impossible, working themselves to death for a multitude of reasons. But I’m especially worried about women and children. That sounds terribly conservative and traditional, but I don’t mean it in the way you might think. Children and women seem to be striving to do more and more these days. While I’m no expert, the trend in women taking on more roles outside the home really picked up speed in the 70s when going to college became increasingly expected for women. I work with a lot of 60 somethings and most of the women say their biggest regret was not going to or finishing college. They regret getting married so early, having kids so early. Things have changed. Dramatically so. Today more women are going to college than men. More women are going on to higher education than men. Women have suffered less than men during the recession, and employment is almost 50/50 in the USA between men and women. For my generation, this doesn’t sound like anything special. This sounds like what it should be. But if you talk to older generations, say the Baby Boomers, this is HUGE. The past 50 years have seen so much dramatic change in the family dynamic and the position of women in society.
It all sounds good on the surface. But things are never that easy. The desire for traditional family roles persist, leading women to try to “do it all,” to be Superwoman. She wants to go to school, to get a great job, to go on to bigger things. But she wants to be a great mom, to take care of her family without sacrificing or compromising. TV shows address it a lot, showing women turning to prescription drugs to try and maintain the energy level needed to work 40+ hours a week and still have the motivation to come home and take care of a family, keep up a household. Men don’t seem to feel that. They seem to still see their role as go to work, come home, let the wife take care of things. Maybe that’s unfair, but that’s how I see men acting these days. Certainly there’s been some backlash against women, with men feeling threatened by our presence in the workforce and the realm of academia. Men don’t feel that overwhelming pressure to take care of the family, to ensure the house is clean, the laundry folded, the dinner is hot on the table. It’s interesting to watch as gender roles teeter and sway as women continue to push the limits that have been set on us for thousands of years. We’ve made stunning progress in the past 100 years. Mind-blowing progress considering how slowly society seems to change. But we are literally dying from it. The stress of trying to be perfect in all aspects of our lives, all roles we try to fulfill, is killing us.
Children, too, are doing more and more each day. With college as an increasingly standard expectation, competition is fierce and sometimes cut-throat. Students have to balance keeping their grades up with band, sports, extracurriculars. Their resumes are growing longer and their stress levels, too, are skyrocketing. There is so much pressure to do more, do better, be more, be better. Childhood seems to end earlier and earlier these days as kids are forced to plan for their futures the minute they turn 13, if not before.
I am both a student and a working woman, and the pressure I put on myself is as intense as ever. People keep telling me “slow down, why are you doing this to yourself” but how can I not? The world is becoming increasingly competitive and just a season of laxity can set you back years on your resume. Admittedly, not everyone feels the pressures I do. Back home, alec has many friends who are still unemployed, a college degree did little to secure them employment. A degree just isn’t enough anymore. You have to have more. More. More. More. While my friends were lazing about in school, drinking their days away, I was taking extra classes. They spent their summers on beaches in Florida or Spain, while I spent mine doing internships or taking yet another class. When I wasn’t in class, I was working. People tend to roll their eyes at restaurant jobs, choosing instead to just sit at home since they think lower class jobs won’t get them anywhere, but I feel differently. If you are working, you are learning and those skills are always transferrable to another job.
I keep telling myself things will be better later. When I’m done with school, I’ll be qualified for more jobs because of my Master’s degree and then I can just get a good job and settle down. That’s my goal: just to find a job that I enjoy and that pays me well enough to have the things I want in this world. I don’t want a lot. Healthier, fresher foods. Maybe a bottle of wine here or there. Dog treats for my babe. A home that’s not a basement apartment. I don’t want a lot. But it for damn sure seems like an uphill battle to get anywhere these days, except for back on your parents’ couch. I feel exhausted 90% of the day. Even when I’m sleeping, I feel tired. I spend my nights chasing, hiding, fighting, screaming. Then I wake up just as tired as when I went to bed. I drink cup after cup of coffee hoping that at some point my headache will clear out so I can think. I’m usually so physically tired I have to sit down on the train because my body just doesn’t seem to remember how to hold itself up. Keeping breathing even can be laborious.
I tell myself over and over that other people have it worse. People who can’t catch a break. People with kids (not that my pets aren’t a handful on occasion). People with serious illnesses or disabilities. People have it worse than me, so I better get my shit done and be thankful I have the opportunities I do.
So many people, even my mother, have told me “not everyone is like you, you can’t expect so much from others.” It’s always such an odd thing when I hear it because my brain just thinks “what, WHAT?” over and over. There’s nothing particularly special about me. I’m above average sometimes, but I’m certainly not anything to write home about. I’m not especially smart, I’m certainly not a beauty, I’m not even all that nice most of the time. I’m not insanely talented, I’m not charismatic. I’m mediocre, pedestrian. I can’t make you laugh, I can’t make you feel at ease, I can’t snap my fingers and have people do my bidding. I’m really not that special. All I do is work. And really, I’m not that hard of a worker. I get things done on time and I tend to take on a whole lot, but in truth I’m lazy. I procrastinate all.the.time. But I get my shit done on time. And even if I’m doing it last minute, somehow that nugget I pull out of my ass looks like gold. Really though, the trick is just to keep pushing yourself and I don’t see why that’s so unusual or so unfair to expect from other people. I’m not anything great and I can do it, so why shouldn’t other people be capable of it? It just doesn’t make sense to me and it really pisses me off when people say it to me. A lot of times I wish I was better. I wish I worked harder, I wish I didn’t waste so much time avoiding things I’ll have to do anyway. I wish I was smarter or more creative, because that would certainly make my life easier. Being prettier or being nicer would go a long way too, I think, but that’s just not who I am. I’m not special, I’m not unique. I’m just really fucking determined. I’ll get what I want even if it kills me. I compromise when I need to, I deal with detours if I’m forced to take them, but I always keep my eyes on the future. I am always thinking about my next steps. And THAT, people, I think I should expect from others. If you don’t do it for yourself, if you don’t make your own dreams happen, no one else is going to do it for you.
My biggest problem, and I think it’s the same problem that many women and children facing such pressure today have, is that I don’t ask for help. Lucky for me, I’m resourceful. I like to do things on my own so I don’t burden other people with my problems, questions, etc. But sometimes I become so absorbed or overwhelmed that I ask for help too late, if I ask for help at all. It should always be okay to ask for help, but I do think you should only ask for help after you’ve tried your damnedest on your own. Some people ask for help right away, and that’s just fucking lazy. Of course, even when I ask for help, I often don’t take what I get. My parents have learned that about me over the years. Now when I ask for help, they just let me talk and then I end up with the resolution on my own, instead of having them tell me what to do and me just doing it. It’s a good way to operate because it makes me think about my options and no one knows me better than me, so I should really be making decisions for myself. I think when I ask for help (almost 99% of the time), I’m really just looking for validation. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just looking for a reaction. When I told people I was moving to DC after graduation without a job or a place to live, they told me I was crazy. I wasn’t really asking for help then, and I wasn’t that surprised when my decision wasn’t supported (although I was really annoyed). I think I just wanted to see what people thought. Not sure why it matters to me, since I rarely listen to advice or do what people tell me to do. Anyway, my point is that it should be okay to ask for help every now and then. Women shouldn’t have to feel like we have to do everything 100% on our own. Children shouldn’t have to feel like they’re a disappointment to their parents if they ask for help.
The world is changing and we’re all just trying to keep up. I’m just doing my best to get what I want out life. There’s nothing unique about that. I just hope America learns to slow down at some point, before the stress kills us all.