When You Made It and You Haven’t Gotten Anywhere

This week, I’ve been reading a slew of posts about how women make less money than men, and why.  Mostly, the argument against this being an issue goes, that women tend to work less than men one they have kids, and they also and generally less competitive so of course they don’t make as much money. In every single job negotiation I feel the weight of this on my shoulder, and try my best to negotiate. I have no idea what a man would do in the same situation with my experience, but since my first couple of jobs when I took the starting salary with no negotiation at all, I’ve tried to ask for a little more, and I’ve gotten more ballsy over time. It helps now that I now have competition offers, and I seem to be fairly good at interviewing these days.

On paper, I sound qualified for a very particular type of role and particular type of company. I’m not sure at all how life has sculpted itself to this specific career path, but it has, and I’m locked and loaded into it, full speed ahead until retirement to gain more responsibility, earn more wages, and look back on a very successful professional career. It hit me this week that I’m nearly making $200k (which, even for one of the highest cost of living areas, is one of those numbers that I thought would never be possible — ten years ago I was making $20k.)

Yet as I look ahead to potentially having children / starting a family, I realize that if I have an opportunity to leave this profession and move into something that is more flexible and personally fulfilling, I would. As much as I like money, and as much as I’ve been driven by this random “$500k in networth before I have kids” goal for the entirety of my 20s and early 30s, I just can’t see myself, 10 years from now, in this same type of role. I don’t want to be a vice president or C-level executive. Even though the pay would be great, I have no desire to be that person. I could potentially figure out how to fake who I am enough to get there… given my success getting this far, I have to believe that someone out there would want to offer me such an opportunity one day.  And I feel very guilty, that as a woman — as a woman who has an actual chance of getting to the top – I don’t want it.

As I sprint full speed ahead towards my mid 30s and the next phase of my life, I wonder what to do about it. I’m so busy these days with just trying to do my job and do it well and planning my wedding that I don’t have a ton of time to ponder what’s next (which is probably a good thing.) But, as my rent has increased this year by $2040 for the year, and the cost of living in this area shows no signs of refraining its hockey-stick growth, I know that at some point soon, I either need to commit to this career or come up with an exit strategy. I’m leaning towards the exit.

I don’t want to “not work.” I LOVE working. I love collaborating with a team to create new products. I wish I could be a ux designer or product lead. I’ve said that now for 12 years. I’ve failed to make any progress in that direction. I tried to study for the GRE and even booked a test slot and then didn’t go because I hadn’t studied enough. I couldn’t focus. I gave up. I got a better job. I made more money. It became less fiscally responsible to go back to school anyway. I got older. I passed that age when people go to grad school into the age when some people do but they’re much older their classmates. I entered the age where you take online classes or executive programs but only in rare cases do you go back to school for an entirely new career. Sure, people do it, and I may eventually as well, but I’m really getting older now — not old, per se, but old in the sense of I have a career. I have a good career. I manage a department, small as it is, I’m still in a high-level role, and there is so much good in my life that I kick myself every time I want to start over.

At this point, I’m committed to another year or two in my current job. If I do get pregnant then that will certainly be an opportunity to think through what’s next. Of course, if I get pregnant, it will be even harder to change careers. If I opt to apply to grad school for 2017 I’ll be 33 when I start, and I may want to put having kids on hold, which means I likely won’t have kids, which is, at this point, out of the question unless nature says I can’t (also a possibility.) In any case, there has to be some major changes in the next 2-3 years of my life, which will likely include moving to another state, or at the least, finding another career path and opting for lower pay and a lower quality of life here. I know this isn’t something I can maintain. It will be hard to say goodbye to the near-$200k salary, but I know if I figure out how to do something I’m really passionate about, maybe I can get back there over time. Or maybe I can just make less money and live somewhere more affordable. Either way, there are options, and I’ll always feel guilty as a woman for throwing away a successful career, but I have to. I have to rethink my entire life, my goals, and the directed outcomes. I do finally feel ready for a change.

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