When people talk about the pay gap between men and women, there’s inevitably evidence brought up that the gap is due to a few factors that affect most people: men choose more lucrative fields, don’t take time off to raise kids, and spend more time at the office when their kids are growing up. These factors don’t affect everyone, only enough to explain the numbers. They are the result of trade-offs people make. It reminds me of a really great Penelope Trunk quote, “Remember that people will brag about what they’ve achieved, but they don’t brag about the price they paid to get it.” The moral here is that God doesn’t give with both hands, you don’t get to have everything you want, but you do get to choose the thing that is really important to you and sacrifice a lot of other things in order to get it.
There’s an article on Pacific Standard written by a woman who decided to “Lean Out” from her career. Like lots of people, she didn’t want more out of her career, she wanted less. In her own words:
The truth is, I intentionally lean out of my career. A lot. I do this because there are only 24 hours in a day, and when I ask myself, “If I died tomorrow, what would I want people to remember me for?” it isn’t anything I’ve published, any TV appearance I’ve made, or anything like that.
I’d like my son to remember that, almost every morning, I snuggled with him for 15 minutes before we finally got up together. I’d like him to remember that I had the door open and a hug ready for him when he ran home from the school bus, almost every day. I’d like him to remember that I took up the clarinet, and started lessons with him with his teacher, so we could play duets together and so that he could be my secondary teacher. I’d like him to remember all the after-school walks we took to the river. I’d like him to remember how happy I was when he had a snow day and could stay home with me.
I’d like my mate to remember all that, and to remember that I became a gardener, reluctantly at first, and that I did so because he loves planting but hates to weed. I’d like him to remember all the dinner parties with friends I arranged for us. I’d like him to remember the house concerts, like the one last night.
By her own estimates, “leaning out” will cost her $750,000 over the course of her career. But that’s the trade-off. She gets to have what she really wants in life: millions of memories of all the times she was with her family instead of at her desk. And we should be jealous of her, because she knew what she wanted enough to give up three-quarters of a million dollars for it. Is there something in your life you would give up that much money for?
This doesn’t just apply to choosing a family or a high paying job. Maybe you really want to be an English major. If it’s that important to you, do it, but be knowledgeable about what you are sacrificing: earning potential, the cost of your degree, mobility in the job market. I know travelers that work for a few months to save up money and then quit and travel for as long as they can afford to; it’s the same principle. There are consequences to your actions, and that’s OK. We don’t all get the same things because we don’t all want the same things.
A recent Wall Street Journal article describes how lots of people get their “dream jobs” only to find they are still unhappy in them. Author Sue Shellenbarger argues, “Increasingly, people expect to find jobs that provide not only a living but also stimulation, emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose.” If anything, that’s a lot closer to what I want out of life than a gigantic salary or a family. I want to be stimulated and fulfilled by mentally engaging with people and ideas. I get to have that but it comes at a price: I’m not rolling in money like I’d be if I was an engineer… I’m glued to my screens all day (every day)… I read a lot of vicious and personal criticisms… and I do a job a lot of people think is, in general, stupid.
What I am proposing is that we focus less on chasing equality for the sake of equality and instead ask ourselves what we really want, listen for the answer and then be prepared to sacrifice what we care less about in order to get it.
Maybe it is running a prestigious company. Maybe it’s taking pride in being the breadwinner for your family. Maybe it’s raising amazing children. Maybe it’s travel. Maybe it’s creating art or making clothes or blogging sustainable food recipes.
There’s a pay gap because having a prestigious, high-paying job is not everyone’s first priority. There’s also a family gap because having children and spending every day with them is not everyone’s first priority. There’s a travel gap because not everyone prioritizes travel, and on and on, ad nauseum. We’re humans, we don’t all want the same things.