Sunday, December 03, 2006

Is your ladder up the wrong tree?

Motherhood can give us a fresh perspective away from the "corporate ladder" model of life, but as I have examined my commitments and activities one "ladder" metaphor keeps coming to mind.

I have found that the question "Is my ladder up the wrong tree?" can provide a useful check-in. Visually, you can picture yourself putting the time and effort in to climbing a ladder to reach the fruit growing on a tree. Is that pear really what you want? Is it worth the work you'll have to put in to get it? Did you choose this tree for your own reasons, or to satisfy someone else's?

Family obligations have been a useful focusing tool for me. Back when I was in my 20's, I spent almost 6 years getting my Ph. D. in Neuroscience without really considering whether committing that much of my life to that field was the right choice to make. Looking back, I am very glad that I finished my degree, BUT if I had to live a second life I'd definitely do something else. It turns out that I am a generalist who was getting herself trapped in a specialists' field. I was out on a limb but I found the courage to climb down.

Now, as a busy working Mom, I try to strike a balance between exploration and commitment. Doing research is exploration; writing a book is commitment. I am fortunate to have a lot of people inviting me to join them on their projects or causes, but at the same time, if I am ever going to get my own work done, I need to protect my time. I've had to re-evaluate a few longstanding commitments and decide to step away when a renewal point arrived. Looking ahead toward 2008, I am exploring how best to use my time and talents to ensure that mothers have a powerful voice in the next election.

By keeping a fresh eye on my commitments, I've been able to avoid becoming stuck up any given tree. In fact, at times I have swung, Jane-like, from one tree to another. This is how women's lives evolve. It's not just one career path, it is several. The paths fork, spiral, and go off-roads. The first time I left the path is was rather terrifying--I was sure I was letting somebody down, even though I knew what to do. Now I have left the ladder-based model of success behind and adopted an artist's model. I use every experience. Nothing is wasted, not even my neuroscience background. I look at the stack of books on my nightstand and think, "I bet no one's ever brought these ideas together before." Mojo Mom is evolving. I am not sure where I am headed next, but you can be sure I won't be stuck up someone else's ladder.


Blogger PunditMom said...

MojoMom, I love this post. You are so right that we need to evaluate where we're going and protect out time from commitments that don't lead us up the right tree.

Now if I can just follow my own, and you, advice.

9:47 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Thanks, PunditMom. I'd had this idea rolling around my brain for some time and it felt good to finally write it down. I am trying to figure out whether "Is your ladder up the wrong tree?" is an existing expression or whether it is original. I tried googling it and only came up with two results, but who knows exactly how and when it sprung from the collective unconscious. As an idea, it definitely works for me. I find it coming to mind as a "check-in" mantra on a regular basis.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous aalize said...

nice post. i am struggling with this myself. there are so many ways in which i could spend my precious little time but i have to choose wisely and there is that sense that you are letting someone down when you decide not to join their 'ladder'... i hardly know what my own ladder looks like so i am struggling a little now with where i will invest my energy in the new year.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! So often we just blindly follow a path we chose ages ago with no reassessment or internal reflection. The world would be a much happier place if we could all climb down. Or better yet, move the ladder before we climb all the way up.

11:57 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Give yourself some time to think this over. In the long run it is always better to gather the courage to say NO to a request than to take on something that you will either resent or won't do a good job. I try not to quit in the middle of things, but when I sign on to something that renews every so often, I make sure when the renewal comes up, I think it over carefully to see if my priorities have changed. I am careful about thinking about how my particular skills can be used best, in ways that don't totally wear me down.

12:30 PM  

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