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Caroline C. Lewis / Mar. 8, 2019

Relationships, Career, and the Meaning of Success

The modern feminist narrative places career at the top of the success meter.

The modern feminist narrative places career at the top of the success meter. By their standard, net worth, membership in the C-suite, and “breaking through the glass ceiling” of a man’s world account for a successful life.

Now, after several decades of feminist orthodoxy, this standard deserves a reassessment. Women should be asking questions like, “Is a career the only metric for success?” “What other elements comprise success?” “How do I personally measure success?”

Success ought to be measured in a holistic fashion that sees the full picture of the human spirit. The human spirit has two components: doing and being. Humans are not meant to simply work but to relate and to thrive within communities. We require relationships. We are meant to live life together as friends and as families.

Unfortunately, the feminist success narrative ignores this reality. Instead, it only emphasizes quantifiable success like corporate clout and management responsibilities. However, many pieces of life that bring fulfillment are not quantifiable. For example, you can’t quantify dollar for dollar how a friendship impacts your life or the joy of a happy family or the stability of a healthy marriage. On the negative side, you also cannot quantify the impact of loneliness due to lack of friendships or the isolation from a broken marriage.

Denying the existence of these “unquantifiable” pieces of success comes at a high cost: our emotional health. While a career can provide a sense of purpose and stability, nothing can replace the feeling of being known, welcomed, and loved.

Creating a life that leaves margin for relationships should be applauded, not criticized. Women today should not be forced into thinking that their lives require a binary choice: career or family. Instead, a spectrum of options exists for them. Some women choose a non-corporate job with more flexibility in order to care for an aging parent. Some women choose to work part-time in order to care for their children. Others create a home-based business so they can be more available for their families. Others continue working after the children are in school. In various life phases (married, not married, children, no children) women have options in how their career intersects with their lives. They should also be free to choose how wide their margins are for relationships, friendships, family, and children.

The feminist narrative ignores the reality that for good or for ill, relationships shape us. A good or bad marriage, a healthy or unhealthy relationship, a distant or close child — all these things comprise the basic components of human life, happiness, and fulfillment.

While many women continue to measure their success solely through their career achievements, the relational margins of life should not be discounted. Ultimately, our culture should enlarge the definition of life success to include positive and healthy relationships.  Our culture should also be more accepting of those women who choose flexible careers in order to accomplish that. The career-at-all-costs ethic deserves a reassessment. Women should have the freedom to ask their own questions about life priorities and be able to pursue lives that include non-quantifiable successes like friendships, relationships, and family.

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