Career, Mother, and Wife? Can You Have it All?
I was 34 years old, a lucky chief cook and bottle washer, chauffeur, social planner, wife and mother with a loving husband who paid the bills for our happy family of four in west L.A. My diploma from UCLA had been filed away long ago, along with my old teaching credential. I’d done what many women did: go to college to find a husband and live happily ever after.
But something was missing. Something important.
Who could possibly understand that this was not enough for me? Why was I aching inside for something I could not define? Was this the same old story of the over-educated housewife? I wanted so much to find fulfillment outside the realm of my husband and family and put my untapped talents to good use. Why wasn’t I like my peers? I was helpless when it came to interior design; teaching left me unfulfilled; fashion was not my forte; and volunteering for charity hadn’t brought any satisfaction. On the other hand, I craved recognition. I needed to be needed, to be persuasive, and to have influence. I just had to be ready when the opportunity came my way to have it all.
Although I didn’t fully understand the existential question, I couldn’t stop asking why wasn’t my life, defined as wife and mother, enough for me. What I craved was a clearer sense of my role here on earth and my place in society. Who was I, this person with untapped, wasted talent and energy? Venturing out into the world, suffering there, struggling there, and most assuredly, not failing there, would validate my existence in a different way.
And then it happened. One of my husband’s clients, a manufacturer of silver jewelry, was firing his sales rep. Immediately I thought, “He needs a new rep. That’s perfect for me!” And truly, I did find selling silver jewelry, wholesale to the stores, exciting at first. But it wasn’t long before I realized the product wasn’t moving. I had to switch from silver to gold, a totally different product requiring a larger investment. Fortunately, I was able to borrow from the banks and create my own company. But I didn’t want a full time job or career back then.
My children were still very young. Working from home, I opened accounts by calling on jewelers while the children were in school, and a few weeks a year I rented space at gift and jewelry shows to sell to stores across the country. It wasn’t long before I had a viable business that suited my part time needs perfectly.
Wearing Many Hats
Being a start-up one-woman operation, I was the one who found the clients, took the orders, purchased the product, shipped the packages, billed the clients and collected the payments. It was a process that required diligence more than brains, but I liked it better than teaching in the L.A. city schools where my valuable talents had been so unappreciated.
With my car as my office, I’d look for prospects everywhere. I have memories of driving back from San Diego alone late at night, hungry and tired, having missed dinner with my family. My energy was sapped from every inch of my body after a long day of calling on jewelers with poor results. Utterly fatigued and anxious to get home, I gave myself a pep talk. “You must keep going. No regrets for having tried. Today was a setback, but you are not a loser and must never give up without giving your all.”
I tried not to let my work impact on my family, but there’s no question it did. I shudder to think of the time our son was left stranded after religious school. Class was over at 5:00 PM, but 6:00 PM had come and gone, and where was I? Overtired and overworked (self-induced to be sure), I’d simply forgotten to pick him up. Poor kid, eleven years old, standing outside as the streetlights illuminated, the school principal at his side. And poor me – I still shudder with shame to this day.
Yes, There Are Sacrifices
There were sacrifices. Wife and mother or career girl: pick one or the other and do it well. Relinquish the role of wife and mother to have a strong career? Unthinkable! Struggling with internal conflict, I found myself apologizing. To compromise here or there was not a solution, and yet that was what I was doing. On occasion the family would suffer, and if not the family, the business.
My mother had never worked as far as I knew, and after she died and my father remarried, my stepmother never worked either. Back then wives weren’t expected to have a career, and most men felt diminished somehow when they did. It was a bad idea for a woman to make more money than her husband. My stepmother told me so, and she was very wise. If it meant I could make millions, I could never sacrifice my family for personal success.
This was a conflict that never went away, because the world out there was full of adventure, prizes, and promises. It was tempting to go after it all, capture the “brass ring,” and become someone different in the process. But I had to ask myself, “What truly matters?” There is a time and place for everything in life, and for me, pursuing personal achievement, with my loved ones as a priority, would happen more slowly. Life would be imperfect but still wonderful. I would not forego the ladder to success, but simply climb it more slowly.
Can You Have It All? – Perspective
Could I have it all? With a competent nanny to manage the household, I was able to go after my dreams. But having a big impact on the world out there, and being the best possible wife and mother, was a goal that had its limits. In time, after the children went off to college, I would discover I could have it all. Just not all at once.
This guest post was authored by Adrienne Rubin
Guest post contributed by teacher, business woman, mother and writer Adrienne Rubin, author of memoir Diamonds and Scoundrels: My Life in the Jewelry Business publishing on Sept 17, 2019 by She Writes Press. Insights adapted from Diamonds and Scoundrels: My Life in the Jewelry Business