Picket Fences and Shiny Glass Ceilings

When I was younger, the story I wrote for myself and my future was dramatically different than it is today. I would be married by twenty-one, have my first baby by twenty-two, live in a little white house with a picket fence by twenty-three, and be the perfect homemaker.

Slowly, over the years, my goals, vision, and ideology changed. Whether it was the competitive environment of high school, the “Feminist Theology” class I took in college, the desire to outperform the men in my MBA class (where the male to female ratio was 4 to 1), or the impact of the “Lean In Movement,” my life plan today couldn’t be further from that of my twelve-year-old self.

Instead of getting married at twenty-one, I earned my MBA. Instead of having a baby at twenty-two, I’ve put all of my love and energy into a challenging, but exhilarating, career. Instead of buying a little white house with a picket fence, I bought my first condo in a high-rise downtown, my own version of a “bachelor pad,” clad with Vogue magazine posters and “I Love My Dog” pillows. And while I do love cooking, crafting, and decorating – I am far from being the perfect homemaker.

The thing is – this is my generation. The majority of women I know have the same feelings and goals as I do…and some are happy to forgo child-rearing altogether. My grandma got married at nineteen and had my mom one year later. My mom got married at twenty-one and had me one year later. My generation, on average, won’t start having children until we are well into our 30s. And we still lead very full lives.

Instead of starting families in our 20s, we view this stage in our life as career-intensive, travel-intensive, and personal fulfillment-intensive. Many of us aren’t ready to “balance it all” yet – but rather are preparing for it by balancing our many interests in the meantime.

Career-Intensive: For those of us lucky enough to find exactly what we want to do early on in life, this is the time for it. After graduating from college and finishing my MBA, I knew that I wanted to join my family’s business – and I am so grateful that I knew early on. Whether other women are like me and know what they want to do, or they are excited to experiment and discover their passion, there is no better time than our early years.

We are still in school-mode – we are used to thinking outside of the box, striving for excellence, and pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines. We have more than enough energy to put in 70-plus hour weeks, which will help us stand out from the pack and outperform our coworkers. We don’t have the same responsibilities we would if we had a spouse and children…instead, our pets are our children. Personally, the responsibility of taking care of my two Maltese dogs, Riley and Cami, is more than enough! What better time than now to work harder than anyone else, climb the ranks, save money, and break down that shiny glass ceiling.

Travel-Intensive: For me, and many of my colleagues committed to very challenging careers, our careers are not marathons. They are never-ending sprints. And every water station is a vacation. Travel is my de-stressor. I enjoy working really hard and then rewarding myself with some kind of an adventure. I’m fortunate that my family loves to travel – so at age twenty-two, I’ve been to over forty countries.

Studying abroad during school has helped many women overcome the fear and obstacles associated with traveling alone. Before my MBA program, I had never traveled on my own outside of California. At age 20, mid-way through the MBA program, I made the decision to travel outside of the U.S…and one month later I was on a plane to Singapore and Hong Kong solo to study with my cohort. It was the gateway to feeling comfortable in foreign places on my own, without my parents’ help, without access to my cell phone, and without the comforts of living in an English-speaking country.

Personal Fulfillment-Intensive: Personal fulfillment can mean many different things – but it all comes down to being happy and taking time for oneself. For me, personal fulfillment comes in the form of furthering my education, whether it is earning a Master’s degree, taking cooking classes for fun, or getting involved with the Symphony. There are so many outlets for continuing education – from painting to photography to language to architecture. It’s exciting that, as of 2011, more U.S. women have master’s degrees or higher than men (10.6 million women vs 10.5 million men2). Personal fulfillment can come from buying homes on our own (more than 1 in 5 home buyers is a single woman1), becoming financially independent, buying Louboutins and Louis Vuittons, and taking care of our health and fitness.

While it certainly doesn’t mean this is the right way – or the best way – of living, it is an exciting time for women who don’t think of their lives as Disney movies, and instead aspire to parade down the streets of New York City in their Louboutins a la Devil Wears Prada.