This is the eighth post in my “Leading Ladies” series. I am extra excited for this one because it is in celebration of my 30th birthday. In fact, the entire series has been about celebrating my birthday by celebrating phenomenal women. I am a huge fan of Sarah’s Whipper Snapper HR blog. She is witty, a leader and a welcomed voice in the HR community.
How lucky am I that I get a personal happy birthday from her and some wisdom also? I hope you enjoy the post!
Happy Birthday Janine, what a fantastic way to celebrate it! My birthday falls on International Women’s Day, so I extra love this month and topic, and couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of your series.
To me, a “leading lady” means pursuing a life that fulfills you to your own unique requirements, beyond all traditional bounds of what should fulfill your certain lot. That’s the element that makes her a leader, because she is the first to do something, perhaps not in the world but certainly in her circle. I don’t classify a leader by their presence in the top 2% of excellence, or their socioeconomic circumstances. I classify a leader as someone who sees where they are expected to go, anticipates where they actually want to be and then finds a way there. A true leading lady sees this especially in her role in society and family, and leads by living in a role that fulfils her.
I currently find myself in the young career women role, working as a HR Manager by my early twenties. It was by the least glamorous path that I got there. I was a university graduate by my 21st birthday by being boring. I didn’t take a year off school to see the world, I didn’t continue on to postgraduate study, I didn’t take a few years to get around to a serious job – I didn’t even change my major once! I should have been on the summer music festival tours, and working at a bar. Instead, I was in full-time HR work the day I graduated, and just kept on working.
I sacrificed those school day friendships. Friends were starting to do backpacking tours around Europe with each other when I was working a full time job. The tempos of our lives were off kilter, and it was a natural distancing of people.
I sacrificed the fun of being no-strings-attached youth. Instead, my resume counted and I was holding down jobs. I was working so hard every day to be taken seriously despite my youthfulness and inexperience. It can be really demoralizing to walk into an office and know that you need to prove yourself beyond just doing your job because you’re the age of your colleague’s grandchild.
However, the sacrifice paid off, because this is what it means to have a career, and therefore decent earning capacity, at a young age:
- I pay my own way;
- I fall in love with whomever I like;
- I can cut toxic people from my life; and
- I can get a good job wherever I want in the world.
But have I arrived? Well yes, I am really happy with where I am right now. And no, because if I am very honest with myself, I put all this pressure on myself to achieve early because I am so determined to have a career and a family. And I feel my chances of a fulfilling balance of both are increased if I have advanced as far up the career ladder as possible before I decide to have children. I don’t think there’s really any drastic change for women if it still requires you to be exceptional before being excused from the rule of ‘one or the other’.
My family story has shown me the unique pressure I feel my generation is under though. My Grandma had the clearest line of expectations, in that she had to quit her bank job when she married. My mother had the traditional feminist set of expectations that she fought against, as she worked hard to further her education beyond high school and to have a career after raising a family. Now though, I feel the opposite pressure of not throwing away opportunities for further education, of being the best professional I can be, of showing that females are equal in performance to men in every way. It’s like the ambition to be a stay at home mum is a quaint desire for baby-crazed brains. I feel the pressure to play like the boys, and resistant to surrendering dependence to my partner so we can have a family. For a fiercely independent spirit like mine, this is the equilibrium I will find hardest to achieve in my life. However, if I achieve it, maybe I too will have become a leading lady, and that would be incredibly cool.
My name is Sarah Miller and I’m a Gen-Y HR professional writing about being a Gen-Y in HR, in some thoughtful way on my blog Whipper Snapper HR (whippersnapperhr.blogspot.com) and with little thought on my twitter account @whippasnappahr. I just got a G+ account (gplus.to/whippersnapperhr) too – variety is the spice of life I suppose. Apart from my Social Media shenanigans, I’m a South Australian living and working in Singapore. Previous career aspirations included being a plumber, and being a ferry driver who sang to my passengers on the morning commute. Thankfully, HR seems to be working out well for me.