The other day my little sister asked me what advice I would give to my 22-year-old self, knowing what I know now.
She was, at the time, contemplating what gift she would give to a young woman she’s mentored for several years on the occasion of her college graduation.
Li’l Sis wanted the gift to be personal and meaningful, and she settled on writing a booklet with advice on several topics, including sex, love, romance, religion, continuing education and marriage and family.
My sister canvassed several women she knows and asked them to submit bits of advice on the topics. Each chapter begins with the quotes and then segues into my sister’s advice, things she’s learned in her 32 years.
I think the book, titled The Best Part of the Fruit, is a wonderful gift. I wish I’d had the benefit of a road map like that when I was graduating from college.
I remember feeling like commencement day had come suddenly, and as excited as I was, as much as I felt like I could fly, I knew I didn’t have the manual.
But back to the book, all of the chapters are part of the whole, pretty much like our lives … and that’s my jump off point.
The advice strongly advocates continuing education, telling college grads to get right back on the horse, since notions of a small break could lead to permanent derailment.
Then the advice about building a career encourages graduates to network, work hard, put in the long hours, learn the ropes, get professional qualifications and pay their dues early.
Now anyone out there knows that there’s such a thing as opportunity cost, and that it is the rare individual that manages to have it all.
So of course the question is, where does starting a family fit into the equation? Because the truth is, while a woman is busy climbing the corporate ladder, her biological clock is tick-ticking away.
So I’m wondering what advice we should give to young women ready to conquer the world – the ones who see a world of possibilities, old moulds to shatter and new records to set. And what do we tell them so that, one day, 10 or 20 years from now, they are not filled with major regret?
I have a close girlfriend (with whose permission I tell this story) who is ideally poised professionally. She’s not slouching economically or socially either. But having conquered all that, she’s finding that starting a family is not as simple as deciding that the time is right.
We had this conversation last summer and again just the other day, at what was the start of her third round of fertility treatment.
The first two treatments were instant successes, but both ended with miscarriages.
My friend confessed that had she known years ago that procreating would be so hard emotionally, she would have made different choices – deferred this or that dream, forgone this or that.
Of course, that could be an entirely emotional argument since there is no guarantee that it would have been a cakewalk then either. But when 40 is staring you in the face, and your obstetrics history is wretched, it’s hard to not wonder what if.
So I want to tell all the graduates out there congratulations and live life to the fullest. But make realistic plans, with realistic timelines.
On life and love and starting a family, know your goals, and then find someone who shares them.
And remember always that while today seems most urgent, it’s prudent to have broad view.
On motherhood, I know firsthand how conflicted one can feel when juggling career and professional development and your family’s needs.
Just the other day, I agonised long and hard about what kind of destabilisation it would cause if I were to accept a fellowship for the duration of a few months.
It was the same thing with pursuing a degree that would take nine months on the ground or almost triple the time online, and choosing, in the first instance, not to, and in the second, the long road.
But then you know you made the right decision in small things, like a child’s tight embrace, or a weeping boy who will only be consoled by his mother.
I was at an event last week, and after a string of impressive qualifications and job postings, the speaker’s bio said her most important job is being a mother.
As my sister’s generation would say in affirmation, “she ain’t never lie.”