Book Review: Women and Career Decisions

There are a lot of books focused on women in the workplace. Most are written by women who are CEOs, successful entrepreneurs or otherwise well know for their professional achievements. Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction by Marcia Reynolds is not that book.

Wander Woman is filled with facts:

What most surprised the managers was that the top-performing women did not stay and fight. These days, strong women take their expertise and knowledge to greener pastures.

Their workplace wish lists rarely state “being promoted” as a prime motivator. Instead, my survey respondents told me they look for (1) frequent new challenges that stretch and grow their ability to achieve; (2) the opportunity to be flexible with their schedule; (3) the chance to collaborate with other high achievers; (4) recognition from their company; and (5) the freedom to be themselves.

And with highly quotable and inspirational statements:

If you want to change how you relate to others and run your life, you have to first transform your concept of self. If you try to change your behavior without first transforming who you think you are, the changes will last a few days until you quit thinking about them.

But the real strength of this book comes from her personal experience. She describes being an overachieving teen who gets into trouble that very nearly destroys (or ends) her life:

I learned one of my greatest life lessons—if you don’t know who you are, you will never be content with what you can do—in one of the darkest places on earth, a jail cell. A year after high school graduation, I ended up spending six months in jail for possession of narcotics, an experience I swore would never happen to me. In truth, the sentence saved my life.

And delves into her struggles as the daughter of a man who was so tied up in his self-imposed identity as a man-who-works that he was unable to handle retirement:

The day the doctors told my father he could no longer work was the day he accepted his death sentence…In my anger for his leaving me, I somehow missed the lesson in my father’s passing. My father could not be a retiree. He could not free himself from the identity of being a successful businessman. When he could no longer hold on to that identity, he quit…When he had to give up his formula for prestige, he gave up his will to survive. I desperately tried to help him see what else he could accomplish if he redefined his goals. I didn’t see that his addiction to achievement was killing him.

There are pages upon pages of down-to-earth realistic advice pulled from the life of a highly-relatable professional woman. Reading it feels like sitting down for coffee or tea with a friend and hashing out the day-to-day frustrations every one of us has to face. I came away with advice that I regularly use:

I choose my work based on what I have defined as my purpose and say “no” to everything else. When I am buried under a to-do list, I prioritize and let some things go with no guilt. My exercise and fun time can’t be compromised. These are the good days.

This isn’t grandiose advice handed down to the masses by a woman who has achieved dizzying heights. It’s perspectives, thoughts and ideas that actually apply to the challenges of daily life, provided by someone who has been through it herself.

Book Review: The Stories Behind Tattoos

Shocking Tattoos

I was standing in the driveway, casually discussing the possibility of renting part of a house. The prospect of entering into a situation with roommates wasn’t particularly appealing, simply because I’d had my own space for many years and I prefer to live with that level of control, specifically: I make the decisions, period.

As the conversation progressed, my potential roommate/landlord brought it around to the other, long-standing roommate. The one not present. The one with…and she paused while making the pained expression people have when they fear a particularly bad response to what they are about to say…dreadlocks and tattoos.

I paused a moment, wondering when, exactly, I had physically transformed into the middle-aged, suburban, ignorant-about-everything woman people kept (incorrectly) assuming I was.

“I have tattoos,” was my only response.

She clearly did not expect that.

My Tattoos

I got my first tattoo right before the beginning of my divorce when I knew something was going to have to change or I was going to have to leave. As it turned out, lots of things needed to change and we both needed to go our separate ways (the details are another story for another day).

It’s the lion from the strength card in a tarot deck I owned at the time. I chose that image because I liked both the symbolism and the artwork. It translated into a beautiful tattoo. The symbolism behind the card and the lion (outside of the tarot deck’s interpretation), combined with the circumstances surrounding the act of being tattooed, couldn’t have been more perfect.

My second tattoo occurred during the height of the legal process of that same divorce. It’s a stylized hawk in similar colors and artistic design to the lion. It was designed by a friend with Native American lineage (and a grandmother actively involved with that community), so it includes a balance symbol from her own traditions. At the time, I suspected that particular element was included because the artist thought I needed to find balance in my life; which was true enough, so I went with the design. However, for me, the hawk has always symbolized freedom from entrapment (another long story for another time). Yet, freedom and balance can easily intersect with one another – particularly when necessary changes happen to include the end of a relationship.

The third tattoo was acquired at the very end of my divorce, during the absolute worst period of social and relationship drama. It’s a snake around my ankle. It’s the most visible tattoo I have. It’s a stylized blue tattoo, whereas the other two are red. It’s not scary and the symbolism behind it is not what you think – which is kinda the point. (And, yes, that is also a long story for another time.)

I like my tattoos. They are both symbolic and earned. I wish more people understood both of those concepts.

Chick Ink

This story is not in the book Chic Ink, but a complete version of all details (including those not provided here) could be pulled from this book.

Chic Ink is a collection of experiences, explanations, deep thoughts and memories. Reading it is like sitting down for coffee with a random collection of women and listening to every one of them answer this question: “What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?”

If you’re looking for a good read this holiday vacation, consider picking up Chick ink. The stories behind the tattoos are positively fascinating.

Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos–And the Women Who Wear Them by Karen L. Hudson

Quotes from the book can be found HERE.

Women, Childbirth, Boy-Magic and Bacha Posh

Amazon.com

This book is amazing. It’s one of those books that did not turn out the way I expected – and it was a very happy surprise.

While the individuals interviewed and profiled are all located in Afghanistan, the author traveled all over the world and found ‘Bacha Posh‘, or girls living as boys, in many regions where women are oppressed and living lives defined by the requirement to give birth to boys.

The author makes the following comment:

“The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing piece in the history of women…We have an idea of how patriarchy was formed. But back then, a resistance was also born. Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves and their daughters.”

After reading the book, I fully agree with her. I also agree with many comments made by individuals interviewed who expressed frustration over government and NGOs who fly into Afghanistan and proceed to lecture local women about the nature of gender and the changes they should be making without ever taking the time to learn about the people, culture, history and (most importantly) needs and objectives of those trying to carve out lives in a war-torn region of the world.

From the description and the cover, I thought I was going to be reading about an underground society in the western-sense. Teenagers and young adults meeting in clandestine places and taking risks to express themselves or attempting to achieve goals not commonly allowed by society or family. While there were elements of these things, they were a very small part of the book as a whole.

This journalistic investigation is an examination of both an aspect of Afghan culture AND western perspectives on gender, human rights and women’s equality. It is as much an examination of our own misconceptions as it is an exploration of a tradition and a concept that is inherently foreign to people living in present-day western society.

It’s an excellent read. I highly recommend it.

To provide a sense of the cultural background that defines the lives of the bacha posh, here are a few quotes about women, childbirth, boys and magic:

“Having at least one son is mandatory for good standing and reputation here. A family is not only incomplete without one; in a country lacking rule of law, it is also seen as weak and vulnerable. So it is incumbent upon every married woman to quickly bear a son–it is her absolute purpose in life, and if she does not fulfill it, there is clearly something wrong with her in the eyes of others. She could be dismissed as a dokhtar zai, or “she who only brings daughters.”

“The literacy rate is no more than 10 percent in most areas, and many unfounded truths swirl around without being challenged. Among them is the commonly held belief that a woman can choose the sex of her unborn baby simply by making up her mind about it. As a consequence, a woman’s inability to bear sons does not elicit much sympathy.”

“Esmaeel came to the family through divine intervention, she explains. When her sixth daughter was born, this desperate mother decided that the child should be presented to the world as a son…Her mother had been told by friends and neighbors that if she were to turn her girl into a boy, it would bring her good luck. Good luck, in this case, was a real son…Telling her story of giving birth to a son after dressing a daughter as a boy for two years, the mother looks immensely pleased. Her sixth daughter, who had been a bacha posh, died shortly after her third birthday, but she had fulfilled a greater purpose.”

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

Activism is Personal

Amazon.com

This book uses a lot of old-school feminist language. Some people, feminists included, may find the references to patriarchy and the nature of men annoying and possibly even bordering on offensive.

That said, the core purpose of the book is the creation and continuation of UN sponsored conferences focused on women. The author is also very involved in creating women’s circles, most (all?) of which have some form of spirituality as their center, with conversation and activism as an extension of that spirituality.These are good and important things that are worthy of support.

If the occasional discourse on the nature of patriarchy is unappealing, I encourage you to plow through (or skip over) those meandering asides and focus on the actions the author has proposed. Specifically: building community and creating long-standing UN sponsored conferences focused on women.

Quote:

Activism is a personal choice. It is a passion for a cause expressed through actions, funding, communication, as well as prayer, rituals, and art.

Moving Toward the Millionth Circle: Energizing the Global Women’s Movement by Jean Shinoda Bolen