Myth: “True success means always reaching for the next rung on the corporate ladder.”
I’ve achieved a level of success my parents only dreamed of. I was a National Merit Scholar and the valedictorian of my high school class with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I earned four academic scholarships (a full-ride) to college, and I was the first in my family to graduate from law school. I’m one of only a few attorneys in my firm who passed the Bar on my first attempt. And I’m on track to be a partner in five years. The workload is enormous. I’m working 17 hours a day, especially when I’m studying for a case. And for an African-American woman, the pressure to succeed is even greater.
So why am I frightened by what lies ahead? Why doesn’t the idea of becoming senior partner in the firm excite me more? I own my own home and drive a sweet car. I’m dating a wonderful man who supports me in my career and is my undisputed biggest fan. Yet when I think about how I’m spending my life, I feel empty. When I dream about where I’ll be in 10 years, I don’t see myself as a power-hitter for Pryor and Schmitt. I picture myself as a mom. I see myself staying home with my kids, just like my mom did for my brothers and me.
I know my parents would support me in anything I choose to do, but I sense I would be letting them down if I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities they never had. They worked so hard so that I could be here. I don’t want to be known as “The Woman Who Walked.” I want them to be proud of me. I just don’t know if I’m comfortable with the price of that success. I feel torn between being the person everyone else wants me to be and making the sacrifices I’m not yet willing to make.
The refutation of this myth is not based on the premise that something is inherently wrong with a woman who’s climbing the corporate ladder. Look at Miriam, who was a significant leader in the book of Exodus. It’s worth celebrating that we live in an era where women have executive-level positions in many Fortune 500 companies. It wasn’t always that way.
Rather, the idea that women should always reach for that next rung is dangerously misleading. Some women feel that in today’s era of liberation they are somehow letting down their gender if they decide to step down from high-ranking corporate positions. They feel enormous pressure to stay.
Most women will agree that to continue enjoying the perks of a top-level position requires tradeoffs when family needs are involved. Early hours and late nights. Travel. Missed baseball games and dance recitals. Broken promises. These are inevitable components of the often-stressful juggle of career and family—for both women and men, though the price is often higher for women. At some point, we must ask ourselves, “Are these the tradeoffs that I’m willing to make?”
God has a specific plan for you that will maximize your talents and gifts, bring maximum glory to himself and provide for your maximum good. Ask yourself:
- Is God able to carry out that plan where I am now?
- Is God nudging me to make a change in my priorities?
Women in the workforce must take a good hard look at the price of corporate success. They have at least two valid choices. Some may decide that career advancement is not worth the price. They may continue to work and contribute but without the pressure of climbing the ladder. Other Christian women may feel called to rise higher in the corporate world, and they equally deserve our support so that they can represent Christ in spheres of great influence (see 2 Corinthians 5:20).
“No matter how much they make, most Americans believe twice as much income is required to ‘live well’ … Americans seem programmed to deny that they are well-off, which only detracts from our ability to appreciate what’s going well in our lives …. If there was ever doubt, modern American life proves that money cannot buy happiness.”
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
1 Timothy 6:6–7