In Sloan Wilson's 1955 classic on career ambivalence "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," the protagonist Tom Rath gets on the commuter train to Manhattan in Westport, CT. I used to get on down the line in Stamford, CT. He was a man, the breadwinner. I was a woman, yes, the breadwinner, but the pressure for success still not as severe on females.
But we were both in the same professional pain, wondering if what we were doing to "earn a good living" and "make it to the top" was worth it. And through booms and busts that question still dominates life here on the Gold Coast of CT. In fact, "The Man ..." was reissued during the 2002 bust, with a new introduction by Jonathan Frazen.
The only new twist is the added spotlight on women catching up to men in this intensity of ambivalence.
For instance, THE ECONOMIST has a major article on why women are "so persistently absent from top corporate jobs?" The assumption is, of course, that we should be up there. After all, as the article points out, we hold 45.7 percent of American jobs.
Could it be that women such as myself, who once got on the train in the hopes of making it really big have finished with the existential career angst and answered, no, the goodies aren't worth it.
I got off the train by starting my own communications boutique and running it my way. Since then, I have had a number of invitations to get back on the train, with juicy rewards promised.
Funny, though, the problem is resolved but the ambivalence doesn't go away. Last month I called on a client in Rath's old territory -- Westport -- who did his train time dutifully and obviously was much wealthier than I. My trusty Ford Escort looked downright odd parked in his massive driveway.
Maybe this client thought I was one of those oddball creatives who scoffed at conspicuous consumption. Maybe he knew that I had opted out of the race for the top. Full disclosure: I did think about what he thought about me for more than I would care to admit. The issue of career success hovers over us like pain in the emergency ward.