The following is an excerpt from Mika Brzezinski’s new book Grow Your Value.
What is success, really? Is it making a lot of money? Being at the top of your field? Fulfilled in your career? What are we chasing? And what about your personal life—doesn’t “success” have a role there too? What are the deeper undertones in the meaning of “value”? We should certainly calculate our profits in terms of work experience, expertise, and money. But what about outside the workplace? What’s the calculus for that? And how does our inner sense of purpose compare, qualitatively, to the value in our careers? Are they oceans apart or next-door neighbors? Can they complement each other? Or at least coexist without us having a nervous breakdown or massive identity crisis?
These questions—and so many successful women’s reluctance to go near them—haunt, baffle, and, often, just plain elude me. I’ve speculated that one of the reasons these women skate over their personal lives or simply refuse to talk about altogether is because women are still unrepresented at the highest levels of power: corporate, political, academic, scientific, and more.
For example, fewer than 5 percent of the top companies have women as CEOs. Slightly more than 10 percent of the 1,645 “Forbes’ World’s Billionaires of 2014” are women. As of this writing there are only fourteen incumbent female heads of state. Perhaps their lips are sealed about their wrenching inner conflicts because no established woman would ever want to say anything to discourage younger women from aiming higher than the glass ceiling. One of the most powerful CEOs in the world told me that men are always bringing their wives to family retreats, yet women managers never bring their husbands. Never. Think about that. What is that telling your boss? What are we hiding? Why do we feel that we have to keep our personal lives and professional lives separate, even when we’re invited to merge them for a day or two? Is it because we, as women, don’t want to be seen as “wives” in a workplace setting? Are we worried that the presence of our husbands would somehow compromise our authority in the eyes of our colleagues?
We know that many Millennial women are burning out before they turn thirty. So the question must be asked: If the life of a highly successful, working woman is so complicated, why would anyone want it—much less to be a full-stop, executive, all-consuming “success”? And yet is it right for women who have been handsomely rewarded for their relentless work ethic to claim that there haven’t been profound personal consequences in other areas of their lives? As I blurted out at the White House panel, “Are we all going to say, ‘It’s so easy! We’re awesome! All of our relationships are perfect! And you can do it, too!’”? Come on, now. If that were true, there would be many more of us making it to the top.