I was raised to be secondary.
That never occurred to me until the other night when I was talking with a friend about his possible retirement. It’s a big challenge for anyone whose work life has been central to their identity.
But I realized that it was less of a challenge for me than I thought it would be. And it wasn’t because I didn’t love my work. I did. Almost more than anything.
When I quit, I felt like I had nothing left to prove. I’d already exceeded people’s expectations of me. Actually, I’d probably done that five minutes after taking my first professional job forty years ago.
All I was supposed to do, all I was shaped and raised to do, unwittingly, just naturally because that’s how it was, was this: get married and have children. And maybe help my husband if he was in a situation where my help would be needed which, if I made a decent match, would be unlikely.
Remember I am a person who took shorthand in college. I wasn’t a gal in the aim high club.
So when you think about how I was raised and what was expected of me, I’ve done okay. Moreover, being raised with low expectations gave me a weird kind of freedom. Nobody expected much of anything from me. So in that context, my whole professional life has been gravy.
In contrast, my male friend, having been raised to be primary, feels burdened by the expectations laid on him by his parents, by society, by himself. Though he has done an extraordinary amount, he can’t be finished yet. There is a pinnacle he thinks he hasn’t yet reached. It’s burdensome, those expectations.
I think things have changed for women and men but I don’t know that to be true. And until this conversation it never occurred to me really that I was raised to be secondary. But I was. And it has had its peculiar benefits.