The Cumulative Effect of Insignificant Decisions Cost Us Big Time


In a New York Times opinion piece, "Mothers in the Work Force," Jennifer Glass offers up an all-too-common way that women self-sabotage by failing to map out if-then scenarios before making decisions that seem relatively insignificant in insolation

"Focus[ing] on enabling mothers to choose between homemaking and paid work without acknowledging the long-term economic costs of women withdrawing from the labor force for themselves and their families.

"Despite the seeming advantages of having a full-time parent at home in the short run, the risks of divorce or future spousal unemployment are strong enough that any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mother risks her family’s future well-being.

"Not to mention her own loss of Social Security and pension income, career growth in income and responsibility if she had remained employed, and the diverse social networks that help both children and parents with practical and emotional assistance."

In Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word, I talk about the cumulative effect of incorrectly weighing decisions and how it costs women is ways we never counted on: 

In cognitive therapy, there's the well-known concept in cognitive therapy of seemingly insignificant decisions: you make one decision after another and they add up to a huge decision

So, for example, if you decide,

“Oh, I’m not going to negotiate that salary they offered because it seems fine—and besides, I don’t like to negotiate.”

Or, “Sure, I’ll cut my rate for that client; it’s better than risking losing the project.”

Or, “I have no idea what my value proposition commands in the marketplace in terms of salary, but I don’t have the time or luxury right now of finding out; I’ll get around to it later.” 

Or, "I'm going to off-ramp and be a stay-at-home mom for a while. It's best for my children, we can afford it, and then I won't have to worry about work-life balance so much. I'll pick up where I left off later."


All these decisions may seem relatively unimportant in isolation. But where making more money is concerned, the pattern pretty much adds up to this: 

 I’m not going to bother earning what I’m worth or caring about making more money, at least not for now. But “now” adds up;  you end up selling yourself short in a huge way—today, and over the course of your lifetime. 


Every choice has consequences—pros and cons. 

But, as ambitious women, just how do we go about weighing our choices in a mindful, conscious way—particularly in light of the fact that we are given very little support for doing so?

How do we choose correctly when we aren’t encouraged to think today about our futures?

How do we avoid setting ourselves up for pain and suffering when we aren’t taught to try and calculate very specific if/then scenarios:

If I make this choice now, and things go as planned, how will my life be affected? 

If this or that unexpected thing happens, then where would that leave me?

What would my options be then?

And if I thoroughly consider and analyze real, potential future outcomes, do I still feel comfortable right now making this choice? 

How do you approach these decisions in your own life?

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More Like This: Ambition , Career , Mothering , Parenting , Women , Work/Life Balance

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There's another layer to this issue, one that isn't acknowledged as much: women who choose to become full-time mothers are also hurting the women who choose to work.

The problem is two-fold. For one thing, women who choose to quit their jobs in order to focus on family end up cementing the stereotype that women aren't dependable career-wise and therefore aren't worth hiring in the first place. What's more, because women are taking time off for family during the prime years of 30-45, they are not building careers in the same way as men are. The end result is that there are fewer women in positions of power in the business world than there are men. And when it comes to providing opportunities, those fewer women can only do so much to bring younger women up.

No one likes to talk about this aspect of the family-career question for women because it sounds a bit like telling other people how to live their lives. And I'm certainly not intending it that way. In my perfect world, women and men who put their careers on hold to raise the next generation would earn career credits so that they can re-enter the workforce as valued members of society.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

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