The Line Less Traveled

olcover_optAs most of you know, I’ve made the tough decision to change the content of this blog from mostly-about-writing-with-the-occasional-nod-to-work-life-and-great-workplace-topics to…wait for it…the other way around. Today, I bring you a book report!

Some time ago a colleague named Michelle Waters sent me a copy of The Orange Line: A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family & Life, a book she had co-authored with Jodi Detjen and Kelly Watson. These three highly-educated, professional women had all found themselves blind-sided by the amount of stress and anguish that accompanied their attempts to have families and careers. “Why is it,”  they ask, “in a country where there are more resources, freedom and creativity than almost anywhere else on earth, women still feel the only way to have a robust career is by sacrificing having a family?”

The authors came to the conclusion that while “the system”—government, HR departments, etc—is flawed, only individuals have the power to address these flaws through their own actions and attitudes. They set out to prove their case, conducting in-depth interviews of more than one hundred women. The Orange Line shares what they learned.

I am always a little wary of attempts to lay the responsibility for change at the feet of those one might consider the victims, but I do I like the fact that this is a book about blasting through assumptions, especially assumptions women make about themselves. The authors have come up with a framework, “the feminine filter,” to encompass the three rules they assert most women have internalized: “do it all,” “look good,” and “be nice” (they point out the glaring absence of “be smart”).

From these three givens of most women’s lives grow six equally-impossible-to-maintain, untrue or  deeply corrosive assumptions:

  • “I am primarily responsible for home and family and taking care of everyone.”
  • “My commitment to something is measured by how much time I devote to it.”
  • “I need to be perfect in behavior and appearance at all times.”
  • “I am not good enough.”
  • “Tangible, material rewards are not supposed to be important.”
  • “If I follow the rules, good things will happen.”

The result? Women, whose unquestioning adoption of these tenets is only aggravated by the likes of “role models” for the status quo, from Martha Stewart to Meg Whitman to Barbie, become overwhelmed and find themselves making false, unnecessary choices: all work, or all family.

The Orange Line’s title stems from the idea that some women walk a red line—opting out of their career, even for a period of time, which generally has lifelong repercussions for income and advancement opportunities—and some walk a green line—throwing themselves full-force into career advancement at the expense of personal fulfillment.

The book’s premise is that professional women (the authors candidly admit that the focus of this book is professional women) don’t have to choose between career and family, strive for an impossibly elusive balance between the two, or “do it all.” Instead, they can question the assumptions that put them in this box in the first place and, by doing so, walk a middle line. The authors call this line orange, a seemingly random color choice that means neither stop, nor go, but something in between. You might think this is the very definition of balancing, but the authors beg to differ:

The key difference with this path is that people place themselves, not their work or family, at the center of their life choices. Orange Liners take a more conscious approach, learning to pace themselves early on [in their careers], taking breaks and enhancing their life with activities and interactions with people outside of work. They design their work environment around their needs and ensure sufficient support in their home lives to preserve their creative energy for what matters to them. The Orange Line worker does not need to choose between work and life, she chooses both and lives both fully. Instead of [a] seesaw, envision a rectangle with “me” as the foundational base. No matter what other elements with which a woman chooses to enrich her life, whether career, family, or otherwise, she is in control, not at the fulcrum, trying to balance.

Figure 4  TheOrangeLine_WholeLife_opt

Once the authors have laid out this premise, they devote most of the remainder of the book to stories from the women they interviewed, interspersed with practical tips and comments stemming from the stories and backed up with numerous research citations. Each chapter captures a different life/career stage; readers are encouraged to turn from the introductory chapters directly to the section that applies to them. Of course, you can also just flip around; there are plenty of interesting narratives (always interesting to get a peek into other peoples’ lives) and tips that will undoubtedly be useful beyond whatever life stage you happen to be in.

Intrigued? The Orange Line is currently available in print and electronic versions on Amazon.

 

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Comments

  1. Robin – Thanks for the great book report! I will check it out. I am a believer that the individual is responsible for making the changes that she (or he) wants based on her/his own work-life balance preferences. In a perfect world, our employers, HR, government policies, culture and social norms would support all of us in designing an environment more conducive to professional success and personal satisfaction. Until then, each of us need to be designing our work-life balance journey based on our own values and preferences. I see many of my clients hold some of the assumptions the authors outlined. I want to give people a process to identify these assumptions (I call them Unreasonable Expectations) and design new beliefs and actions that support those new beliefs. That is the way I believe we take small steps towards greater work-life balance satisfaction.

    • I agree, and I think the work you and the authors of this book do is terribly important. But I also want to be sure we don’t let government and employers off the hook, especially because better work-life integration is not just important for individuals, it’s good for business and important for society as a whole. (As just one example, there’s a great article in the January/February Atlantic about the far-reaching effects of paternity leave.)

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