For girls, school really is a race to the finish

In the music world a lot more girls excel at a young age than boys do. Because, like all things that require sitting still and paying attention, girls are better than boys. So my son has a lot of friends who are girls.

Having no girls of my own, I’m always curious about what they do, what they think, what they like. I see myself in them. And I think about them in terms of growing up and having a career.

My son has so much more time to figure out how to make a living from cello than those girls do. Because he has no biological clock. Girls have to do everything faster than boys do. Girls have to sprint after college to accomplish whatever it is they want to accomplish before they start having kids.

Girls have to focus on career much earlier.
I’ve been noticing that women who accomplish a lot before they have kids start doing it right out of the gate. They don’t waste time on traveling, or soul searching, or going to grad school. They have a goal and a plan to meet that goal as soon as they leave college. The goal might change, but the forward trajectory does not.


A great example this is Sheryl O’Loughlin who wrote Killing It. I receive tons of business books every week from people who want me to review the books. And when there’s a female author, I go immediately to the author’s bio. Women have to be so careful in their navigation in order to have a career and have kids, whereas men can make tons of missteps and still have a successful outcome (albeit with an intentionally obtuse bio).

O’Loughlin graduated Northwestern, and worked her way up to CEO at Clif Bar. She started and grew a company called Plum, and only then did she take a much needed step back to deal with the demands of raising young kids. Sheryl had an impressive enough resume that she could hop back into a CEO role when she wanted to, though at one point she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to. But by accomplishing so much so early, she was able to weather a resume gap.

Girls have to make better decisions about college. 
They should go to college where students  graduate fast and without debt. Check out Waldorf University: it meets those requirements and also has athletic opportunities. Usually you can’t get all three together. Do all three. Because women who play sports in college do better at work.

Athletes do better because in the work world because like the sports world, you get rewarded for putting  yourself into competitive situations and taking control.  So use your 20s to meet your goals. Don’t dilly dally making incompetent decisions and unnecessary mistakes.

Girls shouldn’t take entry-level jobs.
It’s a big mistake for girls to start at the bottom of the ladder. They should get quick experience to skip over the entry level.  I like Hack the Job Hunt, which is a program developed by Lauren Holliday to teach content marketing. I’m impressed with the site, and my first thought is, why do so many people wait until they hit in a wall in their work and then they take a course like this? Pre-teens can learn content marketing. Teens can make good money with content marketing. Content marketing is everything in a world where everything begins with search.

Girls should be taking these courses way before they actually need a job to support themselves. Or do a similar type of program for writing code or becoming a writer.

And look, this isn’t the path for crazy competitive, money-focused girls. This is the path for typical girls who want to do something significant in their 20s before they shift into family mode in their 30s. This is the advice for the girls who want to spend tons of time at home with their kids. (Just imagine what my advice would be for the girls who want to be superstars.) But you can’t sprint in your 20s if you don’t start training for it in your teens.

31 replies
  1. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I love that you skip to the bio! Me too. It’s the only way to find out if a *lady’s* advice will work for you. Men have ideas.
    women have lives.
    I read a book by a female general once in a bookstore. And I flipped through “so what happens in the
    End, does she get married????”

  2. Mon Cheri
    Mon Cheri says:

    WOW, did you hit a cord in me. This was my life. I never really realized what I was doing but I just knew I needed to get there faster that my brother.
    I was a US national swimmer, went to college, skipped the entry level job by figuring out who I need to meet or what events I needed to go too. I did not date (that would have gotten in the way of the whole thing), then moved up, got promoted… worked crazy long hours and then became a VP at 25, WOW! Then went to grad school became a professor so I could be a MOM so I didn’t have to work 80 hours a week and worked part-time. Today, I homeschool 3 sweet children and consult. Are you just exhausted reading this?.. now I spend my days on field trips, seeing the world , traveling and reading literature. I am only 40!! A race to the finish is my life!!

  3. Lauren Teller
    Lauren Teller says:

    Great information. I just sent this off to my 25 year old son who needs and wants to make career and lifestyle changes. Advice will land better if better if it comes from you.

  4. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    Clearly I did it all wrong. I studied way too long…completing my professional qualifications by age 27. Started my family at 28. My great but short-lived career fizzled as the second child came along. Now I’m in my 30s wondering how to resurrect a semblance of working life whilst still being at home for the kids. I don’t regret putting family ahead of my career at all, but it would have been good to get this advice twenty years ago! Better get my daughters started on content marketing.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Can’t being at home for your kids *be* your working life?
      Some moms say they need work to get out have friends take a break, isn’t that what hobbies are for?

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          That’s why I think Young ladies might consider quitting their jobs as soon as they get married and not waiting until the baby, so you get used to the husband as provider from the beginning.
          True story: the same day the dr. Called to tell me I was pg with my first, my husband came home a few hours later and told me he was laid off. Imagine what pressure would have been on me to keep a job if I’d had one.

  5. You know who
    You know who says:

    I’m always a bit amused by these “girls are like _this,_ boys are like _that_” posts, because they are so untrue to my experience of the world and its people. They just makes me think the person who wrote it doesn’t know a lot of children, or a lot of successful women, and gets her information about people by reading puff pieces on the internet instead of by meeting people.

    I believe it is true, in that very small number of high-flying corporate careers that this blog sometimes portrays as the be-all and end-all of existence, and sometimes argues is entirely irrelevant, that the straight path leads to the most rapid success. I’m not convinced, however, that the straight path leads to the happiest life, nor that it is very relevant to future careers. It’s true that being well-paid, forty, and miserable is much better than being broke, forty, and miserable, but we must remember that a good career is a marathon, not a sprint. To run it that long, you have to love it. And to figure out what you love takes time, experimentation, and error. Those things are best done when a person is young, because the consequences are lighter.

    If we’re only talking about the very small percentage of people (about 1% of Americans make above 288K, and .1% of Americans make above 1.1M) who have these high-flying corporate careers, for which being fastest out of the gate makes a difference, why then are we still only talking about men and women in the middle of the bell curve for gender norms? There are far more people who fall outside gender norms than there are people who earn more than a quarter million dollars a year. There are orders of magnitude more gay people in America than there are employed professional classical musicians. Boys are like _this,_ girls are like _that_ as a rationale for a gender-based approach to school and career doesn’t cut the mustard unless one is dedicated to tunnel vision.

    In my family of highly successful women who don’t sit still and listen, we have a grandmother who loves art, has a doctorate, and ambled through careers in art, math, and psychology before topping out at CIO. And we have a mother who dilly-dallied through graduate study in music in Germany and teaching English in Japan, but is now a very successful biotech executive. She is very happy in her career, which makes good use of her cultural and linguistic knowledge, as she works in Switzerland and Japan frequently. There is no pebble in her shoe, and she can easily keep running this marathon until the kids are out of college.

    In my family we also have generations of men who care about kids more than jobs, more dads who have been stay at home parents than who haven’t, more teachers than any other profession. My son looks likely to follow in the footsteps of his dad, his grandfather, and his uncles; he’s a sweet, gentle boy who likes to sit still and listen. He started playing strings at five, and has been very successful with it. My wild, rambunctious girl won’t start music lessons until seven, maybe, because she does not sit still and listen, ever. Boys are like _this,_ girls are like _that_… but not my boy or my girl. Or me or my wife. Or my mother and my father. Such normative gender assumptions would provide a very bad guide to our lives and to our careers.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think a helpful thing when people talk in broad strokes is to use statistics. Statistics are useful because most people are not special.

      Pew Research: 85% of women with children do not want to work full time.

      Harvard Business School: The majority of women with MBAs from Harvard drop out of the workforce to take care of kids for a period of time. None of the men do.

      USA Today: Girls need higher scores to get into college than boys do because girls do so much better in school than boys do.

      Also, of course, girls have biological clocks and boys don’t. So there is no time pressure on boys.

      The point here is that the post is not about what we think the world SHOULD look like. It’s what the world IS. Even with a generation of feminists putting pressure on girls to put career before kids.

      So when you parent a daughter, it’s pretty delusional to parent her thinking she can ignore the pressure of biology and pretend she will be just like the boys.


      • You know who
        You know who says:

        You might find the 2014 study by HBS entitled “Rethink What You ‘Know’ About High-Achieveing Women” interesting. Google it; it’s readily accessible.

        -Nearly 100% of Harvard MBAs, both men and women, said that “quality of personal and family relationships” was “very” or “extremely” important.
        -It simply isn’t true that a large proportion of HBS alumnae have “opted out” to care for children. Only 11% of women left the workforce to care for children; more left because they were forced out by sexism in the workforce, i.e. the “mommy track.”
        -28% of female Gen X Harvard MBAs take more than 6 months off to care for children, and 2% of men do.
        -74% of Gen X alumnae are working full-time.

        So when you say that the majority of women with MBAs from Harvard drop out of the workforce, you are just making that up. It’s not true. It’s certainly not what the world IS, let alone what it SHOULD look like. Such falsification is a poor basis from which to criticize someone else’s grasp of reality, or degree of delusion.

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Hopefully in the near future there will be a mainstream path to having a successful career, where one can also stay at home with kids if desired. Maybe this career doesn’t need to make 6 figures, maybe 5 figures is good enough with a combined income to live decently. Then biology becomes less relevant. Maybe this would be good for everyone.

    Statistics do show that many women who are mothers would like to work part time. Sure, there are plenty of mothers who only want to be caretakers like you describe, and you have given them good advice that is tailored to them. I think it is highly dependent on personality type. For instance, what is the percentage of ENTJ and INTJ mothers who don’t want to work at all, or ever again after the kids are older? I myself plan to start looking to work again soon, either for myself, or part time for someone else. Want to hire me? :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, interesting point. ENTJ and INTJ mothers are, indeed, likely to want to keep working. But that is about 2% of all women in the world. Really, that’s how rare ENTJ and INTJ women are, it’s just that they are totally overrepresented on this blog because I’m an ENTJ woman writing about work.

      It’s always a conundrum to me –to write as if there is any significant number of xNTJ women (because there are right here) or to write as if xNTJ women are a statistical aberration.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        In reality, the majority of your readers/commenters seem to be INTJ’s. So I see the conundrum of who to write for. Maybe write for both audiences to keep us mentally engaged :)

    • Adrianne
      Adrianne says:

      YMKAS – You’re singing my tune! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a parent, but I have found I can’t actually give up working, either. On top of it all, as you have seen, I’m launching additional projects that I’m planning on leveraging for future work/career. :-p

  7. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    One of my two favorite internet comments ever, this from a man on the modern workforce: “if it were legal I would fire all the women here, and replace them
    with NO ONE.” Ha ha ha
    My experience was that in school we are lied to about equality, and the men who are less hard working and less intelligent will get promoted but so what? There is clearly a reason for their success.
    Women do have a huge advantage with beauty and ability to give love, so just stop fighting what everyone wants and make love and make marriages.

  8. terese hilliard
    terese hilliard says:

    My career path started as a high school graduate single mom at 17. I married when my son was a year old and took 9 years to stay home, take college classes slowly and enjoy my life. When I divorced at 28 I went to work full time. I had many, many jobs that taught me LOTS about life and how to get ahead while I kept going to college. Both my kids were in school and I made sure my jobs got me home by 3 p.m. I graduated at college at 38 and got a great job that I have been working at ever since. Great salary with pay raises every year, great benefits package, and great vacation options. I will retire in 2 years with my house and car paid off, no college debt (graduated with none since I paid as I took each class slowly), and 6 wonderful grandchildren. My life has been SOOO SWEET! And I did it ALL on my own – just took time to smell the flowers along the way.

  9. Emily
    Emily says:

    I wish I’d had this guidance as a teen and throughout college in my 20s I was trying to figure all this out myself. Now I’m raising two little girls to strategically navigate school and careers as well as biology and sexist barriers to their goals.

  10. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    “Just imagine what my advice would be for the girls who want to be superstars.”

    I’d actually really like to read this. I know when you write these pieces it probably does speak to many homeschooling women, but it’s kind of where it loses me.

    My kids personalities in order of birth year are I/ENTJ, ENFP, ENTJ. I am an INTJ and spouse is ENFP, and so their view of motherhood/fatherhood is tremendously influenced by what we offer them and how we live and view the world. Pretty much a do it yourself, take care of it yourself, let me show you how to do it so you can do it yourself, I trust you to make good choices so please do it yourself mentality. Not big on the “feels” here. Dad does a majority, like 95%, of the household chores. Kids have huge life goals, and are actually on a path to achieve them. I see no reason why they shouldn’t. I feel like I am a personal manager to help them achieve what they want in life, through obsessively researching our options and discussing their paths to achievement with them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Advice for girls (and boys) who will grow up to have big careers: Kids who are xNTJ don’t need advice about how to manage their life at work. They will be fine. They need to figure out how to make the emotional life of relationships interesting to them, because xNTJs fail at relationships, not work.


      • Adrianne
        Adrianne says:

        Yah – ditto on the “fail at relationships” bit. INTJ here. I’ve never felt lost career-wise (both corporate and consulting/freelance) but I’ve almost always felt relationships of all stripes were a struggle.

      • Working ENTJ Mom of 4
        Working ENTJ Mom of 4 says:

        I took my first Myers-Briggs test when I was 17 and it told me I was an ENTJ. I didn’t really know at that time what that meant, but I’ve tested as ENTJ every time since (I’m 41 now). I started having kids when I was 27 and now have 4 of them. I’ve had an incredibly successful career. It has not once even crossed my mind to stay at home full-time or part-time with my kids, which is not any sort of reflection on how much I love my kids — I love them very much and I feel our lives are balanced and they are thriving. But I know I’m a complete weirdo, as I meet so many other moms via my kids’ friends and not one of them is like me. I’m sure they all think something is fundamentally wrong with me, which doesn’t bother me at all because I don’t care. But confirms what Penelope is saying about statistic aberrations. I find myself constantly explaining to people that ask how I “manage it all” and what I really want to say to them is — “explain to me why everyone else finds this so difficult?”

  11. Sam
    Sam says:

    I agree women have a more urgent biological clock. But I think it’s time for society to recognize that men actually have a biological clock too. Now, it might not be the kind that “stops” at a certain point in the way that a woman’s does, but there is plenty of convincing science that the older a man gets the funkier his sperm gets (pun intended). Increased paternal age affects sperm quality, the likelihood of gene mutations, poor pregnancy outcomes, etc. Increased paternal age appears to be associated with increased rates of schizophrenia, autism and many other disorders.

    Of course, information like this that might equalize the playing field a bit and doesn’t make women feel like they are totally to blame for infertility and developmental disorders in their children is kept rather mum. (hmm I wonder why?) But young people deserve to know this information so they can make informed choices.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Anecdotally, my spouse’s father had a second family after his divorce. My husband was 18 when his dad and stepmom started their own family. The half-brother has serious mental problems, and the half-sister has a low IQ and serious health issues that will require parental support for her entire life. He is 70 years old with a 19 year old daughter, a 26 year old son, a 40 year old daughter and 44 year old son. So yes, he could still procreate, but not without consequence.

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      I was happy to see someone noticed the infantilizing tone. Calling women en masse strong and asking them to sign strength pledges is the exact opposite of the literal meaning. It is patronizing and calling them weak. True female strength is an ability to endure, in a long term way, for the sake of love. Women don’t need to be patronized when it comes to this specifically feminine suffering.
      Look at the big feminist icon Rosie the Riveter. Just another cutesy lie. She can’t do it and we are treating her like a ”big kid.”
      Men are not really intimidated or impressed by female physical strength or even intelligence. It’s all just niceties.
      But I remember a school assembly speaker we had whose adult daughter had been brain damaged by a drunk driver. I remember that husband couldn’t handle it and was gone. But she was there everyday. That’s female strength. Giving love through suffering and boredom to the last drop.

  12. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    What if you didn’t know what you wanted after graduating? I know I certainly didn’t and I think there are a lot of women and men who have no idea either. I feel like I did everything you say not to do. I was one of those people who felt most comfortable in school and excelled at it, even if I did find a lot of it drudgery. I went to a local university and lived with my parents so I managed to graduate with no debt. I’m totally not athletic and never was into sports so I wasn’t going to be on any school sports teams. I graduated college with only ever having had one job-a student position at the school where I graduated. I took the entry level jobs because I didn’t try a bunch things because I was lucky to even get called in for an interview due to not having much experience, so when I took a job I tended to stay for longer than I probably should have in positions that had little to no place to advance to. I’m 37 and don’t really have a career, I’ve just had a series of jobs. I’m also a lower level employee in public higher ed so I make even less than I probably would as a low level employee in the private sector. Throw in that I’m an INFJ so just taking any job isn’t going to work out well for me because if it doesn’t mesh with my values it will bleed over into the rest of my life and make me miserable. So much of what I read about INFJ’s, especially women, points to being a stay at home parent, but I don’t want children. At 37 if I’m not feeling any maternal pull or instinct at all, it’s unlikely I’m going to, and no way am I having a baby just in the off chance I’ll take to parenthood. How unfair is that to a poor kid?! All this to say that as a teen, I had no idea what I wanted to do, much less how to start doing it and I barely do 20 years later. I wish I would have known a lot of the things in this post then, but even if I did, knowing myself, I doubt I would have followed them.

  13. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    This rings true to me.
    I had a good run in my 20’s, working in education. A little urgency would have helped.
    My Aspie daughter is 12 and is already driven to publish books and comics. I used to worry that she was too isolated in her hobbies, but now I’m going to see it as the first steps in her career.
    Because social interactions are hard, I think she needs to get work experience as a teen, while she still sort of takes advice from me. She volunteers weekly at an animal rescue, I think that helps.

    Thanks for your insight.

  14. Occasional Reader
    Occasional Reader says:

    For the millions of girls who are not obsessed with the idea of babies, just don’t have kids and have the life you want – problem solved. Has worked for many of us before, will work for many again.

  15. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    I have no sense of urgency even though my work depends on it. School was not a race for me, I was just grateful to survive.

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