Sunday, 3 August 2014

The measure of success

Yeah ok Jennifer, you were in the most successful sit-com of all time, but when are you having kids?

The measure of success for young women can seem increasingly daunting, especially as they reach their mid to late twenties. The bar seems to be raised even higher, the list even longer, in terms of what we are supposed to have achieved.

I am one of those women. Whether we like it or not, as we approach 30 we know the biological clock is ticking. There seem to be three major measures of success: career, travel and relationship. 

In terms of career this is more often than not measured by the amount of money you make. For example, someone in their mid-twenties earning £40k is more likely to be deemed more successful than someone earning £20k, irrespective of the field of work or how rewarding they find the career to be. 

Currently I work in the arts and earn a low salary for someone in their late twenties. I am torn. This sounds really cheesy, but I feel that the arts feeds my soul, there is something within me that feels this is what I am meant to be doing, yet I can't avoid the fact that the salaries are so low. For example, at Tate, one of, if not the biggest galleries, they offer £23k for an Assistant Curator. Considering that you are expected to live in London, to have completed a PhD and to have a considerable amount of experience, this is a low salary, especially as the majority of these jobs are offered as part-time roles. For a young person, or for someone not living in London this type of salary is perfectly acceptable, however for someone in their late twenties who is thinking about saving for a deposit for an extortionately priced London flat and who wants to be able to afford children in the near future, this salary means that you inevitably have to rely on someone else: a partner.

The relationship: you get together, as soon as you are in your mid to late twenties, the questions start flooding in. When are you going to get married? When do you think you will have children? When are you going to buy your first house? All these questions expect something of you. They expect that the right thing in a relationship is to get married, whether or not you are religious or believe in the practice. They expect that you will want or can have children. They expect that you will reach a stage in your live where you can afford all of this. The pressure can feel immense. Then there are those in their late twenties who are not in a relationship yet and the questions roll in for them too. Even if you are doing exceptionally well in your career as a woman, the expectation is always that you will become part of a couple and the measure of success is about the right balance of relationship and career.

Why?!? Why are there such concrete measures of success. Society is putting so much pressure on these two aspects of a woman's life that so often we can feel that we are failing. That we are taking a career that earns us little money but that we enjoy, but that then means we cannot enjoy what society expects us to enjoy, for example, travel. I am lucky enough to have been able to stay at home and save to go to New Zealand, but after moving out saving to go to Australia has been incredibly hard. It has taken a budgeting spreadsheet, almost two years and a strict curb on the amount of money I spent particularly on entertainment. I went to the cinema last week for the first time in probably 2 or 3 years. 

I am not writing this post as a 'feel sorry for me' post, I am incredibly grateful for the successes of my life, but this is the thing, I am measuring my success in a different way to what society expects. I see my relationship as a success, but not because I want to marry the person, but because I enjoy sharing my life with them. I see my career as a success because I love the field I work in, despite its unstable nature and low pay. I also think it is so important to look back at the successes you have had in life. Whether it is finishing university, learning to drive or getting your first piece of paid work. The measure of success should be determined not by how happy you feel today but by how much you have experienced, how far you have pushed yourself and how happy your family and friends make you. Because at the end of the day, your relationship could end, your career could fall, you might never be able to afford to travel, but you have your friends and or your family. Even if you can only count them on one hand, that is a success. You should measure your success by the network you have built around you to help you through life on the successful and unsuccessful days, weeks, months, years.


  1. Hiiii! I've nominated you for the Liebster award - check out the details here :)

    1. Aw thank you so much! This will be my fourth nomination now, I've already done a blog post on it here: but will do another on yours and another blogger's nomination. Thank you for reading my blog!


© the small desk. All rights reserved.