I Had To Work

“I had to work!” – 84 year old Barbara Walters on NPR, talking about her retirement this week from TV.

For those who don’t know, I run the company my 67 year old Mother started, with help from my 84 year old Grandmother, over 30 years ago.   I was raised and influenced by two women who had this same philosophy — “I have to work”.  My Mom was a single mother, raising two kids.  My Grandmother was married, but was raising 5 girls and she needed to help my Grandfather supplement prom dresses, makeup, hair salon appointments, etc.

The only time you hear this phrase, it’s usually coming from a woman. I don’t say that with negative connotation.  It’s just one of those statements, in our culture, you usually hear from an older female who ‘had’ to work because they didn’t have a man paying the bills, for whatever reason (divorce, never married, death of a spouse, etc.).  It’s very common for single mothers, of which, Barbara Walters was, thus her comment.

She had a child to raise, and she was the first woman to make it in major network news.  She had a male partner who hated working with her, she cried almost daily, privately, in her dressing room, because of how this person treated her. But, she had to work.  She was working in a time when women were not welcome in her chosen field.  She broke down barriers for all those talented women we see today in network news.

There’s a big difference between “I had to work” to “I want to work”.  It’s wider than the Grand Canyon.   “I had to work” speaks to desperation and being uncomfortable.  I think it also speaks to the great successes we see from females who have to work versus those wanting to work.  If they were given the choice of working or not, they never would have went through the tough times, pushed themselves further than they ever thought possible.  Quite frankly, most would have given up, if they had other means of living and not having to work — that’s just life. But they didn’t, they had to work.

I think the concept of “having to work” speaks to how many people become successful.   Given only one choice — to work — people find ways to be successful because it’s the only option.  We always think people want options.  So, we try and give people as many options as possible.  But this probably hurts their ability to be successful, because having options gives them outs when they fail, or even begin to fail.  If you only have one option, work this job, or basically become homeless, you probably work the crap out of that job!  You make sure you don’t fail.  Your ability to become successful rises exponentially when you have fewer choices, not more.

In today’s society, unfortunately, single Moms have become the norm.  Thirty and forty years ago that wasn’t the case. These women had to fight to survive at a different level.  This isn’t to take away from single Moms today, that’s still a mighty struggle to make it.  I just know those women who came before them had the equal pressure of not being welcomed in most fields which would allow them to make a salary to raise a family!

I wonder if we will ever get to a point, culturally, where men will be heard saying the statement “well, I had to work” in the connotation that its considered normal for them to stay home and be caregivers, homemakers, etc., while their spouse takes off to the office.  I can’t even imagine.


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