Month: August 2012

Retail therapy

Judging by some of my more recent posts on shopping, you might be led to believe that I never shop retail. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m just very picky about what I buy at retail prices; generally speaking, the pricier an item, the more likely I am to try to find it second-hand because of the greater mark-up margin. But that is not to say that I avoid the mall. Au contraire.

When I am looking for something very specific, I always tour the usual suspects to see if they happen to offer just the thing. Lately, that “thing” has been a cream blouse. I found something that might fit the bill at Aritzia, but the prices (even on sale) are too ridiculous to contemplate. So I am still looking. In the meantime, though, I did not come away from my retail peregrinations baggage-free. Naturally. No one escapes the mall scot-free. Here’s a quick look at some of the pieces I’ve picked up.

First, at H&M (which I hadn’t visited in aaaages), I got this cute combo of floral patterned tank ($10) and red skinnies ($30).
Next up, at Old Navy I found a polka dot sweater that I will wear the heck out of come fall. It reminds me of a beautiful J Crew piece I saw the other week at the new WEM store (LOVE it!), but which at $300 was out of my budget. This version isn’t Italian cashmere, but it was only $20, and I can definitely live with that.
Also at Old Navy, I was finally able to find a new cardigan that (a) doesn’t have a stupidly tight band at the bottom (which creates a baggy effect flattering on exactly no one); (b) has a crew (round) neckline; and (c) is coral. You wouldn’t believe how difficult this task proved to be. But success – and for a reasonable $20. Below it’s paired with a J Crew silk blouse I picked up at consignment, also for $20. I know, I know – but I just couldn’t help myself! It’s so me, dontcha think? By the way, this is my “serious professional” look. Are the ruffles too much? Can you have too much ruffle? I think not. [Then again, I am convinced that I was a peacock in at least one former lifetime.]
This cardigan came in a few different colours, so if you’re in the market for a new one, I would recommend checking this out. Because of its length, it would work best on gals with long torsos (or anyone wanting to create the illusion of a longer torso) and a bit on the taller side; otherwise, the proportions might be off. The sleeves are full-length, but I would wear them pushed up to 3/4 length to avoid dowdy-overload.

Last, but not least, I found a comfy summer skirt at Winners ($24), that’s become my go-to piece for weekend errand-running. Below, it’s paired with a lovely lace-trimmed T-shirt, which I almost forgot I bought at H&M.
I love this kind of almost-illusion neckline! And the T-shirt was a steal at $13. [Experimenting with new poses, though, isn’t always a success. I’ve been spending too much time on Get Off My Internets.]

So there you have it – my last few weeks of shopping, almost all of it retail. How’s that for breaking the mold?

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The secret to success?

A while back, Penelope Trunk wrote that the key to success, for professional women, is having children early, preferably by the age of 25. If you’re part of that demographic, chances are that this statement will have evoked a visceral reaction on your part. It did on mine. On further reflection, I’ve decided that the author was wrong in her assertion … though not for the reasons I had initially thought.

Before I tackle what is likely to be a controversial position, let me clarify some things. It is safe to assume that the target audience for this discussion largely consists of women whose career ambitions are geared to competitive positions in competitive professional fields. In other words, women who will likely be going head-to-head with men, and competing for the big “prizes” in their fields. This is, by no means, intended as a value judgment on women whose career goals are different; it’s just that their playing field and rules of engagement in the workforce will be different. After all, “work-life balance” conveniently covers off a multitude of compromises, some of which bear little resemblance to any balance at all. Generally speaking, if the position you currently hold (or the one to which you aspire) is not incompatible with the possibility of, say, part-time work, flex days, or sabbaticals, then you probably won’t ever have to grapple with the considerations I’m going to address. And that is great news. Sadly, it is not the case for everyone.

Here is the unvarnished truth about corporations: they don’t care about your personal life. They don’t care about how fulfilled you are by your partner, your kids, your hobbies. They care about how much money you can make for them. To the extent that your personal life does not interfere with your revenue-generating potential, they will tolerate its existence. Chances are, though, that they will prefer an employee with a minimum of potential distractions. As women, we have a very significant additional potential for such distraction for one simple reason: child-bearing. Even if we are in a position to delegate some or all of the child-rearing work to others, the prospect of the mere process of bearing a child represents a potential disruption in our professional lives and, by implication, our employers’ revenue streams. The more senior a woman’s position at the time when she decides to have children, the more serious that disruption will usually be. Importantly, in competitive fields, the impact is rarely limited to on-the-clock hours, because work obligations in those fields extend far beyond that – marketing, client management, professional development, you name it – all eating up what is ostensibly your personal time, and now competing with your family obligations. From that perspective, at least, it makes sense to have kids (if so desired) as early in your career as possible,  minimizing the impact on your job in the short-term, as well as the impact on long-term career progression.

There are, on the other hand, a myriad of reasons why having kids early isn’t really a solution to the disadvantages faced by women (or, more accurately, mothers) in high-powered work environments. Ignore for the moment the contingent of women for whom such solution is moot, age not being on their side in this context. Is today’s generation of career-minded 25 year-olds prepared for motherhood? Is it even something on their radar, beyond a vague, “some day” kinds of idea? Probably not – these days, for better or worse, a person’s early twenties are considered a sort of post-adolescence, pre-adulthood experimentation ground incompatible with the prospect of non-delegable parental responsibility. Moreover, many of today’s twenty- and thirty-something women grew up indoctrinated with a contrary message: focus on getting your career started first, then worry about having kids. With most academic careers now lasting well beyond the standard four years of undergrad, the “then” in that equation is deferred by up to a decade or more.

Even if a woman is open to the idea of early motherhood, there are still certain obstacles to overcome. One thing this proposition presupposes is the existence of two-parent families. Young women who end up as single parents are often at a disadvantage in terms of the resources needed to ramp up their careers after baby. It also presupposes that women who do end up marrying and starting families young have spent a not-inconsiderable chunk of their university careers focused on non-academic matters like, well, getting married and starting families. This may not bode well for their academic success, again placing them at a potential disadvantage in the employment market. On the other hand, it does not take into consideration the probability that some of these young marriages may end up failing, causing a whole different set of distractions and set-backs for the women involved. All in all, having kids young is a great career move if you happen to have the luck of meeting your life-long partner at an early age, have good support systems in place, experience no difficulties in conceiving, and are able to time your child-bearing perfectly – neither too early to impact your entry into the workplace, nor too late to impact your career in its emergent phases.

And yet … even those fortunate enough to beat those odds will, in all likelihood, be only marginally better off than their female peers – and still be at a disadvantage as compared to their male ones. The responsibilities of parenthood don’t decrease as kids get older; they just change. In most relationships, the bulk of the child-rearing work – long after the kid is out of diapers – inevitably falls to the woman. Call it sexist or unfair, but in cases where the woman’s earning potential is less than her partner’s, it is at least economically justifiable. But what if it’s the woman who has the greater earning potential? Having her continue to be the primary caregiver, despite potential conflicts with work obligations, becomes a losing proposition in every sense of the word.

Which brings me to what is, in my opinion, the real key to professional success: a stay-at-home spouse. And by that, I mean someone who – whether active in the workforce or not – is prepared to take over most (and, if needed, all) of the responsibilities attendant on having a family. A spouse who is able and willing to pick up the kids’ from school/make their dinner/help them with their homework/drive them to soccer practice on all those occasions when you’re stuck at the office with a client crisis or some other unexpected emergency, be it on a weeknight or weekend or any other inconvenient time. Because, in many professions, the higher you rise, the less you are able to pass the buck in such cases. Once your career comes to a tipping point, having a stay-at-home spouse can be the deciding factor in whether that career trajectory shoots up, or falters and plateaus. Men have little problem with this concept and, in fact, have taken full advantage of its benefits for … ever, really. For women, this concept runs counter to the feminist mantra of “You can do it all!”, which is actually the biggest load of self-defeating BS ever sold to us. We can’t do it all. Men can’t do it all either. No one can. Everyone’s resources are finite. Life demands compromises. A marriage is a partnership whose function, in economic terms, is to maximize the wealth of both partners through their joint efforts. Those efforts, and the spouses’ contributions, will likely be different in nature; ideally, they will be complementary. Two people working harmoniously will, by definition, achieve more than either one of them, alone, might do. Harmony is not easy to achieve, but then again, neither is success.

Of course, one might just as easily say that the real key to success is not having any kids to begin with … but that is a debate for another day.

What do you think is the key to professional success for women with global domination on their minds?

Friday Flashback

I have been blogging for a long time – since 2005 to be precise. My writings have covered a variety of subjects over that period, not least of all my most recent posts on style. I had a reason to recently revisit some of my old “scribblings”, and was surprised by how many of them still struck a chord. [I was also surprised that more of them didn’t sound as fatuous as I now imagine my mid-twenties self to be. Perhaps I only seem more mature now. A disconcerting thought.] Since they were little read when originally published – if we exclude family members from consideration – I decided that it might be fun to occasionally dip back into the vault and dust off an old post, re-examining it with (hopefully) a fresh perspective. I am going to call this feature “Friday Flashback”, and plan to alternate it with a news round-up feature every, you guessed it, Friday.

Without further ado, settle in and enjoy “Listmania”, a post originally published in June 2009.
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With my yen for escapist fiction at an all time high these days, I recently polished off Michael Crichton’s Sphere over an extended weekend. It’s what, in another age, might have been called a “good yarn”. Highly entertaining, it did make me briefly reconsider my long-ago decision not to pursue graduate studies in psychology and, instead, focus my energies on a more lucrative, albeit prosaic, career path. The thing is, the psychologists one comes across in books, movies or TV shows always tend to have highly interesting jobs that don’t revolve around, say, waiting for pigeons to peck at coloured disks. This got me thinking about all the highly unsuitable (for this blogger, anyway) occupations that have fascinated me through the years – solely on the basis of fictional portrayals – and I decided to make a list: the top 5 ‘theoretically sexiest’ occupations … in the world … ever.*

Before I get to the countdown, I probably should clarify the process by which I arrived at said list. First, I eliminated the really obvious: writer. I know you’re going to cry “bias” [Ed. note: or just “Huh?”] but I don’t care. Hands down, sexiest occupation ever. Plus, a writer can make anything and anyone seem awesome, even psychologists. But it doesn’t make the cut because it fails to meet the very first criteria for the list: it’s a ‘job’ I’d love to have in real life. Second, I eliminated a whole bunch of other eligible occupations on various (admittedly rather arbitrary) grounds:

– too obvious (rockstar; archaelogist)
– too gory/smelly (anything to do with forensics)
– wrong century (personal detective, because this ain’t a Sherlock Holmes world anymore; composer; encyclopedist; seafarer; royalty)
– morally questionable (criminal mastermind)

To sum up, my list comprises those occupations which best meet the following criteria: (i) job I would never want to have in real life, and (ii) job I would love to have if I lived in an entirely fictional world. Obviously, it’s a totally subjective list; all “top 5” lists are, no matter what the editors of Maxim magazine try to tell you. Feel free to play along at home.

5. National Geographic photographer. Is this even an actual occupation? It doesn’t matter. Every time I open a NG magazine, I so desperately want it to be. But it probably involves a lot of waiting around, sleeping in tents, and getting bit by various insects. Also, it probably doesn’t involve wearing Ralph Lauren’s safari-inspired collection, much as I might hope otherwise.

4. Fighter pilot. I know what you’re thinking: Top Gun, right? Wrong. Fighter pilot makes the list because of a movie you’ve probably never heard of: Les chevaliers du ciel. Granted, it’s a movie not entirely unlike Top Gun, minus Tom Cruise, plus subtitles. I realize that math would probably put off most people, but I tend to find French action movies highly amusing, especially when they involve Benoit Magimel.* Anyway, the job seems really cool until I remember that I get sick on roller-coasters. And then, of course, there’s the whole going-to-war thing that I won’t even touch.

3. Ethnobotanist. I took a few classes in botany in my undergrad, which led to my reading some of Wade Davis’ work. Suddenly, venturing into the heart of the Amazon rain forest seemed less like a nightmare (good God, just think of the creepycrawlies) and more like a incredibly thrilling adventure. Keep in mind that, as a a kid, I was briefly obsessed with putting together a herbarium. In the summer of ’92, it was all I did. That, and collecting butterflies.* I was kind of a weird kid.

2. FBI agent. This one is kind of obvious. It all goes back to the X-Files. Alien impregnations and similar hi-jinks aside, what could be more fun than traipsing around the country with Mulder and Scully, on the trail of monsters, homicidal maniacs and the occasional vampire? Then there are the FBI profilers, starting with Will Graham in Manhunter all the way down to the gang in Criminal Minds; working with psycho serial killers means there’s never a dull day at the office, right? Then, of course, there’s Agent Booth. If I had to be a guy, I’d want to be that guy.

1. Mathematician. Sure, the most dangerous part of the job seems to be risk of chalk-dust inhalation. But there’s nothing I’d like more than to be a genuine, bona fide know-it-all. This might have been a toss-up between math and physics, but for one thing: Good Will Hunting. Physicists need better propaganda.

* According to me. And ‘sexiest’ because, well, what else is a top 5 list going to be?

* See also Les rivieres pourpres II. It’s a pot-pourri of film cliches, stock characters and over-acting (mostly by Christopher Lee), but in the best possible way. Actually, just between you and me, my secret dream is that the French will one day do a re-make of Miami Vice starring Benoit Magimel and Vincent Cassel. Perhaps they might appropriate Monaco for the purpose; I’m not fussy on the details.

* I used a tennis racquet for my needs. Gently. It didn’t seem barbaric at the time.

Ed. Note (August 2012): As an aside, if you are as much of an X-phile as me, chances are that, like me, you probably squee-ed a little bit (or a lot – who are we kidding?) when reading the latest gossip tidbit about Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, and how they’re supposedly “on”. For realz. Scully and Mulder, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s- … well, you know the rest. I’m sure that one or both of them will rush out a press release denying the hanky-panky any minute now, so I will enjoy my nostalgic moment while it lasts. 

Back to the post … funnily enough, I still agree with most of my list, although I might substitute “billionaire-by-day-superhero-by-night” as my No. 1 pick. Rich, invincible and brilliant? What’s not to like? Wait, did I say the list was restricted to real occupations? Dang it!

Your turn – what’s your (sexy) top 5?