Opportunity Cost and Careers

What's Next?

It’s been nearly 10 years since I got my bachelor’s degree in Political Science from BYU.  And while I was 3 months pregnant with my oldest son at graduation, I’m not sure that I reazlied that I would be career-less a decade later.

When someone asks me what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years and I say, “Other than being a mom? Nothing. ” My husband is quick to correct me by explaining my unpaid work and volunteer efforts. It’s true, I have been busy out of the home in ways that are productive to the communities I am invested in: hemophilia and Mormon feminism.  I’ve even turned my love for group fitness into a hobby that pays for itself by teaching Zumba several times a week.

And yet, as my youngest child begins preschool in a few weeks, I’m focusing more and more on a return (entry, really) to the workforce and a probably return to school.  Honestly, I’m excited about it. For 15 years, school was my thing. I loved learning, I loved teachers, and I loved the success of completing academic goals.  Even though it’s been a long time since I was in school, I think I would still enjoy myself.

A career is another story. I’m overwhelmed with choices because there are so many things I’d like to do. The top of my list looks like this:

Social Work- Hospital or Therapy/Counseling

Pharmaceutical Sales (Biologicals)

MBA Supply Chain Managment/ Consulting


Non-Profit Fundraising/Grant writing


Medicine- Physician’s Assistant

As a 31 year old, I know I’m not over the hill and yet, I am a decade behind my peers in work experience and post-graduate education.  Admittedly, I have been fortunate to be able to stay home with my children while they were young and I’m glad I made that choice.  Even now, I am looking for flexibility in my career that will allow me to continue managing my home and caring for my family.

So when I look at this list of potential careers, each with it’s own balance of costs and benefits, I’m overwhelmed at the reality of opportunity cost.   There is no way I can have all of these careers (with any level of success) in my life. Even more than a few would be a stretch.  Perhaps it’s anxiety, perhaps it’s just normal cold-feet, but choosing and moving forward with one of these choices is proving more difficult for me than I imagined. I even have anxiety about not considering a career that would be a perfect fit for me- missing the boat entirely.

Many of my career options mean a return to school, which would require substantial sacrifice for me and my family. This sacrifice would be an acceptable cost if I knew I would love my career. I’m just not sure if I will.  How do I imagine myself as a therapist, helping people or couples work through their problems? Do I talk to much for that job?

What about law, in law school I would be in the majority as women now outnumber men. However, in a law firm, I would be in the minority with very few women as senior partners to look to for mentoring. Would law be a good fit for the flexibility I need as a mother?

What about a PA degree? While I have limited experience caring for my sons’ hemophilia, do I have enough love for the field itself to get through bio and chem classes, the kind I haven’t taken since high school? Maybe I would dislike the medical field altogether?

I admire women who are in the same position I am and have a firm grasp of what they want to do and are working towards their goals. Perhaps that’s just what I need to do, pick something and start working towards it. Otherwise, I’m just walking down the up escalator, stalling for time.

I imagine these issues aren’t unique to me, so please share your comments or consider responding to these questions-

How have you been able to weather a career transition? If you were a SAHM, how did you (or do you plan to) transition into a career?

If you’ve changed careers, what spurred that change?

Have you recieved any helpful advice regarding professional development or education?

*Thanks to D’Arcy for taking the photo!


  1. Jessawhy, I can’t really relate to the question since I was only a stay-at-home-mom for three miserable months (ha!), but I can relate to all the questions/nagging doubts. I have a Ph.D. and am a professor. I do really enjoy my job (although not everything about it). And I am TOTALLY spoiled by the flexibility it affords me. Having control over my time is very important to me, so I’m very glad to have a career in which I can almost always do that.

    And beyond that, I just wanted to say I loved the post and feel your pain.

    On the other hand, this is an exciting time for you, right? A new beginning!

    • Heather,
      Thanks for coming by! I would love to take classes from you. I wish you lived closer.

      One of the careers I did not list is a Ph.D. I told my husband that I want to get one (I don’t know which field) because all my friends are doing it.
      He just rolled his eyes.

      But really, the flexibility seems great but when I talked to another professor friend, it sounds like the politics of universities can be really hard to work with.

  2. These exact questions have been weighing on my mind for months now. And how do I know when to jump into the workforce? And what on earth do I want to be when I grow up?

    I’m really looking forward to any advice people have.

  3. Its’ funny or rather ironic that you have posted this today. I was on a college web site that stated that women needed to have a PHd just to make the same amount of money as a male counterpart with a Bachelor’s. I just thought it was interesting.

    When I was working as a nanny, I would get the same question thrown at me by working moms, “What do you do all day,” Talk about disrespectful.

    I think and feel women in general whether they are Stay at home Moms, or career moms should not feel guilty. As long as the kids are happy and well adjusted everything works out in the wash. There are plenty of studies that show kids are happy when moms are happy and it doesn’t matter if they are home or not.

  4. You could be good at any of these things, Jess. Becoming a PA might give you the most flexibility, as you can probably work part time at that career while earning a good salary (but with pre-med requirement, that will take you a while). You are a fabulous lobbyist (even though it doesn’t feel like we ever move our Congressman to consider the important info we share with him). Good luck in making the next decision on how to move forward.

  5. A woman’s place is in her home. In this day and age we have children being raised by complete strangers, and we wonder why they don’t turn out well. I used to work, but we had to tighten our budget and not live with all of our luxuries so that I could stay home and raise my children in the gospel.

    The most important job in the world a woman can do is being a stay-at-home mom. Our children are such special gifts that should never be taken for granted and life is so unpredictable, we never know if today we will breathe our last breath.

    • Whoa, Jean. We wonder why our kids don’t “turn out well”? My kids aren’t cookies. ??

      This assertion suggests that if I do stay home with my kids and “do a good job” as a parent, my kids will turn out? That seems like a huge assumption.

      • We don’t have to compromise our values and the well-being of our families in order to fulfill some selfish need of going back to work. I’m sorry I have to use the world selfish, but I can think of no other word to describe sacrificing your family in order to pursue your own goals instead of your children’s.

      • Jean, the trouble is that you assume that the family is necessarily sacrificed when the mother has a job.
        Honestly, right now I’m gonna spend the next hour or so watching Netflix, after I spent the last hour goofing off reading blogs. Would my family suffer if I spent those two hours working for pay instead? Really?

      • Jean, You are in violation of the comment policy, AGAIN. It is written out very clearly: “This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentence, or to disprespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs.”

        You may not say that women are selfish because they want careers, even if you think that you are right. This blog is not where you can say anything you like. Do not violate the comment policy again, or you will not be allowed to comment here.

      • “This blog is not where you can say anything you like.”

        I get it, I can only say what you would like me to say and think. Silence me because I’m not pro-feminism. How scary that you have to resort to deletions instead of well thought out counterpoints.

        And for the record, I never called out anyone’s righteousness.

      • Jean, that is a common misconception that “comment policy = silencing”. We are simply asking you to abide by rules that are very easy to remember. Say whatever you believe from your own experience.

        You can say, for example, that in your experience you have only seen women selfishly pursue careers at the detriment of their children. That way you are saying it’s your perspective and not absolute truth. And then we can have a conversation about it. I doubt many will agree with you, but you will not be silenced OR in violation of the comment policy. Conversation is good and differences of opinion are welcome, but blanket statements about all women are not welcome.

    • First: Both of my parents worked as I was growing up, I attended daycare, and I think I turned out just fine. If I was a cookie like Heather claims, I’d be the kind that they sell in those little cellophane wrappers on Christmas.

      Second: “Raised by strangers”? Children must interact with strangers constantly (teachers, bus drivers, babysitters, etc.) as part of the growing up process. I feel that the interactions I had with adults outside my family as a child actually made me more independent. Luckily I was equipped to handle it, and I appreciate the fact that my parents didn’t shelter me while also using discretion when choosing the adults they left me with so I was safe.

      Third: I resent the fact that any person–even a member of Church leadership–other than God can tell me my “place” or where I “belong” as an individual. Only I may do that for myself, or otherwise through personal revelation from my Heavenly Father. The Lord needs effective women in this world, and though many women choose to bear children and act primarily as nurturers, there are a multitude of ways that women can contribute positively, including having careers. We as individuals in the Church are called to many positions, and it is nonsensical to assume that every woman’s role is the same as the next. In my patriarchal blessing, for example, equal references are given to both my family roles and my academic and career goals. Sounds like you are making some pretty broad generalizations.

      • Jean

        You never answered the question I posed to you, so I will ask you again,” How do you account for kids who turn out badly when the mother is home and the father works?”

    • I disagree with every word of this comment. This dichotomous view of the women – that they must choose a career or motherhood – is what I believe is causing women to psychologically implode. A woman’s place is not “in the home.” A woman’s place is in the world, and may blessings follow her wherever she chooses to be in this world.

      Jessawhy – In answer to your question, I have found that following your first passion and your heart’s “still small voice” and surefire ways to make sure you make the choice that will result in the greatest benefit to you, your family, and the world. In practical terms, I suggest going through a graduate school catalog and circling all the courses that interest you. Write down the top 3 programs that contain the most “circles” in a list. Whether you decide to pursue a masters degree in one of these areas is not that important, but the exercise can help you narrow down options and give you a springboard into listening to heart without so much knocking around in there.

    • Jean,
      I was just reading that 1 in 5 US families can’t feed itself, meaning that food security in the US is at its worst since 1955. In Australia, the newest tax laws assume that if a woman is under the age of 40, she should be working, therefore, cannot be claimed as a dependent on her partner’s taxes (same for men). This worsens the position of many young families so they have to work. We are told to be prepared and to live providently; for some, that means gaining and education and being prepared to go into the workforce. For others, this means maintaining an intellectual and emotional balance that is absent in the loneliness that equates to single parenting because of the 60+ hours of week one partner must put in the workforce for the other to stay at home (not to mention the risk of destroying a marriage when couple have so little time together in this arrangement) . And yet for others who desire to be sealed, but do not have local temples, this means both parents must work for years in order to save enough money to pay for tithing, then to travel to a temple to be sealed.

      This has nothing to do with feminism and less than nothing to do with selfishness. If you don’t understand this, you are clearly in the very top 1% of the world’s wealthiest; and as such, I don’t think you should be doling out advice to those of us in lesser economic and emotional positions. In the spirit of true Christianity, I would encourage you to work part time and donate all of your income in order to assist those less fortunate than you. If you choose to not do that, I see no reason for YOU to call anyone selfish.

  6. Have you considered an MPA program? That could give you an in with non-profits (grant writing and lobbying) as well as government agencies. There are also joint MPA/Social Work programs — it adds a year to your schooling, but provides you with flexibility.

    I went to law school and loved it, but finding a family-friendly law job is tough. I’m glad that if I find a husband and have kids, my job is flexible enough to accommodate that, but I’m in the minority on that score. On top of that, law school tuition really has gotten out of control. If you can get into an affordable law school that is well ranked, go for it, but too many people think that law school is some path to a pot of gold.

  7. “This sacrifice would be an acceptable cost if I knew I would love my career.”

    I am absolutely horrified at this statement.

    • I’m guessing that your assumption is that she is sacrificing time teaching and raising her children, when in reality this could mean a financial sacrifice (the kids don’t get sugar cereal for a year and no name brand cloths) or perhaps the family will have too take on some of her workload. My mother is currently in school with children still in elementary school and she goes to class while they’re at school. In the evenings while my dad and sister make dinner and do the dishes she sits and supervises while doing her homework. I don’t find this to be negligence on her part; in fact it has been a great opportunity for family members to learn new skills.

      In general, be careful about making assumptions about other people when you know very little about their lives. As my mother taught me “Always give people the benefit of the doubt”.

    • Why? Really, why is it so horrifying that adults sometimes have to choose between sacrificing time, money, and happiness in the present in order to potentially have more time, money, and happiness in the future? It seems like we do this all the time. Or is it just horrifying because it’s a woman making the decision this time?

      And I am genuinely asking. She’s talking about making an investment that could really pay off for her family, and investments mean current sacrifice. What, exactly, is so horrifying to you about that concept? Does buying a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood (and incurring a bigger mortgage) also inspire horror? Does the thought of having another child (and incurring greater financial responsibilities) inspire this horror? What about accepting time-consuming church callings that take time away from one’s children?

  8. Oh Jess I am right there with you. My youngest is, right now, at his first day of preschool (and I am luxuriating in some time to myself after the long dark summer vacation of the soul).
    I’ll write another comment with more substance later. I can’t form coherent sentences about this topic right now.

  9. Jean – “I used to work, but we had to tighten our budget and not live with all of our luxuries so that I could stay home and raise my children in the gospel.”

    I don’t mean to sound rude, but those sound like high class problems to me. If you are able to get by financially on one income and only give up “luxuries,” you really don’t understand what it is like for people who need two incomes coming in.

    It’s great that you wanted to stay at home with your kids and were able to do so, but your comment is a little out-of-line in the context of responding to this post.

    And what’s more (and I hope you meant this is the kindest way possible), hearing that “The most important job in the world a woman can do is being a stay-at-home mom” is just one more reason why childless women like myself sometimes feel unwelcome at church. My baby-free existence apparently doesn’t quite measure up.

    1. My career is not something I am doing to “kill time” until I find a husband. It matters now.

    2. Even if being a mother is the “most important” once a woman is a mother, careers and volunteer work and personal happiness matter too. We were made to be joyful as well as dutiful. If you found a good balance in your life, it does not mean the same balance would work for everyone.

  10. Before investing in additional schooling, I would recommend talking to people in the field about the different educational paths to get to each of your goals. I have a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and work in public health. Other people in my field have MPH (master of public health) degrees. I think I made a pretty good choice, because my degree is equivalent to an MPH in terms of marketability in my field, but the scholarship opportunities were better for MPA programs than for most MPH programs. However, in my field, a BS in nursing is every bit as valuable, or even more valuable, than a masters degree, and I completely overlooked that option when I was a student. In some fields, you may find that experience is actually more valued than higher degrees, so your time might be better spent in a fellowship or internship instead of in school.

    Of course, education isn’t just about economic return, so if you are passionate about a certain educational route, I think you should consider it even if it isn’t likely to be the best monetary investment.

  11. Jean,

    In the past General Conference Elder Quentin L. Cook said the following:

    “[W]e should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”

    We at the Exponent fully sustain this stance by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and work hard to create a place where women can share their experience without judgment. You are welcome to share your experience here but you are not welcome to judge other women’s experiences.

  12. Where do you live? I want to do Zumba, lol. My advice is to just get started. Take some time to ponder and pray about which path is best, but then go for it. I’ve gone back to school after having 5 kids, and WAS going to major in political science as well, but now I’m thinking of changing my major. I’m not worried about the waste of time and sacrifice. I was learning, and in the meantime showing my children by example that education is important and worth the sacrifices.

  13. Unfortunately this is not the best time to start a career and education costs are rising with steady increases in tuition and high interest rates. So after getting myself into 40,000+ in student loan debt, my advice would be to be practical about your career/school decisions. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has a great website about career related issues like average wages and growth. We were raised to think you can be anything and do anything you want but not in a crappy economy. I hate to be a debbie downer but I am in the process of trying to find jobs and it is not looking well.

    • I didn’t see this before I posted my comment. This is also spot on. The woman who looks after my child while I’m working made some educational choices that she thought would lead to a good career but in practice mean she is heavily in debt, which in turn means all her income is going to student loans right now, with nothing left over to try to get herself out of this hole (e.g., by improving her child care credentials, which she is good at). It’s a bad situation.

      That’s another vote for PA and another against lawyer, by the way. PA’s are in demand, according to my PA friend (who had no trouble landing a job fairly recently, in the middle of the recession). Lawyers are having a tough time getting jobs.

  14. A professor once gave my husband the very wise advice: “Choose what field you go into based on what you hate. Don’t go into a field where you can’t deal with the worst parts of that job.”

    He was talking about experimental vs. theoretical physics (if you hate banging your head against integrals, don’t do theory, and if you hate equipment not working, don’t do experiment) but I’ve found it to be generally good advice. I’d say, talk to people who are in the fields that interest you and ask them what the worst part of their job is. Is that something you can deal with? If so, maybe that’s a job that can work for you. I’m an engineer and the worst part of my job is writing proposals and making powerpoint slides… I say I “hate” doing those things, and I do in comparison to the real technical work I do, but if I had to be perfectly honest I don’t really dislike it all that much.

    Other data points: I have relatives who are lawyers and a friend who’s a physician’s assistant. The PA job seems to be really good for flexibility in working part-time (she’s 50%) so she can spend a lot of time with her kid. My lawyer cousins spend basically no time with their kids (though the dads have tried to step in a little more).

  15. Wow, there have been so many great comments. Thank you!

    (and thanks Jean for being my dramatic foil and spurring increased participation)

    I love the practical comments about specific fields and the economy in general. This is the advantage of having readers from a variety of locations and walks of life.

    As far as the philosophical question of my working at all (ala Jean), I’m surprised that I didn’t even consider that it would come up here. 🙂
    That’s how much I trust the supportive readers of Exponent. I trust that when I explain my situations and intentions that I will feel understood and supported. I love the idea that we should assume the best about each other, like the sacrifices my family would make being completely acceptable to my husband and me. Of course these are situations we’ll have to work out ourselves, and I’m sure it will require us to be understanding and compassionate with each other. But, I’d like to think that we’re up for it.

    Mostly, I’d like to think that the example of me going back to school and work will be something that will inspire my children and give them a sense of pride.

    My own mother, whom I love very much, never worked much out of the house and never wanted to. It’s been hard for me to see her as she’s been recently divorced really resent that idea that she has to support herself now. I wonder if she had seen employment as a healthy, important part of her life if things would be easier for her now.

    Anyway, I didn’t really want to get into the SAHM vs Working Mom fight (that’s just SO overdone around Mormon Mommy blogs, no?) but the thread has made me articulate more about how I got to the point where I wrote this post.

    • I have been a student or worked full-time for the duration of my three children’s (ages 8, 11, and 14) lives with the exception of one harrowing summer. 😉

      My oldest daughter wrote an essay about how watching me go through school and really work hard to achieve a Ph.D. was a great example to her and taught her that she could achieve hard things.

      I don’t apologize at all to my kids for the choices I’ve made with regard to family/work. Only I and my husband and our kids know our situation. Only we know what’s best for our family. I know–beyond a shadow of a doubt (ha ha!)–that I am a better mother and person because of the educational/professional choices I have made.

      It IS so hard, Jessawhy. Not easy at all. I just wanted to give a virtual “Amen!” to your comment about setting an example for your children.

      Also-don’t take that comment to mean that I think that if a woman DOESN’T choose to pursue a career, she’s not setting an example for her children. She is–but she’s setting an example of something else, right? And don’t kids need examples of lots of different kinds of life paths/decisions?

      • I really like your last paragraph here. It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I am doing my best to be a good example for my children. They will know that I value taking care of them at home when they are little, with the caveat that I enjoy middle class wealth and feel emotionally stable while being a SAHM (since some women simply cannot do the SAHM thing for one reason or another). And then they will see me go back to school, to play the hand I was dealt the best way I can, and have the career that I truly love and want. I can’t think of anything I would like to do more every day as a job than talk to people about their issues. I will LOVE that job, because I already know that it’s my passion. I have been a passionate SAHM and will take that passion wherever I go. So that will be my example and legacy to my kids. I’m proud of that.

        So basically, YES! I totally agree that kids need examples of lots of different kind of paths. And they don’t have to choose the same path as me, or for me or for anyone else. I want them to always know that examples are just that: examples to choose from. Another “amen” from me for you and Jessawhy both.

      • Heather,
        This actually came up with my 15 year old daughter the other day…. I am a SAHM by choice and have been so for the past 15 years. I have loved staying at home and have filled these years with more volunteer opportunities and part-time work than I can list. One day I was talking to my daughter about colleges and what she thinks she might want to do. I asked her if she thought any less of me as a mom/woman because I am home rather than out working as I did before she was born. She ardently said, “NO!” and expressed her gratitude for what I do and pointed out that if I got paid for all of the volunteering I did, my husband could retire!
        As she and my 12 year old son get older, I too am looking toward entering the workforce after being out so long. I am determined to find fulfilling work.
        I feel that the true nature of feminism is that women can choose the paths that will bring them happiness.

    • Thank you for that insight, Jessicawhy. I fully support women having an education and a backup plan. I also believe there is a time and a place.

  16. Ah, the joy of so many different opportunities and limited ability to take them all. Frankly, at the beginning you _won’t_ know what will make you the happiest. That is the difficulty of every individual choosing an educational path and/or career before they start out. It’s not until you truly get into the mud do you know whether you enjoy it or not 🙂

    Echoing other comments, definitely talk to professionals in the fields and to academic advisors to determine the different paths an options to achieving where you want to go with your career.

    I, as it hasn’t yet come up, pray and fast to know what the best decision for you and your family is, pray and fast that you may find all the information you need to make that decision. No one knows you or your future better than our Heavenly Father.

  17. You know it depends on what kind of law you want to practice. My friend is a lawyer, but, She(I capitalized that on purpose) practices a very specialized section of law dealing with nuclear regulatory commission and I don’t pretend to even understand any of it.

  18. I’ve been thinking about this lately- I’ve been thinking of taking the actuarial exams, but then again I’d love to do research in public health about breastfeeding support for teen mother, but then again maybe I want to do the coursework to earn “Master Knitter” certification, or maybe I want to do a master’s in Women’s Studies, but then again, I’d love to see what it’d be like to go to an Episcopalian seminary, or maybe I want to try a few other things before deciding. It’s tough and there are no simple or perfect answers. But it also means there are almost no “wrong” answers either, so that’s a plus!

  19. I don’t know if you’re really looking for advice or not, but I would suggest actually looking at the jobs that are available right now in the fields you are considering. For instance, look for PA jobs and see what is out there. It may be more difficult than you think to get a part-time or flexible work schedule as a PA. Certainly if you are concerned about work-life balance, setting a goal to be a senior partner in a law firm would seem like a career path to eliminate, based on what I know (only second hand). I would think social work might be more attractive, but again, I would pretend you are looking for a job right now and see what is actually out there.

  20. I have been a SAHM for almost 5 years now, and after having baby number 2 (2.5 years ago) I knew that 2 was my family done, and by the time she was a year old I really wanted to be back at work. Also, as my husband is doing a full-time phD, one of needed to work, and I needed to have something away from the house, so it made sense for me to find work instead of my husband. As jobs were scarce, we were both looking for work, but I really wanted to be the working one.. I found a temporary job just doing admin and worked part-time, my husband or other family members were able to look after my girls while I worked which was great. This job came to an end in March and I’ve been looking for something else ever since.. the admin jobs I apply to have so many people apply I don’t hear anything.. other jobs sound interesting but I’m not qualified, would love to do more study but I can’t do that right now.. finally I found a couple of jobs advertised that I had some experience doing either through my degree or previous jobs, that sounded interesting and were well-paid I’ve had interviews and will hear in the next couple of weeks.. but I am so excited and nervous.. not having worked a full-time career job for 5 years – I don’t know what it’s going to be like… but I know I have been a grumpy Mum without a job these last few months and my girls are excited for me getting another job. Maybe you should look for some trainee type positions in the areas you are interested in…?

  21. Jess, this is such a great post, and timely for me as well. My youngest will be in preschool at least by next fall, if not sooner. I have also been anxious to see how I fare in school now that I am “healed up” from all my emotional issues the wreaked havoc with my grades while I attended BYU 🙂

    I am very interested in going back to school. Maybe we’ll have some classes together if we end up picking the same area to study! I’m wanting to end up as a therapist, but I don’t know if I want to take the social work, psychology or women’s studies route. I need to just get my scared self to the university and ask a bunch of questions so I feel better about it. I’m genuinely scared, but also excited! I don’t think I ever really considered having “my career” until after my feminist awakening about 2 years ago. It’s amazing what a little self-respect will do for the soul.

  22. Jean

    Its presumptuous for you to speak for me and to say where I got my source from, please don’t do it again As it is you quoted an entirely different source.

    The article that I was referring to was entitled,” The College Payoff,” Education, occupation and Lifetime Earning. And it is from the Georgetown University Web site.

    • “As it is you quoted an entirely different source.”

      You must have me confused with someone else. I did neither. Perhaps you are referring to “Jenne”?

    • I’ve removed some comments on this subthread as they were increasingly off topic and confrontational.
      Let’s keep it on topic everyone.

  23. Wishing we had nested comments so we could keep up better! 😉

    Kirsten, that’s a great story. It’s funny, because I asked my nearly-15 year old daughter the same thing not too long ago (“Do you wish I were a SAHM?”) and got the same response–a resounding “No!” 😉

    And this is great, really–to see that our daughters accept us for who/what we are. Also, this is all she knows. Her mom works. My kids have benefited from my working in countless ways–many of which she doesn’t even realize, I’m sure. Oh, sure, they’ve missed out on homecooked meals (although she’s cooking them herself now!!) and cookies and a more organized life (potentially), but they’ve gained plenty of other things.

    I think the rub, maybe, occurs if our kids see us miserable. THEN they might regret the choices that we made and wish we had done something else. But if they see us happy, they wouldn’t have reason to think, “I wish my mom were XYZ instead of ABC.”

  24. Here’s my two cents–
    If I had to do it over again, I’d have muscled through the chemistry and done something more medical (PA or psychiatric nurse practitioner).
    As a clinical social worker, I have a pretty sweet deal. I set my own hours, and have for the past 11 years. My parents have been our childcare (and now they’re deserting me to go on a mission in a couple weeks-RUDE) but this school year I’ll only work the hours they’re in school, and schedule off the days they’re off, every other Friday off to do temple/VT stuff/RS lesson stuff. But it took several years to get to that level of freedom/flexibility/compensation.
    So, that is why I’d go the medical route, and strongly have pushed my girls to do the same. There is never going to be a shortage of medical need (until we all get twinkled or whatever), and you can do it at all hours of the day and night and work around kids. AND you can make way more $ in half the time. The good thing about PA, and I apologize if someone already brought this up, but I briefly saw the drama above and skimmed past, is that you are under an MD which is less pressure for you (liability/malpractice, etc.). And PAs do it all. We have had psychiatric PAs in our practice, and I have a friend who only does orthopedic surgery-related stuff.
    I guess it comes down to what you’re passionate about. If you want to work to work, and not for financial ‘need’, do that. But if you’re looking for stability/security, that’s another thing altogether.
    I don’t know where you live but there are some places which have an MSW/JD double and that was very appealing to me but it was going to take longer and I just wanted to be done. After you get your MSW you will make crappy money the first 2 years.
    Drug repping is way harder than it used to be, and unless you’re urban, it’s a lot of travel. The reps that are in our clinic do overnights-so that is something to factor in. (It’s a job I think I would enjoy after my kids are long gone, though.)

  25. Jessawhy–I think the political nightmares people talk about are more prevalent at Research I schools. I’m at a regional university where I mostly teach. I do have to publish, but nothing like what’s expected at big state schools.

  26. This is something I’ve thought about a bit over the past year or two, as my youngest is now 3. Turns out I’m now trying to convince my husband to adopt a couple orphans from EE instead (something I never would have guessed when considering my options), and thus will likely be staying home for another couple of years. But I relate to having too many interests but not anything I’m so in love with that I know I want to do it. I had that problem starting at the beginning of my bachelor’s degree, and it hasn’t really gone away. I’m sure it’ll be something I’ll be wondering and stressing about again in a year or two.

    I do want to say (since no one’s commented about this possibility of yours yet) that there’s quite a lot of demand for people in business — supply chain management. My husband recently looked for a new job in that area, and had 4 or 5 executive recruiters call him based on his resume posted online, and he got a great job within 2 months of starting to look (and had more people call after he accepted that job). I don’t know how it would be for work/life balance, though. I think in the long run you could do it as a consultant and make some good money while having flexibility, but in the shorter term you’d pay _a lot_ of money to get an MBA and then would need to establish yourself as good in the area before you could really set yourself up as a consultant. But the demand is certainly there.

  27. I had these exact questions and dilemmas and made it a matter of fervent prayer for years before finally getting my answer, which was to go back to school (I already knew the field, having had my heart pricked with desire several years previously). I had really thought that grad school was out of the question, given my dismal undergrad performance, but was given the experience of stepping into the darkness (many times) and having it work out.

    I was 45 by the time I started school, but this road has taken me places I never guessed I would go, including making a family move to another state so I could enter a PhD program here. I believe that the timing was part of the plan for me, as specific changes in professors who were available to teach me coincided with different phases of my program.

    Other women my age who have watched me look at their own situations with the transition to empty nesting and say, “Oh, but I could never do what you do!” My advice to them is the same as it is to you: listen to your heart and to the Lord, be patient with yourself, and don’t be afraid to try something!

  28. To me, 31 seems very young to be worrying about opportunity cost. I know at least five people who got a PhD in their 50s and are having successful careers. One was an LDS woman who did the typical post-children thing. One was a race car driver who owned a chain of 26 auto parts stores but felt something was missing from his life, and went to college (undergraduate) the first time when his children were grown. Another had a career with the state department, had to quit because of health issues, and became a PhD researcher to explore those health issues.

    I was offered a very nice fellowship for a PhD when I was in my mid-40s, so they did not think that was too old.

    I definitely advise using this time at home studying for the GRE or whatever specialized test you think you might need. Studying definitely helps. Doing well on the test will open a lot of doors. For me, it meant having a university fellowship and no requirement to teach 20 hours a week (and since I wasn’t ever intending to teach, that was no problem). That carved out time for my family while in grad school.

    I am now doing nothing but grant-writing and while it pays well, the isolation of having to spend so much time writing alone is driving me crazy, even though I am an introvert.

    I am really glad for the years that I was at home fulltime. It was definitely my assigned (by the Lord) at that season of my life. But I was just as sure that I should be in grad school, and pursuing my career when that season came. Among other things, the retirement savings that I contributed will make the difference in us being able to afford a mission.

  29. I would suggest Jess, you pray about it because I know there is something that would be perfect for you and your family, you just have to find it! If there was a career where you could take less hours in the summer I think that would be the best.
    When I exited out of my RN program to start a family they gave me preferred placement to come back whenever I choose. I love learning and I love healthcare even more but a complicated back injury has kept me from going back. My priorities have changed because after I meet the needs of myself and managing my family, there’s not much in me left. It’s sad and I feel the ambitious side of me stunted. I could do SO MUCH MORE if only my body would allow it. Every now and then I feel great and my mind starts to get excited about the thing I could do. But I have found so many things at home to feed my ambitious side. Now I have a 1st grader and a 3rd grader. I don’t like when people ask “what do you all day?” The question is so hurtful because it assumes that since I have kids at school I must sit around and be bored. How do I explain to someone my day without feeling like I’m defending myself? But through this challenge I have learned to accept my limitation and focus on what really matters to me.
    Jess, I know you are an amazing mother and I know that you are at the time in your life to add something more and progress. I’m excited for you! Choose wisely and you’ll be happy! (But I think you would make a GREAT lobbyist!)

    • DaNelle,
      Thanks for your comment, prayer and meditation are really important parts to a fulfilling life. I’m so sorry to hear that your back injury is preventing you from doing nursing. Also, I didn’t realize your baby is in first grade! Wow, how time flies.
      Thanks for dropping by!

  30. Also, Nancy Pelosi was a full-time mom raising five children before running for office the first time when her youngest was in high school, yet she managed to become Speaker of the House. So it is hard for me to believe that one is doomed to an inferior career because of waiting a few years.

    Few of us can afford to retire before age 72. So at age 31, even with a few year for grad school, that means 30+ years of working in a career. Lots of time to make an impact.

    • This comment is depressing: “women need to have a PHd just to make the same amount of money as a male counterpart with a Bachelor’s”! Geesh!!

      But I love Naismith’s comments about people in their 50s “starting over” and still having very successful careers! Woohoo, hope! 🙂 Whenever I talk to people who are not Mormon, they act horrified that I would even dare TRY to go to college at 30 or try to start a career midlife (“you have no experience! the economy! job shortages!”) I was beginning to feel foolish for even thinking I could!

      And I did not know that about Nacy Pelosi…what an awesome role model (in that regard, lol) 😛

      I agree with the senitments that I hope my children see me going back to school as a POSITIVE thing. That it will inspire them to go to college and to work hard because they see it is important to their Mama, too. I hope my daughters see me enjoying a fulfilling career and know that they can and should get a degree and not just assume life will play out a Mormon SAHM Fairy Tale.

      Life NEVER happens the way you expect it to. Her spouse could die, become invalid, get fired & not be able to find another job to fully support the family, they could have a child with medical problems, they could get divorced…you just never know what life will throw at you. Every girl should have a back-up plan, and I’m not talkin’ birth control! (though they should have that, too, lol) We are doing our daughters a HUGE disservice if we let them pretend life will be so easy and that they will never need to work if they don’t want to.

      And like Jesswhy said, wouldn’t it be GREAT if she could feel confident in her knowledge and skills to be able to work and be PAID WELL for it, instead of trying to find minimum wage jobs, working long hours, doing something miserable and being paid hardly anything for her time and effort? That would be awful. 🙁 I’d so much rather have her prepared to do something she LOVES. Then she can choose a field with more flexibility and better options. Let’s give our hypothetical daughter/woman a CHOICE, lets open doors for her and give her so many options she can find the best fit for her family, instead of only being able to scrape the bottom-of-the-barrel. If she prepares early, she will be able to care for family much easier, if the need arises.

      I always wonder what these nay-sayers think will happen if their husband suddenly dies. Like Jean said, you never know if you will wake up the next morning. 😛 So what if your husband doesn’t? Then what? Are you going to drive your family into the lake because there’s no hope for them? They’ll be scourges on society and never become anything because they had a mother who worked? LOL.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a SAHM for 10 years and I love it. But there is a time and a place for everything, and I can not WAIT until I get to go back to school and find a career for me! They are only young once, true, but then they grow up and move out and create lives of their own. I hope we are not limiting ourselves as only “mothers” because that lifestyle will not last forever. There will come a time when we have all the time in the world and I mean to make our world a better place (and hopefully make bank while doing so) 🙂

    • Yes, thank you for your comment Naismith. I have definitely felt like Jessawhy, and we’re the same age with similarly-aged children. But I prefer to believe what you say here, that it’s very doable and not too late. Thanks 🙂

    • Thanks for pointing out how the time in a career can potentially be so much longer than the time we spend raising children, Naismith. It’s something I’ve had to use to remind me to be more patient in this season of my life, especially when I’ve been tempted to feel that I’m wasting time and energy that could be making a larger impact. I’ve had to step back and simplify for the sake of a more peaceful home, and I’ve struggled to not be resentful of what it means I have to temporarily give up. Plenty of time for the rest of it and I really never will get this precious time back.

  31. I agree Nancy Pelosi is a very good role model for young girls and women.

    But, she was able to stay at home because she had the wealth to do so. Her personal net worth is $58 million dollars, she accumulated that wealth by buying a substantial amount of real estate in the San Francisco Bay area, in addition, along with her husband she owns over a million dollars of stock in Apple, and she has a private vineyard, in St Helen’s.

    In other words, she does not have, nor did she have the same kind of money worries that the average American women did, or does. She could afford to stay at home. She could also afford to work because she had the money to help hire people at home to help support her while she ran for political office. There’s a big difference.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think women, can and should do what ever they feel is right for them and their family. The only thing that stops most women is guilt.

  32. Such a great post, and such a great thread of comments!

    Jessawhy, I totally understand where you are coming from. I entered into a PhD program last year, and every day I wonder whether it was the right choice, whether I should have gone into something practical, something that could easily support the family, etc. I realize that after my PhD i may end up exactly where I started — as a high school teacher. I wonder if the perfect career is out there for me somewhere, and I just haven’t found it yet. I worry about how to excel in my program while also parenting my young kids (and soon to come) child.

    So I totally get the angst. I will say that you have time on your side. You had your kids young, and now you will have all of your thirties to explore your options and get the education you need to go into your chosen field and have a fantastic career. I’m excited for you! My husband’s advice would be this: study it out, make a choice, put your heart into it, and never look back at other roads you might have taken.

    • That is great advice, Caroline (both from you and Mike).

      I’m really proud of you pursuing a Ph.D in your field. I know it’s related to how much you participate at this blog and attend retreats. So, I guess it’s selfish of me to love it b/c I get to interact with you!

  33. I have nothing of substance to add except that at 31, I was still drifting. I had no family, I hated school, and I was the equivalent of an actor waiting tables.

    However, 12 years later, I have pretty much everything I wanted: a family, a career doing something I enjoy and on my terms, and a burgeoning outlet for my art. Still, I mourn those years I was lost because I’m from a family where everybody dies early and I feel as if I lost that time, like I’m racing against the clock. I’m 43 and only now coming into my own? Will I die before I get where I want to go? It grates.

    On the other hand, I’m only 43, the women in my family are long-lived even if the men aren’t, I’m coming into my own, and doing it with the security of a family behind me.

  34. I don’t want to distract from the hard questions in the original post, but can I quickly update to say that I just got offered a Project Manager job! So I won’t be only grant-writing any more. It’s part-time, so I’ll still be able to do the household management stuff that saves us tons of money and travel to help when new grandchildren are born, while being paid a professional salary and presenting at conferences, etc.

    My daughter was cooking dinner when I danced into the house, and she asked, “So they just made this position because they know you?” And I had to explain that yes, it is rare that anyone advertises a part-time professional position. The world is generally set up so that only full-time work is taken seriously. I hope that will change. But for me, it has been an uphill struggle to insist on part-time employment, and to prove that I am serious about my career even if I am not sitting in the office all day every day.

  35. Jess – The nice thing about being intelligent, ambitious, and educated is that you will be successful at pretty much anything you try. I have known you for several years now, and can’t even imagine you not being successful and happy in any career choices you make.

    The problem you are facing is a great problem to have. A problem that 95% of the world can only dream of.

    The only advice I could give you is the same I give EmilyCC who will soon be in the same position.
    1. Don’t be intimdated by anyone or anything.
    2. Only settle for the best, and if you can’t get the best, work harder.
    3. Go to either the top 10 schools in your field or the cheapest school. Ignore everything in the middle.

    “Sacrifice” – Your family will “suffer”. No doubt about it. But they will also obtain great things from your education and work such as
    A more confident and intelligent mother and wife (smart women are super-hawt);
    Increased economic security;
    A closer relationship with their dad;
    An increased appreciation for the pursuit of knowledge;
    An increased appreciation for their mom;
    Your children will become more self-sufficient at a younger age; Your children will not grow up with the Mormon social conditioning that moms stay home and dads work.

    The sacrifice has rewards.

    Anything I can do to help, let me know. I can watch kids while you study, network for you, cheerlead. Anything at all.

  36. I have a lot of personal issues with the Gospel and some answers we got 8-9 years ago about how my then-fiance and I should plan our future education and work. Things have not turned out as I expected and now we both work full time at jobs we don’t like just to be able to make the student loan payments on the degree my husband got as a response to the answers to the prayers we made at that time. I don’t doubt the correctness of the response, but I admit I am angry with God for putting me on a path that does not allow me to stay home and have more children at this time.

    I am trying to figure out how to get over my anger but it is very difficult.

  37. Jessica, I have had many of the same feelings you expressed and my list of interests looks similar to yours also.
    My oldest is leaving home for college and my youngest is just turning kindergarten age and I am 43. I recently went to my 25th year reunion and am ashamed to say I was nervous about answering the career question among all my highschool friends who are really all professionals- a doctor, lawyer, prof, banker, successful business owners. I had an amazing experience because I was able to tell them about my various activities I’ve been able to do and also be at home with four children. Lobbying, starting a small business, starting 2 non-profit organizations, working as a fitness instructor. I was listening to myself and validating all my part-time ventures from a place of passion and I really believe that they have value and wouldn’t be possible if I was working full-time.
    I feel like I have missed the career train (although that might not really be true) and I am really ok with that and feel lucky to have had such flexibility to do these things with my children close by and learning through it all. I watch my oldest go and see that I have another gone in 3 years and so on and I wouldn’t miss any of it. I have found as they are older they need me just as much but more on their time. I work a small bit for pay (like you) and take classes just enough to stay sane and feel great being there for my family.
    Online classes in small doses going toward a certification has energized my mind but not overwhelmed me.
    I saw many women at the reunion who didn’t have the time to exercise and who didn’t have as much time/energy to be with their children and who didn’t have as much time to give to strengthening their marriages. Although this is not the case for all working women, certainly, I feel grateful for the decisions I have made.
    I am grateful for my opportunities to add tools to my toolbox in a part time way and my ability to not have to work more for pay. (although it isn’t without sacrifice) I expect that all these tools will create a future for me that is productive and satisfying.
    I love you Jessica and wish you much happiness.

    • Kathleen,
      Thank you for your beautiful comment. You certainly are an inspiration to me. I’m sad you don’t live in UT anymore where I can visit you more easily.
      Tell your beautiful kids hello and I wish your oldest daughter the best in college!
      Congratulations 🙂

  38. Sorry I’m late to this discussion, but Monday was my first day at a full-time job in 12 years! I don’t have any good career advice, because my path sort of fell into my lap, but I understand your dilemma and wish you good luck in landing somewhere wonderful. I got a BA in French and German teaching upteen million years ago and then hating all the parts of being a teacher that weren’t teaching. I wasn’t married and so went back to BYU for an MBA. Several years after working with that MBA in corporate America I married and eventually started a family. I tried to work after starting a family and for a variety of reasons it didn’t work for me and I was actually glad to be able to devote my time to my children.

    Last year a couple of part-time French and German language teaching positions opened up and I got them. My youngest was then in 2nd grade and I was home when my kids got home from school. This year I am working full-time at one school – a public boarding school for advanced and gifted 11th and 12th graders all over the state. It’s a heavenly teaching position. I should be home every day about an hour after my youngest two arrive home (they are now 10 and 8).

    That’s my story. Here are my opinions. First, I have to note that in my experience, women who do not work while their children are in school are not giving more to their children, they are giving more to the church. My mom noted that when she started working, she suddenly wasn’t asked to do nearly as much service work for church members as she had been before. She rather liked that unanticipated change. You don’t have as much time to meet friends for lunch and sometimes visiting teaching is a challenge because family time is a priority.

    Secondly, my children, especially my girls, are very excited that I am working. They want to come to my office. They want to sit in on my classes and meet my students. They have had me around enough that they also love and demand some independence and seem to thrive on it. I don’t think that an hour an afternoon to come home, get a snack, work on homework, and relax for a bit is too much free time for them without me. If I were home, they would probably simple drop everything in the house and then head out to play and I wouldn’t see them anyway.

    I freely acknowledge that I am working simply because I want to. Financially, we are very lucky and don’t need my income at all. It is totally for luxuries. But, I’m not working for the money. I’m working because I love it and I think it’s the best thing for my family.

    • Lori,
      Thanks for the comment, it sounds like you have a wonderful career for you and your family.
      Hearing about your career gives me hope for others like you and me.

      I wish you and your family the best.

  39. At last – a subject that I can give some good advice on – careers. 🙂

    Education is the easy part. Building the career takes some navigating. I learned through trial and error. And out of need. I am my own family, so I bring home the bacon, or nobody does.

    It is hard to find the right fit because you don’t know it until you do it. It took me 12 years from the time I left High School until I finished college and grad work and was in the right field. I was 31. I’ve spent the last 10 year building. And I hope to build further before it’s all done.

    If you actually want to create direction and change (which is done best from upper management or experienced professional) and be good at it (which is done after experience) and actually make any money (most likely from upper management), then you have to climb the same ladder.

    1. Lateral career moves (especially between professions) will not help you accomplish these things.

    2. So, sadly, you have to choose. And once you choose, you have to move fast and hard and with confidence (especially as a woman) to get to a place with influence and money.

    3. I would suggest finding a professional woman who can help with your resume. Stay-at-home moms have great experience …. they just have to know how to write it. And find someone who can help you interview … and learn the lingo of the profession.

    4. Many places are “family friendly”, but you should be cautious in how you present your family situation.

    I wish I could change the system, so it were more friendly to moms, but the best I can do is show the map and offer advice on navigating the maze.

    All the best in your choices. I’m behind you all the way.

  40. I’ve read of women who have managed to work part-time as lawyers. My recollection is that most of these women were very affluent. In my own experience, where 70 hour weeks were not unusual my colleagues who were on what was called (derisively) the mommy track were able to work about 40 hours per week. Of course, they were only paid for 24 so the managing attorneys were quite happy at the trade-off: they paid experienced attorneys less, they contributed less to the pensions and 401Ks of the part-time attorneys, and they received excellent work and more hours in return. One positive for my colleagues was that their medical benefits were the same as full-time attorneys. All this is to say that law is not a career that lends itself easily to part-time work. It’s not that it can’t be done; it’s just very difficult. One explanatory note: we were all trial attorneys. Which means that the men (for the most part) in black dresses had a huge impact on our time.

  41. If you want to go the medical (PA) route, you will have to work up to it. Without significant direct patient experience, you will not qualify for acceptance to most of the good PA programs in the country. Definitely look into if you even qualify for the programs before you decide on a career path.

    • Davis,
      This is good advice. My only patient care experience is treating my 2 sons with hemophilia. It’s pretty narrow care (intravenous and port-a-cath infusions) but I’ve been doing it for 8 years . . .
      I know I would have a lot of science pre-reqs, though. Those are very intimidating.

  42. Sorry I’m late to commenting, but I just wanted to add my good wishes on your schooling and career choices. I wish I had some killer advice, but I don’t. I just hope you’re able to find something that works well for you. And I suspect you will. I think N. Curtis put it well:

    Jess – The nice thing about being intelligent, ambitious, and educated is that you will be successful at pretty much anything you try. I have known you for several years now, and can’t even imagine you not being successful and happy in any career choices you make.

    Oh, and if your plans involve stats, don’t hesitate to ask if you need any help! 🙂

    • Ziff,
      Thanks for the good wishes and echoing N.Curtis’s kind words.

      I just hope I have the energy to actually get going on this next step. I seem to have myself so busy with other things that I’m not making the time.

      Sigh. My baby starts preschool in a few weeks which will give me a few uninterrupted hours a week . . .

  43. Many thoughts occurred to me as I read your brief article. This is not a new position you find yourself in, practically everyone who has worked has asked themselves the same question at some point in their working lives. Perhaps it may help if you can clarify what you want out of a career, and this is where I want to make the point is that no-one can “have it all” in the sense that everyone has to sacrifice something, even if it’s simply the ability to keep all of your options open all the time. One can’t do that. So you find the balance between a career and one that meets your key needs/requirements. If you have conflicting needs/requirements, maybe it’s time to sort those out first as you won’t find a satisfying career that way.

    Something that comes across to me from your article is that you appear to be looking for a level of certainty before you actually try it, although I may be misreading what you have written. None of us has certainty in life apart from our own birth and death. Life is about the journey. If you take care of the journey the end result is actually determined by the journey. It’s good to go into it with an open mind, be flexible, be open to additional opportunities that come your way while pursuing a career.

    The best career advice I have ever been given was given to me by my mother, she told me not to think that I actually had to practice a career in my field of study, not to think that my career would be fixed by that. Guess what? I have never actually practiced in my field of study. I have however pursued a two decade long international corporate career in fields that in the West tend to have few women practitioners, but outside the West have many women practitioners. I have been very successful, never had a problem with female discrimination, except when I worked in the US, been highly paid, as highly paid as any man in my profession, been married, had and raised children, paid for nannies, and done the best I could in balancing work and family life. I have also made huge personal sacrifices during this time over certain things, that however is the nature of life, and I can’t have it all and at the same time keep all my opens open. I have absolutely no regrets and could not have forseen the path my life career would take upon graduating from university more than 25 years ago.

    So work out why you want a career, be a little more flexible in what it may be, be prepared to go with the flow and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way along the way, don’t worry too much now about whether or not you will like it – you don’t know, you haven’t tried it!

  44. You could be a NURSE!!! Although if you did decide to do PA, I would certainly consider doing that with you 🙂 But I really would prefer Medical School. Owell. When I ask Mikenna what she wants to be when she grows up she says, “I want to be a Nurse and a Mom.” Makes me SO proud :). LOL…

  45. Supply chain!! My husband’s in that field and loves it and there is no shortage of jobs. I went the law school route, and while I love what I do, and loved my experience, it’s definitely not the most ideal climate. So if law school isn’t your dream of all dreams, I don’t know that the financial risk (so pricey!) is worth it when there are so many other interesting and cheaper options. Just my two cents. Good luck!

  46. Hi…just stumbled on your post…and thought, although years late…I would share my thoughts – I hope it is all working out for you! I raised my three children for 8 years at home….I went to university a a single mum after leaving a violent marriage. It was a necessity then but now I am remarried and halfway through a law/accounting degree….juggling fulltime and parttime study with seasonal tax work and my family. I believe it is important as a women to be educated and prepare for a career even if it not financially essential. You never know what life throws at you – death/sickness of your spouse or divorce….I want to be at my career peak in my 50s when my children are grown!!

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