When life interferes with work
At the Corner of Wall and Sesame
Wendy (Shavell) Levitt, MBA ’92
V Skyler has it all. She’s the highpowered
VP of strategic alliances
for a major airline, known for her
can-do attitude, round-the-clock
responsiveness to coworkers’ panicked
calls, and ability to get things done by
any means necessary. Her husband,
a Long Island blueblood apparently
descended from the area’s original
Dutch settlers, is an investment
banker poised to make partner at his
go-go boutique investment firm.
V is intelligent, ambitious, focused, and 39 weeks pregnant. She has everything planned: She’ll deliver the baby on her lunch break and head back for her first afternoon meeting. The child will go into daycare or have a nanny. This way, V can continue putting in her 80-plus hours of work at the office and still kiss her baby good night.
As V quickly learns, having a baby changes your life. This honest look at the experience of an MBA-turned-parent is vivid, imaginative, and believable. There are comical moments, such as a playdate from hell, where baby Madison oozes a variety of bodily fluids onto the horrified moms V is desperately trying to befriend. There are heartbreaking moments, such as when Madison seems to barely recognize her mother anymore.
V, meanwhile, tries to balance myriad demands — caring for her baby, connecting with other moms, stroking her husband’s male ego and physiology, troubleshooting her clueless colleagues’ faux pas, and — oh yes — getting a couple of hours of sleep. She’s pressured by her driven, career-minded mother; her wealthy, socialite mother-in-law; and a cadre of smug, stay-at-home moms who sneer at V for working outside the home.
To write the book, Levitt tapped heavily into her own transition from full-time corporate executive to full-time mother. “When I became pregnant with my daughter, I saw no reason why my work life would change in the slightest. To say I was surprised cannot begin to say enough,” she says.” I started writing in an attempt to figure out why finding work-life balance as a mother was so much harder than I had imagined.”
When her daughter was born, Levitt and her husband decided to hire a nanny, allowing Levitt to work full-time. “My female relatives declared me brilliant for negotiating this arrangement, claiming that it would enable me to truly have it all,” she says. “What I had was a persistent sense of failure.” She couldn’t devote herself as much as she wanted to either the office or her daughter’s germinating social life, and found herself feeling disconnected from both the office and the stay-at-home moms.
Too many women feel pressured into “having it all,” Levitt says. “Women need to know that we can feel that it’s hard; they’re not wrong for feeling stressed or frustrated, because the reality of being a working mother does not match the ideal.
“The continuing expectation to ’do more with less’ is not only cutting into our ability to build a strong family unit, but is also taking away our time to be creative,” says Levitt. In the ’80s and ’90s, she points out, workers could leave at quitting time and let calls go to voicemail; but in today’s work environment, people are expected to be available anywhere and at any time.
Business schools, she says, can play a major role in helping individuals strike a balance in their work and home lives. “Business schools can give current students the tools to negotiate for work-life balance, and can plant the seeds that will enable their graduates to recognize the opportunity costs associated with the erosion of work-life balance that is going on today, and give them the tools to change their corporate cultures.”
What’s next for Levitt? She is working on a second novel, about having a child with a sensory-processing disorder, and, together with Professor Alan McAdams, she is developing an economic argument for “carving out jobs with known-hour scopes.”