The pandemic is wreaking havoc on my career. I work in advertising, so my job demands a lot of creative energy, but I also have two middle-school-aged children, and our school district will not be reopening for the fall. How am I supposed to do my job while homeschooling my kids? Back in March, everyone was really understanding, but there's a limit to what my employer will put up with. It's been hard enough just managing them during the summer.
We depend on my income to live. What am I supposed to do?
- Cynthia A.
This is a tough situation, and I really feel for all the parents trying to make this new normal work. The pandemic is wreaking havoc on everyone's careers, it seems like, and the problem you're facing is unfortunately common. The looming childcare crisis is one we're not prepared for because there aren't alternatives. And as much as I believe in building a new kind of professionalism that accounts for the realities of the world we now live in, I don't have the power to wave a wand and make it so.
There are, unfortunately, no easy answers though because there's no safety net.
A friend of mine, a younger woman executive I know with two children under five, ran into the same problem, but fortunately, she lived relatively close to her family and was able to have the kids' grandmothers come over during the week to babysit while she and her husband worked. It seems to be going well, but that's a strategy that carries with it the inherent risk of infection, even with assurances that both you and the caregivers are otherwise quarantining. That's a decision she had to make for herself and her family, as she's the primary breadwinner. If there are ways for you to expand your family circle, you may be able to open up more options. Many families, for example, have had close relatives move in with them to help with childcare and be able to socialize together. Others have opted to make quarantining agreements with nearby families to share the load, organizing small childcare and even homeschooling groups where everyone within them doesn't come into contact with anyone outside of the circle.
The looming childcare crisis is one we're not prepared for because there aren't alternatives.
There are, unfortunately, no easy answers though because there's no safety net. What I would recommend, as a CEO, is to see if you can work out an accommodation with your employer or your partner's, assuming they live with you, so that someone is available at all times to school the children while not kicking back work availability. Establish pre-determined "contact hours" when you're immediately available, or vice versa – hours when you're entirely off the clock. Since you work in a creative role, you may have more leeway here, especially if you can coordinate person-to-person with your collaborators. Shift the focus of the conversation toward quality deliverables and meeting deadlines, rather than which hours of the day are worked. If doing your job well doesn't necessitate being on call and reachable for eight hours at a stretch, then see if there are ways you can break up and shift around your working hours to better fit with your other responsibilities.
I'm not unfamiliar with hard times. I graduated college in 2009, right after the financial collapse. The job market was in shambles, but somehow I managed to eke out a living. I did some graphic design work and had a brief stint doing HR, but I've largely been in administrative office roles, roles that no longer exist because everything is closed. Nobody's hiring people like me right now. So I've been considering taking the dive into graduate school to see if I can find something with a future, but it's just so expensive. Is it worth it?
- Ashley S.
I would think very hard about graduate school, especially right now. Tuitions haven't come down with the collapse in the job market, and unless you're independently wealthy, I strongly suspect that more debt is the last thing you need. A lot of people your age made this mistake during the Great Recession, only to end up overeducated and over-indebted, counting on careers in academia that didn't exist or resume leverage that didn't pan out.
Even when the economy was thriving, my advice has always been to only pursue graduate school if it's what you really want to do – not just a way to avoid the challenges of navigating the job market – and you have a clear, actionable career plan in place.
Basically, while they may be harder to find, there are opportunities all around you, if you're willing to seek them out, get creative, and put in the work.
Let me stress that I'm not telling you not to go to graduate school, but there's a temptation to treat it like a panacea, and it's not one. There are certainly roles for administrators during this crisis, especially around coordinating and organizing remote work, and it's an area I suspect you would thrive in. Have you considered going into business for yourself? Making remote work actually work is a challenge lots of businesses are still struggling with, and I'm sure many would appreciate the additional support of a freelance administrator until the economy picks back up again. Your background seems very suited to that, especially for smaller shops that don't already have existing processes optimized for remote workflows.
Basically, while they may be harder to find, there are opportunities all around you, if you're willing to seek them out, get creative, and put in the work. You wouldn't have had a job to begin with if organizational work wasn't needed, and I daresay it's only more important here in the new normal.
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Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.
I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.
I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.
Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.
My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.
I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.
When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.
So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.
Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.
And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.
This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.
I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.
I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.