These days it’s hard to feel inspired. I wake up each morning worried and anxious about what new, manufactured, crisis was created while I slept. I check the news outlets I believe are reliable so that I can try and anticipate what will come today, and I struggle not to panic and to keep focused on my personal goals. It’s a challenge I’ve never faced, this difficulty feeling optimistic and inspired.
Last week’s New York Times published an Op-ed by David Leonhardt. It was a eulogy of sorts for former PepsiCo executive Brenda Barnes. Barnes made news 20 years ago when she quit her job to become a stay-at-home mom. She died a couple of weeks ago, at the young age of 63, following a stroke. After reading her story, I felt a spark of inspiration mixed with some hope. You see, Barnes started the dialogue about work/life balance. She was proof that it is possible to craft a meaningful life filled with work, parenting and personal growth. She paved the way and while there is still much work to be done in the area of equal pay and workplace supported parenting, she elevated the topic.
To be fair, Barnes’ path was incredibly atypical. After raising her kids, she was able to move back into the workforce as chief executive of Sara Lee. Her legacy is carried through her middle child, 28-year-old daughter Erin. She herself left a lucrative job a few years ago, so she could care for her ailing mother and today is pursuing a nursing career, one she finds more meaningful and adaptive to family life. Erin acknowledges her mother’s unique opportunities, but the message remains the same. At a family memorial for her mother, she implored everyone to remember her mother’s insistence that we not work too hard.
So why does Brenda Barnes’ life give me some hope and inspiration? I also made life choices based on spending time with my children. Sometimes I wonder, “what if,” but most of the time I’m happy with my choices. Of course I’m just a few years younger than Barnes, so perhaps the path wasn’t as clear for me as it is for my daughter. But therein lies my hope and inspiration. I am hopeful that, thanks to women like Brenda Barnes, this next generation will move the needle farther. Although women continue to pay a higher price for parenthood and making choices, I’m hopeful our voices are stronger and that we will continue to push harder. I am inspired by Barnes’ story and of her lasting message that work isn’t everything, that life is precious and often too short, so it’s important to find meaning and purpose and, ultimately, love.
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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