Elisa M. Medina
What Would You Tell The You of 20 Years Ago?



She listened intently to the question posed and thought she would certainly have a lot to share with her 27 year old self. "What would the current 47 year old you tell the you of 20 years ago?" She thought her brain would just simply burst, it swirled with so much to say to her old self. The first thing that came to her mind was all the regrets and her advice on how to avoid the things that caused the regrets: don't ever doubt your abilities, stay true to your passions, take those stupid career matching tests, and don't ever ever put your head in the sand about your finances! But then came the guilt, because she had also heard that one shouldn't regret decisions made, because they were supposed to all be a part of life's learning. Blah blah blah. But then her brain jumped to saving others the pain, even if she couldn't save herself from it. She thought motherhood and career and money and holding on to herself for dear life just shouldn't have been so hard. For her, the ambitious, career-longing part of herself self got squashed somewhere along the way. How it happened, she couldn't quite put her finger on. She still ended up doing cool things with her life; she just never quite learned how to strategize to make that part happen in a thoughtful, organized way. She was good, but she could have been great. Maybe it wasn't too late?



She wanted to be a writer or an anthropologist. She would spin the globe and look up the places she found in the smelly old encyclopedia on her parents' bookshelf. She was the youngest of four, but liked being in charge and felt ambitious, curious and downright fascinated with all of life. In 6th grade she wrote and directed a play that her whole class performed. She may have breathed life into that play, but it breathed joy into her life too. On her exchange student application in high school, she implored them to send her to a crazy bizarre place and she went to Thailand for a summer. But through all of this, she was still writing what her name looked like next to the last names of boys she had crushes on. She still wrote fantasy names of the girls she planned to give birth to. At the core, she was an experience-seeking jumble-of-a-person with this big mush of emotion-drive inside of her. She seemed to have the curse of being maternal and ambitious and it took her years to figure out that these would often be pitted against each other.

Her parents thought sociology or anthropology was a waste of time to study in college. After significant floundering, she majored in economics because it was practical and there were enough courses that interested her. Afterwards, she worked in DC and NY and taught for a year in Brazil. She got her Master's in Social Work, finally getting something more in line with her values and professional interests. She got her first job as a social worker, got married and was pregnant all in a six month time span. She juggled part-time work through kids #1 and #2 and threw in the work towel after #3 and her husband's job relocation. Due to some faulty maternal gene that created an irrational desire, she tried one last-ditch effort at having a girl. None of this happened of course, without a healthy dose of guilt, for wanting to create a new life to fulfill some deep-seated need for a daughter. The comeuppance was obvious: twin boys just to show her that she certainly wasn't in charge!

The next five years were pure survival mode, where she felt that she was on the edge of cracking up. There was early menopause, migraines, endless caretaking, meals and laundry. There was the day she took the phone, shut herself in her closet, called her husband and calmly said "come home right now or I'm out of here". There was the encounter at the grocery store with wailing twins in the cart….seeing a neighbor who herself had twins and desperately asking her when it would get better. "Oh, by the time they're four you should have your sanity back." By four?? She had no clue if she could last that long. Some of her favorite comments from well-meaning folk: "you weren't really trying for a girl, were you?" Or, "you've got yourself your own basketball team". And her personal favorite, "my you have your hands full!" DUH!

Professional issue


A highly ambitious woman, Elisa had a challenging time reconciling that fact with her notion of what it meant to be a good mother. She lacked mentors who could have shown her how to be professionally savvy and successful and be a satisfied, loving and sane, non-multitasking mother. She saw the lack of flexibility in the workplace, the expense and confusion of emotions around childcare and decided it would be too much of a sacrifice on her family to enter that world. She knew in her heart there was a lack of political, cultural and economic support for mothers who did paid work outside the home or unpaid work inside of it for that matter. She was tired of the abundance of rhetoric about motherhood and tired of having to do the financial calculations about whether it would be "worth it" to go back to work. Her definition of a good mother was simply a mess of personal, societal and cultural expectations, difficult to tease out. And either she didn't ask the right questions or didn't find appropriate role models to help her hash out these issues. Discussions with her husband ended up being more like fights than insightful dialogues or let's-figure-this-out-together sessions. And so they stayed unresolved and she stayed unhappy for a long time. She didn't see the ramifications for all the years out of the workforce....on her self-esteem, on the equality of her marriage, on their finances, and strangely, on the pleasure and enjoyment of raising children. Years later, she would wonder, "why didn't anyone tell me?" "Why did I feel so alone in a world of so many mothers?"


Personal issue


Just like the "personal is political", for Elisa, her personal issues were deeply intertwined with her professional issues. Her personal challenges....stresses and strains in the marriage over expectations, gender roles and finances, feelings of deep love for the children while experiencing feelings of resentment, all seemed to go hand-in-hand with her confusion as to how she could best contribute to the world. For her, work meant passion, fulfillment, making things better in the world for someone. She never liked that quote "no one on their deathbed ever wished they had spent more time at the office". Not because it's unreasonable to limit yourself from overwork, but because if your work was truly of passion and commitment, then why wouldn't you be satisfied with the contribution you made? Why wouldn't you be happy if your passion was your work as a mother, or as an inventor or fixer of a problem? For Elisa, after finally returning full-time to the paid workforce, she discovered that this spilled over into improving many of her personal challenges. Right or wrong, her husband felt her financial contribution took a weight off of his shoulders and he began to act in ways that equalized things around the home front. Despite her anger about the lack of recognition of her years of hard unpaid work at home (by her own husband no less!) she couldn't deny that she liked that he was cooking more and taking more initiative with the kids.


She's not exactly sure where she's going professionally, but she has a sneaky feeling that it's going to be good. She's looking forward to what will unfold. The new question is: "What would the 67 year old future me have to say to the current me?" This one came easy.


"I'm SO proud of all that you've done these last 20 years! What a contribution you've made to your family and to the world. And aren't you glad you never had that girl? Look what you would have missed!"