Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering the meaning of work as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. Read Rebecca’s essay about work as a single woman here and Molly’s as a married woman here.

Rebecca (single) to Molly (married)

It’s amazing to me how often I hear about others ending up on paths that are different than what they imagined for their life. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in some of my feelings of disappointment, but also unexpected joy that came from the path I didn’t expect to take.

Your story about your friends questioning your work decisions resonated with me. When I was seeking to re-prioritize my life and work, many of my friends questioned my choices, too. They were very well meaning, of course, much like your friends. But I couldn’t help but feel frustration at the cultural norm that their questions developed from—that women can have big fancy careers just like men. Of course we can! But that doesn’t mean every woman wants to, and that’s okay.

I think I believed that some of that pressure to be an ambitious career woman would diminish when I got married; I'm sorry to hear you experienced that pressure as a married woman, too. Like you said, I think it’s wonderful if a woman genuinely desires that path for her life, but I’m relieved to have the freedom to let work fit into my life as I desire in different seasons. And I’m really glad I’m not alone in that journey!

Molly (married) to Rebecca (single)

Although our daily lives probably look quite different, I see many similarities in our career trajectories as well as our personal struggles.

In particular, I was struck by how you admitted your work became your identity. Your feeling that being single meant you were somehow required to pour even more into your work resonated. I remember feeling the same way when I was single, as well as when I was married but still childless. Even now, as a married woman, it is easy to feel that my husband and son “should be” everything to me. But then I remember that I have my own identity outside of them and that to be a healthy wife and mother, I need to cultivate that, too.

Your story made me think that the struggle involved in losing—and then finding—our identities is ever-present regardless of our life mission! It seems like whether we are single or married, childless or parenting, we will find something, someone, to subsume our identities. Your self-awareness in realizing this so early in your career, and recognizing your need to take a step back to cultivate other areas of your life outside of work, is so empowering!

As a wife and mother, I also really appreciated your recognition that marriage and motherhood are not an escape route for career dissatisfaction. It pushes back strongly against the “grass is always greener mentality” whereby single women can be tempted to think married women have it easy, and married women with kids might feel bitter toward single women who have more control over their time. That humble, honest approach to evaluating your life, your “mission” as you so aptly called it, presents such a healthy alternative to the current narrative among professional women, which is often dichotomous and hyper-critical.

What stood out to me most, though, was this: “My life today is worth living well.” Yes! Yes, it is. I appreciate that you wholeheartedly accepted your mission as it exists right now, and it inspires me to do the same. It was both an affirming reminder that we are positioned to live fulfilling lives no matter our circumstances and a challenge to embrace where we are—even if we are hoping or wishing for things to evolve or change one day.

Thank you for sharing your story, your wisdom, and your vulnerability. I am cheering you on!

Do you have reflections on the meaning of work in your life that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.