Friday, October 23, 2009

College Student or Middle-Aged Mom - What's the Difference?

College sophomore Charley Cooper put out an ad for a personal assistant and got national news coverage. There's even a popular poll running: Spoiled Rich Kid or More Power to Him? But it's the wrong question.

When I heard Cooper's explanation--he's in school full-time, working a part-time job in his field, and has a family member who is seriously ill--my first thought was that it reminded me a lot of my life a couple of years ago. When I was trying to work 90+ hours a week and parent and help out other family members and getting very little sleep, several people said the same thing to me: "get some help". And it was good advice.

See, most of us get into a blind cycle of believing that we have to do everything ourselves. Even when I had money enough to hire help, I felt like I had to do my own cleaning. I felt guilty when I didn't do my own cooking. I kept on trying to find time to pay my bills manually instead of just setting them up to be paid through my bank and moving on. And those were bad choices. Or, rather, they weren't choices at all...they were just ways of staying stuck in the rut I was in for no reason.

I say "no reason" because there was nothing about vacuuming my living room or making sure the bill payments went out on time or doing my laundry that required my personal attention. It was a poor use of my time to focus on those things when there were so many other things in play that DID require my attention. My daughter, for instance. And the major project I was buried in at work.

And finally, only because I hit the point of literally not being able to do it all, I realized what professionals have been telling us for decades: giving the important things in life the attention they deserve sometimes means delegating the things you don't really have to do yourself. Any good professional organizer will tell you this. Any executive who doesn't delegate will soon find himself completely ineffective. Focus on what matters--isn't that really a simple concept?

When I finally did decide to call in some help (and never, really, as much as I should have), that decision was greeted with universal relief among my friends and family. "Spoiled" never crossed anyone's lips. Why? Because I was a middle-aged woman? Because I hadn't grown up wealthy? Does that change what constitutes a sensible decision?

Because Charley Cooper made a sensible decision--and one that many of us don't learn to make until we're near the breaking point. At 19, he said, "school, career, family...the rest I'll dump if I can". I suspect that he'll go far in life, having gotten past that hurdle a couple of decades earlier than most of us.

Is he a spoiled rich kid? Maybe...but I don't think this decision proves it. More power to him? Maybe...but I don't know how he lives his life, so I can't really say. Neither is appropriate in response to this decision...it's just a life management choice that, were he older, he would almost certainly have been encouraged to make. The one thing I know for sure is that it wouldn't have been national news. MSNBC surely didn't show up when I contracted out my paperwork and started having food delivered.

1 comment:

Michael Ritsche said...

I agree. I think most people are not reading the whole story and are thinking that he is contracting out because he needs to study and it is cutting into his "fun" time. Us Americans/Westerners seem to think we can do it all and any type of "delegation" is a sign of weakness. I disagree.