I Simply Cannot Do This Alone — And Neither Can You

Read on to find out why ditching that individualist perspective for a collective, village-based one could be just what you need.

By Erin Boeck Motum

Illustration: Veronica Grech

Years ago, growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I never would’ve thought I’d be living the life I am now. It was almost unheard of for someone in my family to move to a different state, let alone a different country. Approximately 64% of Americans don’t even have a passport. But, after one high-school trip to Italy, I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to explore the world, right?

At university, while studying journalism and psychology, I was determined to study abroad. Unlike many other American students, I didn’t have to take out loans for my education; I was there on scholarships and grants. That freedom allowed me to feel comfortable with taking out a small-ish loan to foot the bill for a study abroad opportunity, which also included an (unpaid) internship at a London-based charity. I knew I was fortunate to have so many people and organizations supporting me, my education and, ultimately, my career.

Fast-forward a few years; having completed my six-month study abroad session in London, I returned to Missouri to finish my degree. After graduation, unsure of what to do next (and with one friend egging me on to make the move), I made the leap of faith and moved back to England — without a job, without an apartment, without a safety net. For this Type A, controlling, anxiety-ridden person, this was an absolutely crazy decision. It was also one of the best decisions I ever made.

Remember that study-abroad internship? It introduced me to Zee, who (unbeknownst to me) was now working at Random House when I boldly walked in off the street with my resume. He passed it on to a friend in HR, and I got the work experience placement. I then got the call for a work experience placement at Penguin, which turned into a job there. And on and on … connections from one experience led to opportunities for another.

After meeting and marrying my British husband, I still live in England, but I’m now in a small town in Somerset. I have twin daughters who just turned seven. One of the main concerns I have for them and for their future is about how they are going to navigate a world that has been built for the convenience of (mainly white) men.

Becoming a mother, in many ways, closed down so many work-based opportunities for me. My husband’s demanding career meant that I knew that most of the childcare responsibilities would fall on my shoulders. We had moved shortly before the twins were born, which meant that I didn’t have a network to rely on. With most of my family and friends hundreds (mostly thousands) of miles away, I felt isolated in a way that drained any feelings of hope. I left my job as an editor at a major UK-based charity, focusing solely on raising our girls. I felt adrift for a while, unsure of whether or not my brain still held any knowledge (or value).

A few years later, when a friend from university recommended me for some freelance editing at the agency she worked for, I felt nervous and excited. Eventually, I got back into my stride and remembered that, although I was “the most important person” to our daughters, I still could do my thing out in the work world, too.

That first freelance job led to even more connections, which helped me develop contacts (and contracts!) that allow me to remain somewhat sane while trying to balance work and raising kids. Still, I’ve been having so many conversations with female friends recently about the demands we women have placed on us these days. Traditional workplaces, even when they have “family friendly” policies, don’t always allow you to have the balance you need — especially when men aren’t, generally, expected to carry as much weight in the world of raising kids. Many of those workplaces weren’t built with women in mind. As mothers, we’re constantly pulled between the expectation to work as though you don’t have kids and to raise your kids as though you don’t have work. It’s a mind-blowing level of impossibility that leaves my head spinning.

All of my experiences have led me to this one conclusion: I simply could not and cannot do this alone — and you don’t have to either.

Freelancing opens up opportunities, but having a group — especially a group of women — who know what you’re going through and can have your back is invaluable. I know I would not have survived seven years of parenthood without my group of girls (even though I wished they all lived just around the corner instead of miles and miles away). Whether they’re going to networking events with you, telling you about job opportunities, letting you vent, or helping you with childcare, having that support seems to be the only way to make it through a system that wasn’t built for us.

Many of us were raised to think that, if we just tried hard enough, we could do anything — and, conversely, if we weren’t meeting our (often impossibly difficult) goals, we just weren’t trying hard enough. But that’s not true. We all need someone to push us and give us that reminder sometimes. I know we can’t just sit around and wait for policies and corporations to change, but together, we can try to shape a world that works for us.

I know that not everyone has access to the opportunities I have. I realize that I come from a position of privilege, in spite of growing up in a house that struggled with money and coming from an area of St. Louis that many people think of as “disadvantaged”. But I’ve told you all of this background info about me so you can see that I haven’t gotten here on my own. I have had an insane number of people who have lifted me up and helped me get to where I am today. Recognizing that I stand on the shoulders of thousands of people only makes me want to reach back down and give the next person a hand up, hopefully building a better future — and a better path — for generations to come.

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