Is it ok for a smart, motivated, highly educated woman to drop out of the workforce?

Is it ok for a smart, motivated, highly educated woman to drop out of the workforce?


You are told growing up that it is a man’s world, but that you can overcome the cultural obstacles and glass ceilings if you just put your nose to the grindstone and excel. You are told to study hard, work hard, achieve great things, and shatter the gender myths. You enter the workforce and climb up the ladder. You believe that you are making roughly the same as your male counterparts. Work life “is good” in terms of the traditional measures of success.  You achieved, in part, your childhood dreams.


Imagine, amidst this occupational success, that you are at a crossroads. You have a kid. However, you have managed to balance motherhood with “workhood”. Overall, you have succeeded in not feeling guilty about being a working parent. More specifically, you didn’t pay mind to the media obsession with “working-mom guilt”.  There are still more opportunities in the horizon.  Your gut firmly believes there are much more grand things to be accomplished and mountains to climb.


One day you do something you never do. You go to the local “bodega” and you buy a lottery ticket. Say you win a substantial amount. Now what?  Go back to work? Change jobs? Stop working?


This past week, I overheard a discussion about the immorality of educated women not working.  A woman remarked that it is unethical for women that have high levels of education to drop out of the workplace, even if it is to take care of their child.  Unethical?  In my burnout courses, I often “preach” about how “self-care” is an ethical course of action. Maintaining a foothold in the workplace world for the sake of saying one must do so because “I am a woman” does not seem to mesh necessarily with self-care.


I do not exist solely for the purpose of being a propaganda piece. Or to be a token. I can be a role-model to my son and family and mentees. I need not be a role-model for the world as dictated by other’s definitions of role-modelhood.


With that said. I can’t imagine dropping out of the workplace.  My mind and body ache to be visionary and create theories, products and further the betterment of the world.  A million dollars would not move me out of the working world. Although, the question at that point would be what workplace structure is a good fit for my temperament, work-life balance and continued learning needs.  If I could have it all, I have come to realize I would probably be a journalist covering the needs of the marginalized and the underbelly of our lived lives and scripts. Freedom to roam about would indeed be liberating for the mind and soul.


Back to the original question. It is ok?  Just because you have a bachelors, masters or PhD degree does not mean you are a slave to the work-world, or should feel guilty about refusing to conform to some talking head’s political agenda.




16 replies »

  1. I think we gotta do what makes us happy. I quit teaching shortly after I got married (because he came with children 4 and 6, who really needed stability) and I’ve never looked back. I’ve worked from time to time to make ends meet, or to have a marvelous vacation and whatnot, but I love being home with my kids, or days like today, my husband. Love it! If I won the lottery, I’d have the exact same life (with more money, duh! lol )


  2. I so agree. I got so much flack from people who love to criticize my life choice. Of course, they are/were not there to help me when I had small children and a husband deployed, caring for a family member with cancer going through chemo and a young infant with issues and his mother working. I miss the working word a lot especially the money, helping the soldiers and some of the friendship but do not miss the ones who love to criticize..


    • Wow. You have had an interesting, challenging journey and it is so true how those that criticize are not there at 3am to hold ones hand. Resilience, seem to be a very strong woman.


  3. I just finished reading The Way of Women by Helen Luke where she touches up on this subject. When is it that women decide to leave the “man made woke force”? She recounts the story of one of her patients who had no children and decided to leave at the peak of her professional career after a breakdown. She eventually returned back to the work force but only after a long process of therapy with Luke. It is very interesting to me. Here I am dying for work, hard wrenching work and I wonder if in the near future if faced with a family or a man that I love I would leave all for another type of work. The other work, a women’s inner work, although maybe not paid is work nonetheless.

    I think whatever a woman chooses is okay as long she has made a conscious choice. I believe once you receive your education it is up to you to decide what to do with it. Of course keeping in mind that the world needs women in the workforce so that in a near future it can be a man’s and woman’s world, it’ll be nice to balance the scales!


    • I havent read that book. Thanks for sharing. I will go pick that up. We are needed in the workplace to balance those scales 🙂 of course, we need ourselves as well. What an obstacle course we lead.


  4. My first thoughts and thoughts as I continued to read, were that you were going to say, “I’m leaving the workforce.” Fooled me. So this treatise was just that: a treatise. In the end, no matter how much or less education a woman has, it is her choice to decide what she will do with her life. Sometimes life hands us unexpected dishes on the platter, and we have to respond or react in our own best interests as well as the others’ who may be affected by our decisions. It’s not easy. Life is not easy.


  5. If you are a man, women or well educated penguin

    Free choice is our right and if anyone speaks out against you exercising your free will to decide how you live your life, screw them, they don’t know jack about you or why you choose what you decide


  6. Fascinating question Mimi.
    I always am amazed at the fact, people become greatly educated and then go on to become old and die.
    All of that accumulated knowledge goes to their graves with them and unless a book has catalogued all of the learned factors in that life, it is gone until someone else begins the process over again.
    So the implied ‘ guilt’ of dropping out of the workforce (as defined) just should not even rate a mention in the scheme of things.
    Moreover, intelligence gained should be exercised and drawn upon to develop a cultural growth, that is only possible by spreading the wings.
    Containing learned knowledge in a small environment, is the only guilt that any person should feel. I guess that’s why we post, write, debate, and perform. It’s spreading the knowledge virus before the host is departed.B


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