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What Is The Right Advice For Women In Their 20s?


For years, there's been a lot of advice directed at young women about everything, but especially their careers - how to dress for success, how to lean in, how to get that raise - in short, about how to climb the career ladder. But our next guest, TV producer Ali Rosen, says that's backwards. In an essay for Refinery29, Rosen says that young working women have completely lost the plot for the path to adulthood. Her piece is titled "Want To Have It All? Then Do More Of This In Your 20s." And she gives some advice of her own to women who want to find that plot again. And Ali Rosen is with us now.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

ALI ROSEN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So let me set the table. As it were, the genesis of this piece is that you host and produce your own television show about food, and I take it you have a family as well, so many young women see you as somebody with a cool career who they want to emulate. So they are constantly approaching you for career advice. What do they want to know? And what has surprised you about what they want to know all these years?

ROSEN: Young women today want careers that they find interesting, motivating, stimulating. So I think they see my career as something that's interesting. And, you know, I end up asking them questions about their life. I mean, OK. So if you want to be in media, you know, do you understand the salary that comes with that? Do you understand that sometimes, you know, it's hard to have children because you have to be on call all the time?

And what sort of shocked me was when I would talk to women, mostly in their early to mid-20s, they would say to me, like, well, I'm not interested in that part. Like, I don't care about a mortgage, and I'm not thinking about children yet. And it just surprised me because I'm a woman now in my mid-30s, and, of course, so many of my friends and myself have - we - you know, women struggle as they get older with not having planned for their 30s. You know, we plan for college. We plan for graduating. And then we don't really plan for how to be an adult.

MARTIN: You said that young women have been sold a bill of goods - and I want to focus on that because without reading your piece - if somebody hadn't read your piece at all, and somebody heard you say that, they might think that you're like a young Phyllis Schlafly telling women to...

ROSEN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...Stop all this nonsense about working and having a career when true happiness lies in babies and domesticity. So that's not what you're saying.


MARTIN: So tell me why you say that young women have been sold a bill of goods.

ROSEN: Yeah. Well, I think that a lot of it is, you know, generational trauma, really. I mean, people forget that, you know, women have only had the right to vote for 100 years. So the idea of women working and having children - it feels normal to us and to women of my generation. But it's really new, and I think today, the idea needs to be, how are you going to try not to have it all - because I think that's such a cliched phrase - but how are we going to fit in the things that we want to do and have them work together?

You know, if you are 25, and you have a job where none of the women above you have children, and you want to have children, then how is that going to work for you? Maybe think that through. And if you don't want to have children, you know, are you building the life that you want?

And I think that women think that if they start thinking about that in their mid-20s, it's too early, when really it's not ever too early to start considering what you want out of your career and out of your entire life. Where do you want to live? How much money do you want to make? What kind of job do you want to have? I mean, those are things that you have to plan for. And obviously, you can't control everything, and you can't definitely have children and find a great mate if you want to. But you can work towards something.

MARTIN: So you have a kind of a checklist and exercise that people should conduct with themselves to think about these questions. So tell me some of the things on your checklist.

ROSEN: Yeah I think the first and most important thing is, look at the women in the place where you work, and do you want to have their lives? It's not a judgment on them. It's not whether they've made the right choices. It's, would you want to have that career? If not, then perhaps you're not in the right job.

Some of the other ones are just, you know, is your career going to give you as much money as you need to make to be happy? Are you living in the place that you want to live? And is the person that you're dating someone that you would marry? And it just kind of comes down to, like, if the answers to those are no, you need to re-evaluate and try to shift gears.

MARTIN: Not trying to be mean - that kind of seems like common sense. And what you're saying is that a lot of the young woman who call you have not really thought about that. They'd, like, oh, I want to be a blogger. But I want to live...

ROSEN: Right (laughter).

MARTIN: ...On Central Park West in New York and have a fabulous apartment with two bedrooms. And you're, like, no, that costs $12 million.

ROSEN: Right. I mean, I think what ends up happening is people are living, like, in a studio with three friends, and they're making, you know, enough money to do that. And I'm, like, OK. But if you have children, how are you going to pay for them? How are you going to do these things? And, you know, I'm in media, so I talk to women all the time about media and food. So if you're interested in media, are you willing to take the salary that comes with media, which - you know, some people make a lot of money in media, but the vast, vast majority of people don't.

If you need more money, are there other areas that could make you happy - you know, being in communications, working in PR is a similar field? Or when we talk about food, you know, can you work for a company rather than at a restaurant group where you might not make as much money?

So it's having those realistic conversations of, is this exact thing the only career that you could have? Or if you are a person who likes a little bit more comfort economically, then maybe there's other areas to think about. It sounds obvious, but it often isn't.

MARTIN: Is there any fear, though, in writing this piece that you're encouraging women to dial back? Because, you know, some would argue that the way that women get more choices is to have more power.

ROSEN: Absolutely. And I think that that's a really important point to make. First of all, I'm not advocating for people to have children if they don't want them or say you have to get married. I mean, I think people should do obviously whatever they want to do. But, you know, I can just only give the example of myself, which is I started my career in news production, and I quickly realized that the women that I worked for - I mean, they're, like, unbelievable powerhouses. But the woman that was the boss' boss' boss - her husband was a stay-at-home dad. And I thought, OK. Well, I'm never going to have that situation.

I moved into food, and I worked at a website where it was all men, and there wasn't even maternity leave. There wasn't any opportunity for me. So I was probably three or four years out from having kids, and I knew I wasn't close to that, but I said, I can't keep working here and build a life that I want.

So I pitched my show, and now I do my show, which gives me more flexibility. I actually have more power than I had before because I took a step back and said, well, what is it that I really want? You know, am I just going to sit back and work hard and put my head down? Or am I going to think about what it is that I want to be doing? And do I want to work at a company that doesn't afford me the opportunities to have power and have a family?

So I think it's about having power. It's about planning. It's about looking at the people above you and saying, will those people still give me opportunities even if I decide to have a family or if I decide to move away and go back to my hometown or go to the smaller city that I want to live in or move to the suburbs? I mean, you have to know what you want in order to then fight for the power to get it when it's time to get it.

MARTIN: That's Ali Rosen. She's the host of "Potluck With Ali." She published a piece in Refinery29 entitled "Want To Have It All? Then Do More Of This In Your 20s." We caught up with her in Charleston, S.C., her hometown.

Ali, thanks so much for talking to us.

ROSEN: Thank you for taking the time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.