Fountain reflections

Hipster fashion girl in green skirt listening music outdoor
“Relax and take the long view.”

I see the young businesswoman sitting by the courtyard fountain, checking her phone and looking a bit chagrined. She looks up at the sky, mentally chewing on something. It’s not a happy look.

I note the slump of her shoulders, the tight corners of her mouth.

And I am taken back a couple of decades.

I am 28. In grad school, juggling a hefty job and earning a masters degree at a prestigious university. I sit exactly where this young woman sits. I am her, with lighter hair and a better suit.

The name of the building has changed; Aon has taken over where Amoco used to be. But the fountains, the sculptures, the row of flags—all those remain. This building was a stone’s throw from the corporate headquarters where I worked for years. And its courtyard was a favorite quiet spot for me.

I wonder why the corporate life I have chosen for myself is so tough. I am too young and green to realize that I’ve joined a corporation that is one of the last bastions of sexism in the 1990s—an auto-related industry.

While I have earned a begrudging respect from many of my older male cohorts, I still am asked to hold a chart at chest level so an executive can “see it better.” When I instead give him a withering look and toss the chart on his desk, he feigns innocence and asks what is wrong. I tell him nothing but his eyesight. This man, married for umpteen years to a woman who has never worked and I am fairly sure has no idea he says things like this to young female executives, is such a relic. A dinosaur. I know this. I know the world is changing. He seems not to be aware. But that will change. There are still too many like him and it wears on me, day after day.

I hope, as I look at this young woman today, that the dinosaurs are now mainly extinct. That her chagrin does not come from the sexism women of my generation fought hard to ignore.

I look down the road and see the high-rise I stayed in when first visiting Chicago as a recent college grad. My boyfriend at the time lived on the 40th floor. I remember his mother looking at me as if I was some country girl from Ohio, out to steal her baby away. When I realized I had forgotten to pack a slip to wear under my dress, the closest store with said item was Saks Fifth Avenue. Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore, was my first thought. My second was, how the hell do I pay for this slip on a magazine editor’s salary? It cost more than a week’s groceries.

Aerial Chicago downtown skyline at night
Aerial Chicago downtown skyline at night

The city excited and terrified me at the same time. The honking horns, the pedestrian darting just feet in front of my car, the impatient drivers who all seemed to race toward an urgent meeting.

And I see, my 40-something-year-old self sees– oh yes–how far I have come. As I look back on the young exec me who wonders what she could be doing to further her career, the young grad me who is wide-eyed at the big city, I want to sit both me’s down and counsel them. To tell the exec: “It’s not you. It’s the environment. You’ll move on. You will get that graduate degree and move on to more progressive companies, more modern teams. You will win awards, get your teams recognition, deliver stellar results. Relax and take the long view.”

I want to tell the young grad that she could improve her taste in men as well as potential mothers-in-law. And I say that with a smile. She wouldn’t listen anyway. I’d add that the wide eyes will remain but the fear will go away. To tell her the sense of wonder at all that is new and novel will remain. And to enjoy it, hold on to it, embrace it. Because those eyes of wonder are precious.

Rarely do I give myself credit. Rarely do I see the distance I’ve crossed. I always feel if I can do it, whatever “it” is, anyone can. But today, I fought back tears as I realize the person I have become.

I thank those young girls, my former selves, for being who they needed to be, doing what they needed to do to get us to where we are today. Happiness will come. As well as children. A modicum of financial security. And the independence that the young exec so craved. She will work for herself and be her own boss, control her own destiny as much as she can.

I sit briefly, before heading to my meetings, and close my eyes. Listen to the fountains, the sound of the wind. It could be 20 years ago, easily.

But it’s not.

I smile.


32 Comments Add yours

  1. I work in a place where men are already assumed to sexual predators and harassers. I don’t know when did this happen or how, but regardless of what happens now I myself make sure that I stand a good distance away from my female colleagues so that I don’t get accused of indecency. More so because I’m afraid and I really find it wrong I am just standing there talking, just like I would talk with anyone.

    I am not saying that bad things didn’t happen, or sexism doesn’t exist. It did and it will still continue to be a traumatic experience for many such young execs, but now the scales have tipped in the opposite direction instead of becoming stable.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m sure it’s not easy to be a make under those circumstances. I always tried to give the benefit of the doubt.

  2. bladenomics says:

    I am younger than the lady by the fountain. I see myself and probably hear what others passing by me would be thinking about me. Lovely post.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for stopping by my blog and for commenting. I certainly hope if you’re younger than her that the work world you will work in only continues to get better . . .

  3. It seems to me (as the saying goes) ‘the harder you worked, the luckier you became’ … well done on a successful career path as I know behind the scenes how much you have earned that success.

    PS. I laughed about the ‘slips’ (we called them petticoats) which my mother always insisted I wear. I too remember blushing one of the first times that I didn’t wear one and one of my mother’s friends whispered in my ear, wondering if I had realized that I didn’t have one on. I have not worn one for decades.

    1. candidkay says:

      I haven’t either, Elizabeth! It datws me to put it in there but it is oh so true. I remember the days when you’d never go without one.

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    Nice post as always Kristine. I think that there’s a difference though. Today’s young people are growing up in a more uncertain world where progression – even stability- in one’s career is no longer a given. Our generation were perhaps the luckiest in that regard. I couldn’t, in all honesty, tell my children that things will work out. I hope they do.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, Roy. I wish I could say I had that. I came of age in the 90s, where layoffs became a household word. I think younger workers today are right to demand a work/life balance!

  5. Inese Poga Art plus Life says:

    This certainly was an interesting post to read. I never had it like that, and I’m thinking why not. Everything in my life happened very strangely, unexpectedly and not in the way one would imagine. I’ve been always wondering how is that to follow right away some pretty sure path and to start a job in a very strict environment. Well, it was probably tough. I had to fight for everything, including my life after an accident, I’m soon 60, but I don’t think one ever knows which was the right way to choose. At some point, I’m very happy, nothing is predictable in my life and it never has been, but I am slightly envious when I’m reading about a woman like you who just got higher on the career ladder and even won awards, etc. Amazing.

    1. candidkay says:

      It sounds like you’re very resilient or you would not still be here, where you are today. I’m sure you’re a strong woman in your own right with plenty to be proud of. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Oh, what a great post Kristine! I can so relate. 🙂 Celebrating you and the person you have become…the woman you are becoming and the beautiful soul that you are and always will be!

    Awesome writing, thank you for sharing!

    Blessed be. 😀 ⭐ ❤ ⭐ 😀


    1. candidkay says:

      NadineMarie, you make me blush:). I’m so glad you can relate! That’s why I write. Thank you for the celebration! That’s the part I need to make sure happens more often.

      1. You’re most welcome Kristine! 🙂 I think most of us do not celebrate as much as we deserve to be celebrated!

  7. Jackie says:

    Really wonderful post. I’m thirty and just quit my corporate job a few months back so I relate to your 28-year-old self a bit. I hope that twenty years from now I’m as wise as you are 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Hang in there and follow your gut even when it goes against conventional wisdom. There is no one path but the majority will make you think so:).

  8. I love your writing and your way with words! Good job, girl! 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Rachel! I truly appreciate you reading and commenting. Means a lot when you know your words have reached someone.

  9. Sahar says:

    How far you’ve come!

  10. George says:

    Great post. I think, unfortunately, there are still some of those dinosaur’s left out there but they are slowly dwindling. All that you were is all that you’ve become. I don’t imagine, at the end of the day, you’d have it any other way.

    1. candidkay says:

      You are so right, George. I wouldn’t have it any other way , although I will admit to wishing that it had been different or easier at times. I know there are still some dinosaurs lurking out there. It’s unfortunate. But I do have to believe that culture and the rest of us are changing at such a pace that they will not be able to avoid extinction.

  11. It is important for us to contemplate and remind ourselves of where we have been and where we heading now. It’s great you feel empowered and are moving in the right direction. Great reflections Kay.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Hindsight is 20/20, right?

      1. Yes I always say, “Wish I knew then, what I know now” mmmm Never works that way.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I appreciate the kind words and you taking the time to read.

  12. 20 years is a lifetime ago. I was that girl too. We had just got married, moved to Australia and the world was waiting for us to take it. I just didn’t realize how long it would take…
    Lovely post.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes. The time factor. Amazing how in our youth we fail to factor that in:). And that doesn’t seem to change from young generation to young generation.

  13. Amy says:

    It’s extraordinary what twenty years’ experience can bring, isn’t it? Amazing, too, to realize how things have changed and are changing, in the workplace and in the world…

    I so cherish the you that tears up, realizing how far you’ve come… I love the way you continue to learn, grow, push forward, and pick a positive outlook. Way to be, my friend.

    As always, your writing inspires me and touches my heart. xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you for loving me in any way, shape or form:). And for reminding me why I write! Hugs right back ‘atcha . . .

  14. Wonderful. I loved this piece and can relate on all levels. Sounds like you are in a good place. Bravo!

    1. candidkay says:

      I often think, Christine, that we should be able to have a do-over in midlife. To take stock of what we’ve accomplished and try on a different hat. Go back to school for the fun of it or a new venture. All that accumulated wisdom is great but we lose the eyes of wonder sometimes:). Thanks for reading!

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