3.07.2013

WE CAN BE WORLD CHANGERS, GAME CHANGERS, AND DIAPER CHANGERS. WHY I SAY: MORE POWER TO SHERYL SANDBERG

TIME magazine has just released its cover story on Sheryl Sandberg, with an excerpt from her new book. I wrote a column for the issue, but here's the (bit) longer version for readers of Slow Love Life. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I am seriously tired—and heartsick—of hearing from women who have it all that it was all a mistake. That the new generation of women—our daughters!—entering the workplace shouldn’t set the bar so high. That women cannot have it all.

They’re wrong. And they’re not remotely helpful. Women in the U.S. have never had it better. Do we have a long way to go before we are truly equal? You bet. But we are in an enviable position—at least in the eyes of women all over the globe who are fighting for the basic rights we take for granted.

While there’s nothing new about the idea behind Sheryl Sandberg's phrase “lean in,” it has had such traction that it must mean that younger women have heard enough about “drop out.” Most of them know they won't have that luxury, anyway. They’re hungry for a positive message, whether it is “Lean in” or “Grab life” or “Go for it” or, like Mary Tyler Moore, “You’re gonna make it after all…”

So I’m with Sheryl Sandberg.

What makes me qualified to talk about this? I’ve managed a successful career in sexist workplaces and have broken my share of glass ceilings; I’ve supported myself for my entire life; I've raised two feminist and otherwise morally good sons; I’ve successfully managed pleasurable personal relationships, some to their natural conclusions; I have never let a setback keep me down (for too long); and I’m reinventing myself with the best of them.

So first, let's usher some elephants out of the room: the critics.

1.     "Sandberg is rich, white, and privileged so what does she know?"  Her critics’ favorite trope. Note that when rich, privileged, white (or black or Hispanic) men write books about how you, too, can attain success, no one says that their achievements disqualify them as authorities. How do we think Sandburg got rich? She worked hard. She put herself in the right place at the right time. She got lucky--and she capitalized on that luck. She didn’t let anyone get in her face. She found a mate who supported her ambitions. Her journey provides a terrific role model—for some of us. There are never going to be one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges women face in our sexist world—or for any problems. So let’s stop using that excuse not to do some hard listening.

2.     "She’s blaming the victims." Why isn’t Sandberg talking about government–subsidized day care programs and the enforcement of laws that equalize pay—hugely important issues?  Because life is full of conversation. We don't have to pick one, and Sandberg wants to jumpstart another conversation: why shouldn't women look at how they might be sabotaging themselves?

HAVING IT ALL

What do we mean by “having it all?”  Work and love. Freud said it best. The two most important things in life. But what started as a slogan of good cheer and encouragement —You can have it all—has become a lead weight of existential anxiety—Do I want it all? Why was I born a woman?

Women can have it all. We won’t be able to have all of everything at the same time—no one can—but we can live lives rich in variety, broad in range, and high in opportunity. We can be world changers, game changers, and diaper changers. Just like the men. It is much too soon to give up on the ambitions of my generation of feminists.

Here are some lessons from my journey.

1. SOMETIMES A MISTAKE IS JUST A MISTAKE. STAY IN THE GAME.

Women make dumb mistakes—at every stage of our lives. Just like men do, by the way.

Say we’ve established careers and raised children. Then we decide to take jobs that require a grueling amount of travel. We move to cities far from our families. And we miss them, they miss us, and the wheels start to fall off the home carriage. This surprises us? And makes us bitter?

This isn’t an example of not having it all. It is simply a lousy long-term career choice.  Easily rectified—often without seriously compromising a career. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the consequences of life-altering decisions. I made this mistake early in my family’s life, and Anne-Marie Slaughter made it when her children were older. But this doesn’t demonstrate that it is impossible to have brilliant careers and raise families. It demonstrates a  miscalibration of the limits of tolerance and resilience. Useful. Not a lesson in why we should give up.

Yes. Top corporate positions are still disproportionately filled by men. But not necessarily because women are being kept out—though make no mistake, the world is still run by men, and they are still throwing up the barricades. But many women have decided that the old white male definition of success (career above all) isn’t necessarily theirs. And that’s fine. Until, of course, it isn’t—but don’t blame the system when that happens.

2. APPEARANCES MATTER—ALOT OF SUPERFICIAL STUFF DOES

To women at the younger end of careers: If I saw it once, I saw it a thousand times. Young women in my office asking me, tearfully, why they weren’t being taken seriously by their male colleagues? In some cases, the answer was: that guy is an ass and needs to be straightened out. But in so many cases, sadly, as I listened, I watched a young woman squirming in a skirt that was so short I could see her underwear, a top so tight and cropped that she was spilling out of it, heels so high she tottered to her chair.

If you think I exaggerate just spend 20 minutes near the lobby of any major corporation at lunchtime and watch. Or, as recently happened to me, spend some time in the lobby of the Washington Hilton during one or another of the dozens of young national leaders meetings, and watch the young women convening. The fashion parade was shocking. And sad.

Why? And yes, I have asked young women: Why do you think a highly sexualized presentation of self is appropriate?  I always got what I think of as a feminist’s twisted sister of an answer: because I am liberated to dress any way I want. Because I can be sexy and smart. Because I shouldn’t be judged on my appearance.

There isn’t time to go into the thousand ways this is deeply misguided—and how it derails many a career at the outset. Just for a moment, dwell on the metaphor of thousands of young women strapping their feet into shoes that make it comically difficult for them to move forward at all, to say nothing of keep pace.

 Go ahead, be sexy. Make everyone’s day. But in this, as in so many areas of life, compartmentalization is a key survival tactic. There is a time and place for showing it all. It is called the cocktail hour.

3. DO THE WORK

And mid career? I know, or have heard about, so many women who, having opted out of the workplace, want back in. Or they are forced to get in because they (or their husbands) have successfully managed their marriages to their natural conclusion.

Many feel that the chill with which they are greeted, aged 45, when they get to the human resources department is proof of how women cannot have it all. They feel penalized for having been mothers.

No. They are just starting over. They’ve decided to take work and love sequentially. But because they’ve been CEO of their homes, many mid-life returners feel they should be hired straight into the corner office.

The only way to start at the top is to start your own company.

Work is…work. Do the work. 

4. RESILIENCE ABOVE ALL

I used to think smarts reigned. I watched smart people flame out. Then I thought it was only about connections. That, too, has serious limitations. So does luck.

When you get right down to it, success in life is about resilience. Every life well lived is full of failure, both major and minor. We have as much to learn from heartbreak and healing as we do from success—and I part ways with Sandberg here, who has said she doesn't want to hear about failure. That's ridiculous.

What matters most is how we respond to setback, to challenge, to stress and strain. Being resilient often means finding other paths, other means to the same goal.  If your goal is work and love—having it all—then do what you have to do to protect both those things and be nimble about the intricate ballet of daily life as you balance the demands of both.


5. DON’T WASTE TIME PUSHING THE STRING

And life is often string, when it is not a bowl of spaghetti. Limp. Tangled. Pushing on one end of a piece of string does not produce forward movement on the other end. Jobs often become stringy. So do relationships. No matter how much effort you put in, no matter how much brute force you apply, nothing happens. Time to move on.

Women are often loyal to a fault. (Maybe men are too, but I hear and read much more about it from women.) We're loyal to toxic friendships, we're loyal to lousy relationships, we're loyal to terrible bosses. We think we are leaning in. But we are really pushing the string, going nowhere. We have to be better at recognizing the difference, and not wasting time and precious energy.

So my message to young women the world over: Engage. And stay engaged. Lean in--and be clear-eyed about what you are leaning into. Make choices, make mistakes, make moves. Practice resilience. Love. Work. Play. Enjoy, and weep bitter tears. That’s life.


55 comments:

Lindsey Mead said...

As I read these words I found myself nodding fiercely, and also found my eyes filling with tears. I couldn't agree more, and I can't wait to read Lean In. It says something to me - though I'm not sure entirely what, yet - that every time I read about this topic I feel tearful and emotional. There is something about the various identities we all wear that touches a deep reserve of emotion in me, something about how to pursue multiple goals and passions at the same time, even when they seem to lead in different directions. xoxo

Jeannine Roberts Royce said...

When I've spoken about these issues to my daughter, nieces, other young women, and older women, too who are reinventing their lives, my message is always just two words: perseverance and resilience. I believe failure is a coupling with the divine at least as powerful as success. I arrived at these conclusions through direct experience. Your article addresses these issues so beautifully and completely!

dterrydraw said...

Joan Walsh has just published a good article about Sandberg (more precisely, the recent reaction to her book) on Salon.com. I was particularly attracted by the headline (and I'm paraphrasing) "Just because she can't solve EVERYBODY'S problems means she shouldn't address the problems of at least SOME people?"
go to:
http://www.salon.com/2013/03/02/trashing_sheryl_sandberg/

Thanks for your article, Dominique,
David Terry
www.davidterryart.com

Kathryn Pritchett said...

Thanks for your perspective, Dominique. I compare the opportunities and expectations
my daughters have with the ones I had (and their grandmothers and great-grandmothers before me) and think they truly do have it all. But that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle
with many of the same age-old questions about pursuing multiple dreams. I look
forward to reading Sandburg’s book.

Rosa Maria Castaneda said...

Toast to this! Refreshing! Thanks for adding your voice.. I'll soon add mine..

Rosa Maria Castaneda said...

Very well put.. I appreciate this post and it resonates deeply..

Flo said...

"Why do you think a highly sexualized presentation of self is appropriate?"

This may be the only area where Sheryl presents an internal contradiction to the above theory. I've watched her for years, she wears what she wants, and oftentimes, not always, she presents "highly sexualized" for business appointments during business hours. A couple of examples:

http://marketcopywriterblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Sheryl-Sandberg.jpg

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/5329025804/lightbox/


http://www.flickr.com/photos/35169476@N00/5517538797

William said...

I almost see her boobs!

Carren_Jao said...

Thank you for taking the time to share this, Dominique. Seriously, the topic of "having it all" is something that's really been egging me recently and it helps to hear from those who have made their choices, mistakes, U-turns and such.

Cynthia Dale said...

loved this!..especially what you said at the end...loved it!.....my new mantra .....beautiful just beautiful...thankyou sooo much....!

susan greene said...

I like what you wrote and brings to mind this quote from Stepehn copes newest book......."If you don’t find your work in the world and throw yourself wholeheartedly into it, you will inevitably make your self your work. There’s no way around it: You will take your self as your primary project. You will, in the very best case, dedicate your life to the perfection of your self – your health, intelligence, beauty, home, or even spiritual prowess. And the problem is simply this: This self-dedication is too small a work. It inevitably becomes a prison." Stephen Cope

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Mia said...

Well, now this is the Dominique we all know and love, she is back, making us all think and reflect and shed a few tears. The ability to mentor and inspire is such a gift, and when the gift is given the world becomes a better place. Thank You, Dominique for giving us permission to let ourselves off the hook for our "errors" or mistakes.
Yes, to be able to face adversity head on and persevere in the face of it will make you stronger. Practice resilience, the best piece of advice you can give to anyone, especially in these tough times we are facing.
I know this was written for women, but actually I hear the same from men, especially young men who have mothers that have brought them up with sensitivity.

Mia said...

We have missed you David, so happy to see your comment, you have made my day. I like everything to stay the same, and it wasn't without you.

mjhdesignarts.com said...

Dominique. This is post truly gets to the heart of the matter. I'm forwarding it to my daughter and daughter-in-law.
Mary

Judith said...

Resilience and perseverance are key but it all starts with self -confidence —and the guts to take the power when you need to.

Piper said...

Sometimes or maybe most of the time, self confidence comes from resilience and perseverance. The more your exposed to, the more you fail and get back up, the stronger you become which equals self confidence

Christine said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Darlene said...

Wonderful article, Dominique. You hit on everything. I'm with Sheryl Sandberg. I think she is this generation's role model. I started my career in 1965 as a computer programmer. In the sixties and early seventies I was either the only female programmer in the department or the only female programmer on the team. That changed in the mid-seventies as more women entered the work force and technology. The one thing I always felt, in math class, on the job, on a team, in a corporate meeting, was that I had as much right to be there as any man. I felt that way because I knew I could do the job. That's what I think I see in Sheryl Sandberg - she feels she has every right to be in her position because she knows she can do the job. Furthermore, the men she works with know she can do the job. Looking forward to reading "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead."

William said...

Dominique,
Why did you delete the photos posted by someone on here yesterday? They weren't offensive at all and, frankly, seemed to work with the 'conversation'. Just curious.

Darlene said...

William, just a thought. Perhaps the person who posted the photos deleted them. I do that myself. I post something one day, then have second thoughts and delete it or change it. Unfortunately I didn't see the photos.

Jessie said...

I don't see much about the role of men in this wider conversation. We need to include our sons and brothers and husbands and male friends in any movement. If we don't, feminism exists not in the real world, but in isolation.

Mia said...

Oh Jesse, very well put, I was thinking about this myself, I dislike when women get too into themselves, excluding the men in their lives. I know that statement probably will not go over well, but that's the way I feel. My children's generation is so different from mine, equal responsibility between wife and husband, and equal pay, or in a few cases, the gals are ahead. I just am able to see the whole picture, the picture that i am seeing looks as though Dads,and sons do deserve to be included.

Malina said...

I was with you until the dismissive sounding comments about women with absences from the workforce wanting to return to excesively high positions. Women raising children, taking care of elderly parents etc, basically doing the unpaid work of the world, deserve some credit for doing so. I realize the work world only values paid employment but I wish other forms of contribution, which provide benefit to many, were more fully valued.

Piper said...

I agree, very well stated, unfortunately this is something Dominique has never done.
She cannot relate, I've done both, a long career which i left when my kids were 12 to stay at home, doing everything you mentioned and then some.
Let me tell you it takes many more brain cells, much, much more sheer physical and mental stamina to stay at home and run the show, then it does to go to work and earn $150,000.00 a year! And how fair is that???

Darlene said...

I read Dominique's article and I just finished reading the article in Time magazine. So far, what I don't hear Sheryl Sandberg saying is that one of the perks of moving up the corporate ladder is that you can afford to have someone else clean your house and do all the chores. You can afford to have someone else take care of your kids, preferably your husband or another family member, but if that's not an option, paid help. You can afford to have someone else take care of your aging parents, and on and on. Piper, you are correct, it does take more physical and mental stamina to stay at home and run the show than it does to make $150,000.00 a year (or more) by basically sitting in meetings and making decisions. That's the point. Why aren't more women aiming higher? When men do it we oh and ah and admire them for achieving the good life. When women do it we put them down for not taking care of their own kids, for not taking care of their aging parents, for not cleaning their own house. Have you ever heard of a man getting put down for not cutting his own grass or painting his own house? Double standard.

Jessie said...

Yes, I would disagree with Dominique on this one too. I found some potential employers very dismissive of my choice to be home. I did not lose my skills when I left the paid workforce. On the flip side, a paycheck does not automatically confer wisdom, talent, ability. No, I did not expect to start again where I left off. Eventually I found employers who valued my skills but it was very hard. Shouldn't we as women be open to the value of choice? Understand that not working for a paycheck does not mean not working, not growing, not capable? And if we are dismissive of each other, how do we expect to move forward?

William said...

Sorry gals - I'm not convinced that navigating our complex world of love and work is all that different or easier for guys.

Mia said...

Just a thought here Darlene, to me the answer may be quite simple, how about hormones, I mean estrogen vs. testosterone. I think its part of a women (maybe partly from conditioning), but estrogen really does supply women with the need to nest. Let me say now before I hear it from others, that is for most women, but not all.
Surely we can't find fault with men when they are conditioned to be the bread winner, but also driven by testosterone to succeed in the work place. There again, most men but not all.
I know I have spoken in previous comments concerning this, but roles are changing, but it will be a very long time before we can erase what we have always told our sons by the examples that have been set and by their need to follow them.
Stop and think, have you ever heard a father tell his son, don't get an education and don't be the bread winner and don't take care of your wife and children?

Piper said...

Darlene, I did not expect the conversation to get into mens role vs womens, I should add that my husbands role in my life these days is amazing. He works many hours at work, thats true enough, but he helps me immensely when he is home. His help includes help with the childrens schedules, when he can, and help with my father who lives with us. In fact, he goes above and beyond what I would have ever expected to ask him to do. Helping me with doctor appointments and showers for my father, bed changes, if needed, ect. And let me add he does this with more grace then I could have ever expected. He has been supportive of my decisions, always has my back and never complains about the lack of privacy. I actually know many families in the same situation and they are all very much like mine.

Darlene said...

Piper, You are a very lucky woman. You have a loving supportive husband. I can relate to your taking care of your father, because I am a caregiver for my husband. I, too, worked many years in corporations, but am now retired. I must admit that I got fired up from Dominique's article and the Time article. I also watched the Sheryl Sandberg speech, which I shall post. This speech is supposedly what triggered her to write the book. From what I understand, Sheryl Sandberg wants more woman in top positions at corporations and on their Board of Directors. She thinks if the field were evened (50/50 men/women) it would be a better world. Now you and I know that goal is not for everyone, but we also know women who would jump at the opportunity. Sheryl Sandberg thinks that more women would jump at the opportunity if they had some training, so she's developed a seminar package. Some corporations are embracing this seminar package because they do want a more diverse top layer and Board of Directors. Others, I presume, are not. My point in my previous post was that a we should embrace all women's achievements, be it a beautiful hand-made quilt, raising a large family, or become a COO (Chief Operating Officer. Here is the link to the Sheryl Sandberg speech:

http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

Darlene said...

Mia, you are correct. Our estrogen and testosterone levels, also our skills and abilities, do make us who we are and what we desire. Also our cultural conditioning. Some women are happier when nesting (estrogen?), and some women are happier when working (testosterone?). I do admire the young people today - the young husbands taking care of their children and the young wives working such diverse jobs. It's a necessity in our economic times. but also a forward movement in flexibility. I have two daughters, and no brothers, so I don't know, first hand, what fathers tell their sons, but I do know what my husband told our daughters. He didn't give them the traditional directive that they should get married and have kids. He told them that getting married and having kids was an option, not a necessity. (We have one married daughter with two kids and one single daughter.) Also, I think our sons should strive just as hard as they always have for those top positions in corporations. I also think, if our daughters are so inclined, they should strive just as hard, too. I do think the movers and shakers at the top should insist on a sense of fair play and choose the best person, be it man or woman, for the job and not go all "old boy network" in their choices.

Mia said...

Thanks for replying Darlene, I have sons so I'm probably hearing a different prospective. My older sons are both attorneys, and deptmaent heads in government jobs

Mia said...

I agree!

jweiss said...

I don't think this is true: raising your children and caring for your parents is the "unpaid work of the world." I think we need to be careful what we label as work.
Caregiving, if it's not for your own family, is work for which you are paid but I don't think caring for your own family can be considered work. Who would objectively determine that your caring is work? A paid caregiver has a job description and has to abide by it to get paid....you could be at home caring for your children and ignore them completely, so is that work? And why does getting "credit" from the outside world mean anything when it is your own family you are caring for?

jweiss said...

I agree. And I'm tied of the old trope, "a guy would never do that/say that" as if this is a good example of what you should do....has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps some guys do what they do [that is different than women] out of fear? or a false sense of, I gotta do this cause I'm a guy...stop holding up guys, and their choices, as the exemplar!

Mia said...

I hear what your saying, I hear fear in my son's voices quite frequently lately, as I stated early on in this string of comments, I am not a fan downing men.

Leslie in Portland, Oregon said...

Jweiss, you seem to be confusing "work" and "employment." Managing one's own household, is not "employment" but it most certainly is work (among other things). Whether or not "it is your own family" whose household you are managing, whatever specific training and experience that you have gained by managing a household should be considered part of your qualifications for employment when you seek employment.

Leslie in Portland, Oregon said...

Thank you for this quote, Susan. It sets forth an essential truth.

Leslie in Portland, Oregon said...

Thank you for continuing to pass on (and so eloquently) the lessons from your journey. They are relevant and helpful to us all.

Darlene said...

Thanks, David. I just read the Joan Walsh Salon article. Too bad some women would rather rip Sheryl Sandberg apart than try and learn something from her.

jweiss said...

Like what? What would you show as your specific training and experience? Photos of that great trip you planned to Portland? Your well-organized closet? Your kid got into Columbia? (coulda been something I did...) Having a house and/or children doesn't in and of itself mean you learned/did anything. I really think it's dangerous to bring the competitive language associated with most employment (gotta get to the top!) to the family home and the caring of its members. Caring for my children is my responsibility, not my job. If I outsource it then yes, it is someone else's job. (I've delegated my responsibility.)

slowlovelife said...

Women working from home develop lots of skills that are indeed transferrable. But they have to go to a workplace, demonstrate those, and hone and refine them for an entirely different sort of job. I won't wade into the "unpaid" quality of that home work, because I do think being supported by someone else's wages counts for something, there. How to count it? Well, many divorce courts count it at 50% of earnings.


The transferability of skills is tricky; I experienced it going from magazine work into non profit work. It was nearly impossible for me to convince NGOs that my experience as an executive, and my skills in everything from marketing and communications to creative thinking, could apply to what they were doing. My point is that jobs so often are like Chutes and Ladders, you slide down, and have to take those scrambles up the steps over and over again. I certainly did not intend to be dismissive. I just don't have a lot of tolerance for....spoiled. And sometimes that's what is on display.

slowlovelife said...

Ah, it is a different situation when you LEAVE a long career, and then go back in. You had a track record in the world of work, etc. That's just a different kind of history. And though I cannot relate in the sense that I've supported myself for my entire adulthood, I can certainly relate in the sense that I have hired, and am working with, many women whose lives have had exactly that kind of trajectory, in and out.

slowlovelife said...

Absolutely right: perseverance. A great one to remember. I will add it to my arsenal, a much better way of saying "stay in the game"! Thanks

slowlovelife said...

Thank you so much, Mia! And yes, lovely to have fingers flying over keys here at Slow Love Life...

slowlovelife said...

Actually, they were deleted because we had a problem with the comments section getting stuck. I'll ask developer if it is fixed....no censure intended! Thanks for reminder....

William said...

Just checking since one showed Sandberg at a business meeting squirming in a skirt that was so short you could almost see her underwear and well that image didn't exactly support your essay.

Darlene said...

Uh oh,,,,was that before or after she became a billionaire.

william said...

Please note that I said "almost" see her underwear - which signals it was AFTER she became a billionaire. :)

Darlene said...

Funny!! I needed a good laugh after all this seriousness.

warren said...

Great writing D! To me the key point to Sandberg's work is to choose a man who will BE HER EQUAL IN THE HOME. My observation is that these men are created by their mothers and fathers. All the mothers that are picking up after their sons, 'helicoptering' and doing their laundry rather than showing them how to run the machine are screwing them and their future Sandberg's later in life.

Separately, and not trying to create a firestorm from the very liberated, as a '60s male who lived through all those revolutions, somehow I think the entire discussion got turned sideways when the word 'equal' got thrown around as broadly as it did. I am all for giving women the same title, i.e. achievement. But I think we all lose a lot when we do not celebrate what makes us different. Women are wired differently from men. Coming together to build upon our differences can make us (together) stronger. Kinda like concrete. You know... rocks and sand and some magic pixie dust....?

Mia said...

Very well put Warren, I especially liked " But I think we all lose a lot when we do not celebrate what makes us different. Women are wired differently from men. Coming together to build upon our differences can make us (together) stronger." I have sons so I see and hear alot from the ones that are married, about how competitive their wives are, everything has got to be equal, child care, house work, errands, even who earns the most, the only thing that isn't equal for some reason is the yard work, which has been deemed mens work!
I can tell you if I ever overdid my mothering, it was knocked off pretty quickly, my sons do the family laundry, dishes, meal prep and diaper changing these days, all while being pretty much on call around the clock for their jobs! Recently my son called to say his 3 year informed him he had to iron her dress (on the way out the door) as it was wrinkled! And yes, he ended up pulling out the iron and pressing her dress, while she stood in her little crinoline slip watching....a Sheryl Sandberg in the making!

William said...

Thanks Darlene - at least somebody on here gets me - I know Dominique does but she rarely admits it for obvious reasons - although I'm certain she gets a good laugh out of some of the shit I say on here :)

Jeanne Goldie said...

Love this....I'm at the age where women are seriously missing in the mid/top ranks...and watching as some who stepped out are now fighting to get back in...and finding it very difficult. We really need to help younger women understand the "string effect" and the ramifications of some choices...