Are you sitting comfortably?
Good, then we’ll begin.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to be independent and successful and yearned to leave her somewhat provincial home town for the big bright lights of the capital.
She was determined and hard-working and learnt from her mother’s example that one needed to be self-sufficient. She didn’t want to rely on any other and in her rather strong-willed way, she eventually got what she wanted.
And she did become successful, working at an investment bank and after a faltering start, she became one of the youngest Managing Directors of the firm.
And life was great and she was enjoying the fruits of her labour and she really had no complaints. Even during the financial crisis of 2008, she kept her head, making a pact with her Other Half, that if their employer fell like a domino, they would retreat to the mountains and lead a Simple Life.
But their bank survived, a true Titan of the financial world, attracting awe and vitriol in equal measure. And she and her Other Half continued merrily on their upward path.
Then, one day, it all changed. Puff! Just like that. A little switch in her mind flicked off. Financial success, the rewards that it reaped, didn’t matter anymore. They were mere atom-sized particles disappearing on the horizon.
In a way, it was a skin that she shed. An identity that she was happy to discard. She no longer wanted to be beholden to sales and revenue and profitability.
She didn’t want to kowtow to people she didn’t particularly like, all in the name of Career Progression.
She no longer wanted to board yet another plane, to stay overnight in an anonymous hotel room, to wake up in the morning and for a split second wonder where the hell she was.
So why this sudden change?
Whereas before she believed she lacked any kind of maternal instinct, out of the blue, she was confronted by a desire so strong, a pulse beating deep in her womb – a soul crying out for a body, a life.
She wanted to be a mother, to forge an enduring bond with a little human that was part her and part her Other Half. She wanted to experience maternal love, the highs, the lows, the pain and the suffering of bringing another person into this over-populated, polluted and dangerous place we call Planet Earth.
So she and her Other Half went forth and multiplied. She bore three children. Three girls to be precise. A treasure and a curse, whichever way you look at it. Because girls are disadvantaged from the start.
Females are supposedly the weaker sex. While in the developed world, girls have access to education, their counterparts in the developing world, often do not. Poverty plays its part.
For many families in Pakistan, a daughter is no better than a yoke around her parents’ necks. School isn’t an option when their daughter can earn money as a young domestic servant from an early age.
But then she’ll have to be married off, a handsome dowry raised – a financial burden if ever there was one.
That said, life in the developed world isn’t that much rosier for women. While we have access to education and a whole host of careers, we are still marginalised, bullied or abused. Just take a look at social media and the insecurity it engenders.
We are first judged by our looks; the grey matter in our brain comes a distant second. In the arts, sport, commerce – you name it – women are compensated less than their male counterparts.
And to make matters worse, some of us are overcome by a wish to have children, putting a spanner in the works and stalling that thing called Progress. Many mothers go back to work either out of necessity or a desire to fulfil their career ambitions.
And I wholeheartedly salute those who do because I think it’s a feat to balance motherhood and a career. To all the working mothers out there, I’m in awe and I think you’re brilliant.
I knew I wouldn't be able to have a career in finance and have children. Something would have to give, and even though my Other Half would have fully supported my career, knowing myself like I do, my job would have still been all encompassing.
I wouldn’t have been prepared to go part-time, to leave the office bang on the dot at 6pm, or to travel less. I wouldn’t have been prepared to switch off, period.
The children would have lost out, reared by nannies 24/7. And then what would be the point of having children?
So yes, I gave up one career. Correction: I had the luxury to give up a career (something I’ll be eternally grateful for), to embark on another: parenthood. The toughest job known to humankind. And one that comes unpaid.
Yes, you get hugs, kisses, laughs, which are priceless, and as my cousin said to me, the wisdom you gain from having children is the most precious thing in the world.
But equally, there’s the food thrown in your face, the exorcist vomits, the explosive poops, the screaming, the tantrums, the vitriol flung at you.
You are simultaneously their idol and Public Enemy Number One.
I also lost that thing called financial independence. I will hold up my hand and proclaim at the top of my voice that it galls me.
I absolutely hate – with a capital H – being dependent on my Other Half and that my current account is barren.
While I don’t have a husband who pathologically monitors my every expenditure, I miss the freedom that comes with having my own income stream.
And, moreover, I still can’t come to terms with the fact that I’m unable to share the financial burden of our household.
And here’s another conundrum: how, as a woman, do I pair giving up my career with the goal of encouraging my daughters to become independent women? They are blissfully unaware of my life before they arrived on the scene.
As far as they’re concerned, from time to time I sit in my study, typing away on my computer, doing what, they haven’t the faintest idea.
While I love writing and it’s something I can happily do at home, any income I may accrue will hardly pay for a sock, let alone two.
Yet at the same time it engages the few remaining grey cells in my brain and it’s fulfilling. Having children has unlocked the door to an avenue that I wouldn’t have explored if I’d continued in finance.
And in all honesty, being outside of that world, I feel more confident and secure than I have ever felt before. My little ones have given me perspective, helped me cut the wheat from the chaff.
There are far more important things in life than a look-at-me career and the money that goes with it.
And that, my friends, is key.
Being an independent and successful woman isn’t about maximising one’s financial wealth. Nor is it the volume of likes you get on social media and a need for self-display, ad-nauseam.
It’s about being confident, knowing who you are, seeking out what you’re good at and doing your very best at it. It’s about being able to fight for what you want, to stand on your own two feet, and to think differently and independently from everyone else.
And if you have those things in your armoury, you can fight off the misogyny and do very well indeed. You can raise your head above the parapet and stand tall and have skin thick enough to shrug off the swipes thrown your way, of which there will be many.
A confident woman is seen as smug; a confident man, isn’t. A woman needs to be likeable to win affection (Hillary Clinton); a man can behave like an abhorrent chauvinist pig and still win over hearts and minds (Donald Trump).
A woman who speaks her mind, who dares to expose a wrong is often gagged (see the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal).
It seems that women are more susceptible to criticism than men, that they have a longer way to fall and people will happily watch them fall and fail.
Men can trip up and show their ugly side and the public will forgive them (Bill Clinton, Mel Gibson), but can the same be said of women?
What about the prospect for girls living in Pakistan, a country which once boasted a female (albeit flawed) leader? This is a country where people in power are content to watch women be treated like dirt.
Honour killings still continue and women who are raped are less the victims and more the ones who committed a wrong.
In so many ways the human race has progressed, but all over the world, women remain second class citizens.
In that regard, I’m glad I’ve given up my first career so that I have the time to nurture my girls, to give them the wherewithal to survive in this wretched world. If I was working in finance, I wouldn’t have been able to.
Or at the very least, I would’ve probably scheduled 15 minutes each day during which I’d expect my girls to perform like dancing monkeys and tell me everything that’s going on in their life.
But children don’t work like that. They’re not robots, who, at the push of a button do as you command.
It could be during our journeys to or from school, at mealtimes or bedtimes, or, more often, at the most inopportune time that my daughters, unprompted, will talk about something that happened to them.
A passing comment giving insight into the depths of their complex minds, that if I was preoccupied with work, I would’ve missed. Those are the things that I treasure.
And yes, there are plenty of occasions when, my head spinning from the screaming and wailing and general complaining, I yearn for my life back in the office far away from the craziness.
Then again, I know my daughters wouldn’t bat an eyelid if I had a great job nor would they acknowledge the fat-cat salary. They may, however, remember when I read them Harry Potter at bedtime, and when I told my oldest child that in a few years time she’ll be running rings around Mean Boy from school.
My middle daughter may well recall the time I broke every speed limit known to man to race her to the hospital after she cracked her head on the coffee table.
And one day, I hope they’ll remember that alongside the tenets of kindness and generosity, their mother encouraged them to believe in themselves, to give their best, to fight, and to never ever give up.
If they don’t, then I would have failed as a mother, and that would be a very bad thing indeed.
Have you had to make a significant career change to follow your dreams? Share your story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org