This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.
Last weekend, I spoke to a group of young women at Princeton University about how to build happy, balanced lives.
I told them, first and foremost, to reject popular culture because everything it teaches about men, women, marriage, work, and family is a lie. I told them men and women may be equal in value, but they are wildly different by nature. I told them the single-most-important decision they’ll ever make is not which career to pursue but who to marry. I told them they can’t switch husbands the way they can switch jobs, so what sense does it make to spend zero time on love and romance and all of their time on school and career?
I told them that yes, their education is important, as is finding meaningful work. But for the majority of women in the room, these things will ultimately move into the background of their lives because the older they get, the more marriage and family will take center stage.
Yes, marriage in America is down. But it is not down among the demographic with whom I was speaking. Eventually, almost all the young women I met will marry and have families. And when they do, their lives will be irrevocably altered. Moreover, what matters most to them will change. Knowing all of this ahead of time is key.
With that in mind, I shared with the young women four ways to build a happy, balanced life. Here they are:
1. Plan ahead.
What do you want? This may sound like a simple question, but too few young women answer it. They think about the next five or ten years, and they think about their chosen profession. But you need to think 20 or 30 years out. What do you envision your everyday life as? What are you doing daily when you’re 40? What kind of lifestyle do you want? Where do you want to live? Decide what your non-negotiables are or what you absolutely know you want, and fit everything else in around it. Accept that when you choose one thing, you can’t have the other. That is the nature of choice.
2. Choose a flexible profession.
The best way to avoid having to choose between kids and career is to choose a flexible profession: one that can be done on a part-time basis or that you can move in and out of easily or that you can do from home. It is much easier to make this happen today than it has ever been, and you will be thrilled you did so when you’re, say, 38-years-old with a couple of kids. Yes, that will rule out some careers. So what?
3. Marry smart.
Marrying smart means not wasting your 20s moving in and out of countless relationships that don’t lead anywhere. When you’re dating, date with purpose. Date to find a mate for life rather than to pass the time. Never marry a man whose values and priorities are not 100% aligned with yours. Finally, do not marry a man who’s not a steady earner. He doesn’t need to be rich, but he needs to be on stable ground financially so that at the very least, you have the option to take care of your babies when the time comes. Too many women ignore this because they were taught to always take care of themselves, which resulted in their ignoring their boyfriend’s earning potential. That’s a mindset that will ultimately come back to bite you.
4. Don’t make financial decisions prior to having kids that demand two incomes.
This cannot be overstated. I had a coaching session recently with a wife and mother who has a two-year-old and is pregnant with her second. She’s a lawyer and currently working full time, but she wants to stay home when her second baby comes. Fortunately for her and her husband, they’ve lived frugally for the past seven years, and as a result, have savings they can draw upon to make it happen. I had another session with a couple in the same boat, only they live in San Diego. In their case, because they live in such an expensive area, they’ll have to move. The trick to not winding up in this boat is to always make purchases before having kids that require only one income. If you make financial decisions based on two incomes, you lock yourself in.
It’s unfortunate we live in a culture that doesn’t support a simple, healthy, balanced life. But we do. We’re too busy championing material success and women’s independence from men. But a truly happy life requires interdependence, or people who depend on each other.
When I spoke of these things to those young women, when I encouraged them to put relationships first, I could swear they felt a little bit lighter. There was a lot of talk about how to make that happen, but at the end of the day, they heard what so few adults tell them: Who you marry, and how that marriage fares, will have the single greatest effect on your happiness and well-being. Ergo, don’t waste your 20s in a series of endless hookups and thinking about your career 24/7.
If getting married and having a family is a goal (and certainly for some, it isn’t), map out a life that puts these relationships at the center of your life and fit everything else in around that.
That is the key to a happy, balanced life.