I recently finished my PhD on opting out. For those of you who follow the media, especially in the US, there has been quite a lively debate on opting out during the past decade or so. However, based on these debates it seems the jury is still out regarding whether or not opting out really is a phenomenon, or whether this just is something created by the media, as yes, it’s a good story and it sells. Especially in this age of reinvention, of finding your dreams, of longing to be somewhere else doing something else.
However, the debate has largely missed something very important. While the debate has mostly been about women who leave their careers to stay home full time with their kids, it’s completely missed that this might, in fact, be a contemporary and societal phenomenon. Actually, I tend to agree with the skeptics that claim that there is no evidence that women are opting out in any large or rising numbers to quit work altogether. I think the trend is about something else.
It’s about both men and women, and it’s about leaving mainstream, sometimes traditional ways of working and living to create lifestyles where one can live and work on one’s own terms, creating one’s own definition of success. I think contemporary individuals increasingly don’t want to do things in a certain way just because that’s the way it has always been done or because that is what is expected of them.
For the women in my PhD, this meant opting out of masculinist career models in order to opt in to new ways of living and working (some became entrepreneurs, some went back to school to retrain and then work in another area, some stayed in the corporate world but with a completely new mindset and attitude, and some started working on a PhD…) in a way that felt meaningful, where they had a sense of control over their lives and their time, and where they felt that they could finally be themselves.
So I received my PhD from the University of South Australia and as a result I have gotten quite a bit of media attention in Finland, where I live. This seems to be a topic people are very interested in, so I decided to start this blog about opting out, about doing it on your own terms, about creating your own definition of what it means to be successful. It’s about the changes we see in society, about creating workplaces that don’t just follow old structures, but that make room for new and different ideas of how to work and how to combine work with other areas of life.
I plan to update this blog regularly, so welcome to The Opting Out Blog. I hope this can be a platform for thoughts, ideas, and discussions on opting out.
Look forward following your blog. This will be interesting. Best of luck!
This is really interesting to me and I look forward to your sharing more ideas and opinions. Do you think opting out or opting in is reserved for those of a certain economic class or holding social privilege (like attaining a particular academic qualification) or do you see it spread out across a population regardless of socioeconomic status?
Thank you for your best wishes, Mikaela, and your comment, Kate! That is a very relevant question. Socioeconomic status is certainly a relevant issue. I don’t think people who are struggling to keep food on the table worry about what their definition of success is or if they are working on their own terms or not. However, I also believe that it is a myth that opting out is only done by women with wealthy husbands who support them. Since opting out, according to my definition, means opting in to something else, this something else may and often does generate an income. For many of the women I have interviewed for my research, opting out altogether and not working at all has not been an option. I think there are many ways you can opt out and many things you can opt out of. As I see it, it is more of a mind set, and that is something that is possible for different people of different socioeconomic status.