I went to a couple of parties recently, both on the same day.
Some friends of my older sister have an annual bash, lunch in the garden (the weather has always been kind) with everyone kicked out at 6.00pm. They invite their cohort from university. They were an ambitious generation, maybe even a greedy one, at one of England’s two oldest universities so it’s a pretty smart cohort.
It used to be smarter. There are few creatures on the planet as sleek and enviable as ambitious, well educated professionals in their thirties when the education was Oxbridge or Ivy League, and the professions are politics, money, ‘business’ or the law. In those days an understated and very English competitiveness floated in the air like the smell of oil seed rape.
Now most of them have celebrated their 50th birthdays. The successful ones are looking back on their decision to retire early and feeling smug, and the less successful ones are aware that retirement is more likely than promotion. Mind you, none of them are what you would call unsuccessful. The fact that the cars are Volvos and Beemers rather than Jags and Mercs is a symptom of maturity, not poverty.
There are still flashes of the old competitiveness. They swap stories of when they were in Hong Kong, buying companies or closing them down or whatever, but it’s a much gentler group now than it was a while back. Interestingly, and to their credit, they all seemed to be with their original partners, their engagements celebrated almost 30 summers ago with champagne picnics while punting. The women were successful in jobs which are academically demanding and which may have some status but which are not excessively paid, they are neither social climbers nor professional leaders. The men have had more material success than the women, but then they have not had a glass-ceiling or motherhood to contend with.
The second party later that evening was a group of young medics, mainly junior doctors, some 25 years younger. Newer to each other, with less history and experience, looking at their ambitions from the blunt end, but still they were fabulous creatures: sexy, good looking, intelligent, talented, witty and hard-working.
However, one of the young men commented on the compulsion that the young women have to be brilliant AND physically fit AND beautiful AT ALL COSTS. They are indeed young goddesses, lovely and talented, but they seem much more driven than their mothers and aunts. The generation in between are smashing the glass ceiling, and these young amazons will be running the medical profession in twenty years time.
I don’t know. What do I know? Looking back myself, I see that my main ambition in life has been to avoid boredom. Most of the time I’ve achieved it.