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Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

how do you make it work?

By the time I got through five seasons of Mad Men over a period of five weeks last summer, the sheer seduction of going to work was as titillating as Don Draper’s absurd handsomeness. After nearly two years out of the workforce, managing home life for free as opposed to managing a staff for pay, I started feeling displaced.

I realized Mad Men awoke two strong desires:  find the perfect shade of matte red lipstick and to get back to work.  I know, a woman being inspired to go back to work by Mad Men is like being inspired by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for true friendship.

The richly drawn workplace as a protagonist conveyed to me many reasons I missed it, not the least of which being income.  I watched Mad Men and I was jealous of the pretend paychecks of pretend television characters. Uh-oh, thought I…Being with my girls was a huge reason for leaving work. Turning into a fruitcake wasn’t part of the strategic plan. I was so confused. My pencil skirts and heels stared out of my closet at me in dismay, shoved to the back. My girls looked at me with love, but now had full-time schedules busier than mine.

So after digesting 600 hours of seduction and drama, I acknowledged my own need to get back out there, minus the constant smoking, scotch at 10 in the morning and deception, of course. I got my resume together, figured out exactly what capacity I could handle now that I had a deeper connection to home and pushed the search button for a job. It took more time than I thought and I worried a lot. After my Mad Men addiction, it seemed everything around me was about work. Billboards, movies, magazine ads, the news, bustled on about 401k planning and success.

Television commercials revolved around two archetypes: the working woman I was no more and the smiling mom washing the floor. Note to advertisers: listen to Carol Channing sing “Housework” on the old album “Free to be You and Me.”

Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.

Your mommy hates housework,

Your daddy hates housework,

I hate housework too.

And when you grow up, so will you.

 I found that the spectrum of notions or stereotypes of moms are all just that: notions. Everyone is in a unique situation and all have admirable goals. When I landed a job, my fellow moms were utterly supportive, offering to pick up kids if I had a meeting and to generally pitch in. Their kindness and lack of judgment made me cry with appreciation.

I am awed by the abundance of educated, dynamic women I’ve met in the last two years who surrender income and recognition (let’s face it, do you get a bonus at the end of the school year for all of your good work?) to totally orchestrate their family life. Now that I have done both, I have a strong opinion about “Staying at Home” – one of the dumbest, insulting labels. It’s very similar to going into work and when you are at home, it’s never to eat bon bons.  It requires self-discipline, drive, driving, being driven, scheduling acumen, endless patience, realizing a threshold for boredom, navigating the politics of one to three separate PTAs and understanding the teaching methods of sometimes a dozen educators.

working_womanThe paycheck is the comfort of being absolutely available for those you deeply love. My dearest friends devote themselves fully to occupying the parallel universe that makes the world hum while others go into offices. It’s just that for me, being with the kids and chores all the time messed up my equilibrium and the darlings were starting to notice. Like too-tight yoga pants with unflattering panty lines, my increasing irritability was just as evident.

In my new career there are no drama-drenched glitterati of Mad Men, but there is a sense of belonging to a tribe with pay. I do not leave my experience of the last two years empty-handed. I feel far more connected to life. I’ve met new friends as close to me as family. My “Stay at Home” friends buoyed me through storms as they wrapped their own minds around their own bobbing futures. They supported me through my worry and cheered for me on my first day. On my days off we’ll get caught up at the pool. We are forever connected in my mind, in a special way, as they guided me through the complexities of not going to work.

As for those gorgeous imaginary suits and pocketbooks of Mad Men that got my work engine roaring, they’ll always be a part of me too. It’s funny what a blazing red lip will do for you as you clutch an impressive first-day agenda. Finding a job takes time, but I did it.  And speaking of time, or a time machine, I look forward to the next season of Mad Men which I will watch in real time, after work.


  1. Author’s gravatar

    Don Draper and Roger Sterling, the hard drinking, endlessly smoking, womanizing partners in Madmen are fascinating and their stories are instructive, but not nearly as much as two seemingly secondary characters.

    The real hero (heroine) of Mad Men is Peggy Olson, the mousey, thoughtlessly trodden-upon copywriter who figured out how to break into the male-only world of 1960’s Madison Avenue. She started the series with absolutely nothing going for her except drive, intelligence and creativity. And those qualities were well-disguised. She was a secret unwed mother, institutionalized over a mental breakdown with an oppressive family. Nobody would have bet on Peggy in 1960.

    The number two heroine of the show is Joan Holloway, the office manager. She built her rise upon the shaky foundation of an affair with Roger Stirling. But along the way, she figured out how to make herself indispensable to the company, and eventually parlayed a crisis turned opportunity into a full partnership that none of Madmen would ever have offered her in normal times. By 1968, Joan has reinvented herself. But she knows that she is still not an equal.

    Both women took enormous risks and paid a high price in humiliation and regret. There’s a lot to be learned here.

    We saw the world changed during those several seasons of Madmen and change created winners and losers. Peggy and Joan were, by some standards, the biggest winners. So far.

    I hear that Season 6 is looming around the corner. Hope so. I’ll be watching in real time also.

    Cliff Tuttle

  2. Author’s gravatar

    While Madmen makes for great melodrama remember that Olson and Holloway are fictional characters. Below is a biography of a real-life character from the 60s Madison Avenue era. Women weren’t as downtrodden as Madmen would have us believe.
    Mary Wells, whom most of us that grew up in the 60s, will be remembered for the famous “What ever shape your stomach is in” Alka Seltzer commercial. Below is a biography of Wells found on the Internet.

     Founder, Wells Rich Greene
    Known for her exceptional style and charisma, Mary Wells Lawrence made Wells Rich Greene into a creative powerhouse that reigned for more than 30 years. Her star quality certainly rocked Madison Avenue, but more importantly, her intelligence and substance forever changed the advertising industry. 

    Before founding her agency, Lawrence was a senior partner at Jack Tinker and Partners, where she brought about “The End of the Plain Plane” by painting airplanes for Braniff and dressing the airline’s hostesses in daring Pucci uniforms. She also directed a campaign with whimsical commercials for Alka Seltzer including “Alka Seltzer on the Rocks” and “Whatever Shape Your Stomach’s In” a commercial of funny vignettes, both of which changed the way the public viewed the product and revolutionized that industry. It was also at Tinker that she promoted taking two Alka Seltzers rather than one for better relief and quickly doubled its sales. This idea was used by her own agency, Wells Rich Greene, with great success in the long-running “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz” campaign. 

    Lawrence’s extraordinary talent attracted a roster of blue chip clients such as Procter & Gamble, Ford Motor Co. and Ralston Purina which had been the exclusive province of the male-dominated advertising industry. Under her direction, Wells Rich Greene created some of the most famous advertising slogans ever crafted: “I Love New York,” “Quality is Job 1,” “Try It, You’ll Like It,” and “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” to name just a few. 

    She broke every rule in the book for packaged goods, service businesses and automobile advertising. Her longtime interest in and knowledge of the theater and acting led her to change the industry’s approach to the television commercial. She introduced film and theatrical techniques, turning the television commercial into a mini-movie: 60 seconds of visual entertainment with the product as the star. 

    Long before people were called strategic planners, Lawrence was visiting the client’s factory, checking out retail stores, reading sales reports and analyzing stacks of consumer magazines for trends and ideas. 

    In 1969 Advertising Age named her one of the top 10 newsmakers of the 1960s. Quite an accomplishment 
    considering she did not start her agency until 1966. She also was inducted into the Copywriter’s Hall of Fame. Her impact was so profound that she was selected by Vice President Rockefeller to be a member of his Commission on Critical Choices for America. President Ford invited her to become a member of the President’s Council on Inflation, and he selected her to represent Business at the Economic Summit in Washington, D.C.

    Also in 1969 Lawrence was cited by Who’s Who of American Women as one of the 11 women who have made a significant contribution to society. Lawrence hired what she defined as the best and brightest to work at her agency and was never gender-biased in doing so.

    She raised the standards of quality with a blazing originality that changed the very nature of advertising. Lawrence instilled in Wells Rich Greene a commitment to public service, which became rooted in the agency’s culture and tradition. Lawrence left the industry in 1990 when she sold the agency to BDDP, a Paris-based international advertising network.”

  3. Author’s gravatar

    For those interested here’s a little information on women in advertising and their roles even as far back as 1907.

    1. Author’s gravatar

      Thank you for providing a little truth to go along with the fiction. I’m glad to know that there were women who succeeded in advertising without going through the rites of passage inflicted upon Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway. I didn’t mean to set myself up as an expert, just to comment on the melodrama presented in Mad Men.

      Cliff Tuttle

  4. Author’s gravatar

    Great post and really interesting perspective on the image versus the reality of a workplace. There are still several industries where many groups still struggle for recognition.

    From the HR viewpoint the show Mad Men is uncomfortable, but of course it is the exact environment that lead to many of the current EEOC regulations.

    Keep us all posted on your experiences!!

  5. Author’s gravatar

    All women work, some paid, some not.

  6. Author’s gravatar

    While I’m not a mad men watcher, I too have experienced both staying at home with the kids and working part to full time. There are so many pros and cons to both as Jennifer points out. I have learned to always ask “do you go to work or work at home?” Thanks for an insightful commentary about parenting. Perhaps I’ll give the scotch at 10:00 am some consideration:).

  7. Author’s gravatar

    I never could get my lipstick to look like that.

  8. Author’s gravatar

    USA Today says Season 6 of Mad Men starts on April 7, 2013.

  9. Author’s gravatar

    Great article, Jen! Sorry I missed it when it first came out! I am happy for you that you jumped back in to the workplace. Having filled all the “labels” myself, I agree with your words whole-heartedly! I appreciate your perspective on this!

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