What Was the Dream Job? by
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With my children, April, 1991

My senior year in college I had dinner at Dan’s parents (still living in Newton, MA) every Sunday night. Gladys might help me with my lesson plans first semester, as I was a student teacher and she was a seasoned one. Second semester, after Dan and I became engaged, we talked about the future. She (later claiming she was joking) told me that if she had to take the last name Pfau, so did I, quite emphatically. She was a tall, commanding presence, with distinct opinions about everything. We grew to be great friends and she helped me tremendously as the years went on. On her death bed, she told me that I was her fourth daughter and I loved her like a mother.

In those early years, we had long debates about the first wave of feminism and “can we have it all”? Can a woman really find a fulfilling, demanding career, be a good mother, and do everything else with her life to find fulfillment? It was, and continues to be, a perplexing question. My in-laws moved away when Dan and I had been married about three years. Then I had no close relatives in the area to look to for advise, or emergency babysitting help as the years went on.

I have written many stories about my career and how I got to various positions, so I will link to those stories (some are quite old now), rather than re-tell them. I was a Theatre Arts Major, graduating with a BA, magna cum lauda, with departmental honors from Brandeis University in May, 1974. I had a secondary education teaching certificate in speech and English. Dan and I married and moved to Waltham, MA a month later. He began graduate school that fall and I needed to find work. I never got a teaching job.

I was not going off to wait tables, audition and try to seek my fortune in theater. I wasn’t a great actress and I needed a steady paycheck. I went to work at the software company where Dan worked, knowing nothing about computers. I did data input, not understanding anything about computers. Over-Educated, Under-Qualified.

From that job at SofTech, I moved to Chicago to get into professional sales, which really better suited me. I stayed 16 months, worked very hard, was quite successful, though there were obstacles along the way. Seven Double Chivases on the Rocks. No doubt about it, it was difficult to be a woman alone on the road, or doing a sales job in those days. But I persevered. I worked for ASI a total of three years, then, FINALLY got to Management Decision Systems, another company founded by smart MIT professors and a few of their students, selling software and consulting services. Here, I found peers and a welcoming work hard/play hard community. The sales cycle was long, the sales typically large. I became their top sales person during my 3+ years there. But I traveled a lot and worked long days. Walt at MDS.

At this point, in 1984, I was trying to become pregnant, which was not happening. After a year of interviewing, I took a job at a start-up company, selling software that could be used as a front-end to the product I sold at MDS. Three of us were hired on the same day, with the same job offer. I, of course, was the only woman. I had the local territory, much smaller than the other two (which I protested and was basically told to pound sand). I tried to hang on to one of my old clients in North Carolina, who had already told me they’d purchase this product, based on my endorsement, but was not allowed. The salesman who did come back with the signed contract told me they absolutely signed because I was with the company. It didn’t matter to this new crew. I became pregnant a month after joining the company, a fact I did not reveal for a while, but I had – not morning sickness – but all-day sickness. When others were concerned that I had the flu and was contagious, I finally ‘fessed up. I told management that I planned to take a four-month (unpaid) leave. They still had not announced how much stock we sales people would be awarded. Finally, just as I began my maternity leave (two weeks before my due date), the stock proffer came through. I was furious. Mine was considerably lower than my two male counterparts. My manager had not defended my work in front of the board despite the fact that I was demonstrably the most successful of the three. 60% of the Revenue, 40% Less Stock. I was 10 days late delivering David, had a difficult delivery, took a while to heal, had little help, then began life with a newborn and a traveling husband. We lived in Boston’s Back Bay and I loved walking everywhere with my baby in his Snuggli or stroller to do my errands, or walking him to the Public Garden to show him the statue of George Washington on horseback, or the ducks in the pond (he was too young to pay attention, but it was all wonderful for me). I determined I would not go back to that company.

We moved to Newton and just as David turned 18 months old, I decided I was ready to go back to work in February, 1987. Dan mentioned this to someone at his office who ran a series of paid executive conference programs. He already had one working mother (a former employee of his) working for him and invited me to come in and interview. He told me that it was all telephone work, I could do the work from home and it would be easy. But I’ve always felt the need to be in front of people to be successful. Lynn, the other salesperson, had already held many of the companies where I had contacts, so for me, the work entailed travel (Dan and I now both traveled) and I quickly hired a live-in nanny, with mixed success. Jill-SharonWho Slept Here?

We couldn’t both be out of town at the same time. David wouldn’t let me touch him if I’d be away. It wasn’t a good situation, so I contacted a former manager, now working in Waltham at Cortex. They had been in business for ten years but still functioned like a start-up company. They has just received a new infusion of cash and were looking for more salespeople. Barry wouldn’t be my supervisor but facilitated an interview. Drew asked if I planned to have a second child. I told him that was an illegal question but yes, I did, just not immediately. I began work there in Oct, 1987. I found the place incredibly disorganized, with no idea how to approach clients or talk about what their product was or the benefits thereof. No wonder they still had a limited client base. I also found that having a young child at home was a great distraction. I would make a grocery list at my desk; think about running errands on my way home. Being SuperWoman is HARD! For the first time in my career I encountered a product that I couldn’t figure out how to sell. I transferred to marketing and became the liaison to existing clients and the User’s Group. They had their big User Conference coming up in October, 1988.

There had been so many reorganizations that at this point that I was working for my old friend Barry. I was early in my second pregnancy and has already told everyone that I planned to work through it, then retire. I would not return after the birth of this second child, but the company was in turmoil and Barry called me into his office. Rumors of lay-offs were rife. I told Barry that he could lay me off – no problem. This pregnant lady would not sue. He was relieved. And I could stay home with my youngster, collect unemployment and get ready for #2 as I got bigger and bigger (I put on a mere 44 pounds). By this point, I’d had three nannies and was not about to look for another. I was working just to pay the salary. My children needed me.

I have never regretted that move. With Dan traveling as much as he did, I was a single mother three or four nights a week. Vicki’s diagnoses (ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome/autism spectrum disorder, severe depression, and at that point, difficulty putting her thoughts on paper) accumulated and meant that I was able to spend a lot of time volunteering in her classrooms, taking her to various doctors and therapies, supervising her homework, and just BEING there for her. As she grew up, I volunteered on other boards that had meaning for me.

So my discussions with my mother-in-law about women doing it all, almost 50 years ago, gave me a moment of reflection. The only women I know who “had it all”, either were able to afford significant, steady housekeeping help that gave them great freedom, had lots of family close by, or had very supportive husbands who were home and took on much of the household responsibilities. Others had to make choices; there is no such thing as “having it all”.


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. pattyv says:

    Betsy, I love reading your stories. Not only do you include pictures, details and history, but you share honest emotions and insights. The reader (me) gets to know you super fast. I was never career-minded like you, so I didn’t experience the exhausting torment of aiming for success in a man’s world, although I did get a taste of it in some of the many jobs I held. I agree wholeheartedly there is no such thing as “having it all”.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Patty, I’m not sure that I was always career-oriented. I wanted to do something satisfying at which I could earn a living and I always aimed to excel. I stumbled into the tech world, which could be lucrative. But I am competitive, so there’s that. My writing is honest and self-reflective. I suppose I write to find out more about myself and my motivations. So my reader finds out a lot about me also. Happy to share; happy that you agree with my assessment that one can’t “have it all”.

  2. We all try but I think you’re right Betsy – we can’t have it all! Thanx for telling your story!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I totally agree that women can’t have it all, or at least not all at the same time. I told my daughters they would have many choices and opportunities. Having children and trying to do the quality work they expected of themselves was really stressful. But I also believe there are many opportunities to try different careers, even if they happen at bit later in life. And I always thought of volunteering as a wonderful gift for me that sadly most women can’t afford these days.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      You’ve given good advice to your daughters, Laurie. Many women must work to bring in income these days, so don’t have a chance to volunteer, even within their children’s school environments. I knew how fortunate I was that I had those opportunities to benefit my kids and their environments.

  4. You have sailed well between the Scylla of cynicism and the Charybdis of anger. As a professor, I have always tried to give my students a sense of hope and encouragement. I must deal with young people who because they feel they cannot make it are negative or irresponsible. I am glad it worked out for you. But, I think without Brandeis and a supportive husband you may have come close to the Islands. Nannies are great, but many who have had them are not. I would suggest that one can make positive decisions for themself inside a democratic system, the support of good health care (if not, universal), free educational experience, and creative cultural opportunities. Of course, a wonderful companion makes it easier and happy.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    Gina was post-doc-ing in the late 90s and encountered much the same lack of taking her seriously in relation to the male post-docs. Despite of her being ridiculously intelligent. It was one of the reasons she left academia.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    What a full life you’ve been having, and there’s much more yet to come! You have pioneering written all over your data-driven career in computers. I have come to have enormous respect for women over the years who manage to successfully juggle marriage, kids, careers, and personal time. Any one of those is a challenge in and of itself, and I’ve never fathomed how so many women like yourself keep all the plates spinning.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for the respect, Jim, but I stepped off that carousel some 35 years ago (my baby turned 34 last Monday) and chose to dedicate myself to my family, sort of. I guess my volunteer work counts for something, though I don’t get paid for it. I do get satisfaction from it, though. And that counts for a lot!

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