Woman to Watch: Dr. Rachel Seidman

>>RachelSeidmanwomentowatchBY CARA SCHUMANN

Women AdvaNCe is featuring personal stories about North Carolina women leading up to our second NC Women’s Summit on September 26th, 2014. This year’s Summit will feature panel discussions, cultural presentations, and leadership trainings by community leaders, activists, and academics– including Rachel Seidman, the Associate Director of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Join us

I first met Rachel Seidman when I became a Moxie Scholar as an undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Rachel created the Moxie Project—a program for women scholars to learn about the history of women activists in the South. Beyond being the Moxie Project’s founder, Rachel is also a mother, mentor, professor, activist, and historian. Here she shares her take on work-life balance and what it means to be a leader.

Rachel counts herself lucky to have parents who supported her no matter what. “There was a time when I was on the Junior High basketball team and my brother was taking ballet. I remember my dad being proud of us both. I also watched my mom, who had been a stay-at-home mom throughout my childhood, go back to school, start her career in her 40s, and work her way up to a leadership position by the time she retired. My mom used to tell me that I could have it all, just not necessarily all at once.”

“My generation didn’t have a lot of role models of moms who worked professional careers while also raising young children, and that was hard—my family often felt like we were creating new paths, without a great map.”

So, without a map, Rachel paved her own path toward success—and what set her on that path was a love for history. “I fell in love with history in college. I loved the combination of stories and analysis, and I loved the way it helped me see the world around me differently.” This passion led her to the Southern Oral History Program where the motto is “you don’t have to be famous for your life to be history.”

In addition to her work within academia, Rachel is a proud mother to her teenage daughters. She explains how she ‘balances’ it all: “I don’t believe, really, in the concept of ‘balancing’ work and life. First of all, work is a big part of life. And I think we expect too much of individuals when we say that they should learn how to ‘balance’ these things. I wish we could have 30 hour work weeks; we’d create a lot more jobs and people would have more time to spend with their families, participating in civic life, and maintaining their health.”

“But, given the reality we live in now, my family and I prioritize dinners together– we eat home-cooked meals together pretty much every night during the week. I carve out time for exercise and for friends and for my own creative projects. I keep a journal and try to evaluate when things feel like they are getting ‘out of balance’ on a pretty regular basis, so that I can try to make adjustments.”

As one of the shining examples of a woman leader in my life, Rachel makes me seriously consider what it means to be a leader—and how I can become one. She offers: “I think there are many, many different kinds of leadership: identifying problems, figuring out creative ways to address them, discovering the talents of those around you and engaging them in the process of working towards solutions, inspiring people through your passion… Leadership doesn’t always mean creating something new. We too often think in terms of individuals. All of us need to remember how much more we can accomplish when we work together.”

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