My wife addressed my "Family Life" and "Social Structure" classes, as she does each year, on how women can 'have it all.'
The readings we have studied leading up to this talk address the fact that men are likely to have a definite plan of how they want their careers to develop. They identify a ladder, and make a plan to climb it. Since life rarely turns out just the way we expect it to, men are more prone to have a mid-life crisis when they realize that the narrative of their life is going to turn out differently than they imagined it would.
Women, by contrast, are more likely to have a big picture of a life with career, family, and public duties in some kind of balance. They often have a less specific plan of climbing one ladder. Instead, they are more likely to pursue one path, then make choices at the time that lead them in a different direction. When they look back on their lives, they are likely to discern the thread of continuity that ties this zig-zag path together, though it would have been hard to predict ahead of time.
My wife offered the students, especially the women, the advice that they would be able to achieve a balanced life if they were OK with having a 'trapeze career' rather than climbing a ladder. And sometimes on the trapeze you let go of one bar before you have a clear grasp on the next one.
I think 'trapeze career' is a wonderful metaphor and a fine counterpart to the career 'ladder'.