Why Not Having It All Is Ok
As a young, idealistic, and determined woman, visions of my professional future did not always account for the complexity of motherhood. I always assumed I would get married and have kids, but I was also certain that my career would be a priority, too. I never thought I would grapple with the standard balancing act like most career-minded women.
Being clueless about how hard it would be to manage both a family and full-time, intense career was, in some ways, a Godsend.
I’m not sure I would have been able to embark on either journey had I known how hard it would be for me, my husband, and our extended family. I’d like to think my kids weren’t horribly affected, but make no mistake: The struggle, my friends, is real.
Ultimately, like most women, I had a constant need to prove I could handle being a smart, powerful, and committed professional, while still being a contributing, nurturing, and reliable parent and partner. Over time I understood the notion of not being able to “have it all,” but I was going to do my damnedest to try.
In 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter, who at the time was a high-ranking State Department official, a well-known policy pundit, and professor at Princeton University, wrote an article titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” In the article, she explained that it is virtually impossible for a highly successful woman to be an effective mother while at the same time working as a high-powered professional. Something has to give.
While Slaughter was at first saluted for her honesty, and the way she depicted working women giving it their all while also saving a little something for their families (God forbid themselves), she was also criticized for leaving young women without the hope that they could truly “have it all”. In other words, that they could be a successful businesswoman, stateswoman, lawyer, doctor, or any other profession, AND be a good mother, attend all sports practices, school events, doctors’ appointments, etc.
According to Pew Research Center, women still bear a heavier load balancing work and family than men, making it harder to advance professionally. This is leading to many millennial women starting families later in life. The false sense of reality that brings, however, can be troublesome. When settled nicely into a career path, adding kids to the mix is like taking a sledgehammer to a glass table. All the pieces seem to have to fall apart at some point. There’s no way to keep it all together. Something must give.
For me, I knew that working at a stable organization while my kids were very young was the best opportunity for me to make a difference and yet still have that coveted stability. I was managing meaty projects, working with intelligent and challenging people, and could see myself incrementally making an impact in each of the deliverables I had. I knew that I would continue as long as I could keep working in a meaningful way, and until I stopped being proud of the work I was doing.
There were certainly times when I admired women who seemed to have more engaging work, and even those with children who seemed to have it all together enough to achieve the balance I struggled with. But I stayed where I was, shifting roles a couple of times and finding a way to be professionally fulfilled while being as present as possible for my family.
It was when those elements were significantly out of balance that I had to leave the stability of another organization and start one of my own. I needed greater professional fulfillment and more balance. Yet even when I am “present” for my kids, I do find my brain wandering, my patience waning, and my status quo needing to be challenged. I have prided myself on loving the work I do and the commitments I have made to work on impactful projects. In some ways I could “work” way more hours in the day than most people, because to me work is not “work.” It’s a passion. It’s a love.
I have always sought work that was meaningful and impactful, and, because of that positive energy I feel when I work, I can revel in it. That is nearly impossible to turn off, even when I am with my kids. I have to be very cognizant of that pull, and to be present with my kids means forcing my brain to ignore a very strong element within me. Having children has forced me to take these breaks, however. It has been a healthy and important component of my personal and professional growth. It means I seek work that is worthy of my time away from them—even during the time I spend working while I am with them (which we are all guilty of).
When starting my own consulting company, Connective Impact, I was finally able to dictate my own hours, find some balance for myself, and enjoy more time with my family. Even still, it remains a struggle for me, especially as I devote much of my energy to working across international time zones while rushing to pick kids up from school, get them to hockey practice, and make a healthy dinner for the family like every other parent.
My husband and I share duties and responsibilities as equally as we can, as we always have. The struggles that we face to be good parents, partners to our spouses, daughters, friends, sisters, etc., are universal, regardless of what role we play in a profession. I truly believe, however, that having professional satisfaction leads to personal satisfaction. Being happy will ensure your children, and the other important people in your life, thank you for teaching them the importance of staying true to your inner mission.
It may be unrealistic to assume that balancing personal demands, obligations, interests, and the needs of your family will be unrelated to how you seek fulfillment and deliver impact. Stay true to your mission, and hold onto the hope that you will find the way through. You may have to make tough choices, but keep focusing on what drives you.
You may not have it all, but you will learn more and contribute more if you accept that notion. Ignore the naysayers and continually move forward towards achieving your goals. You got this.