I’ve had a number of conversations recently with people about “having it all.”
It’s long been debated whether or not this whole notion is a myth or if it’s actually achievable. Certainly, there are a fair number of us trying to cram a whole lot of life and achievement into our already jam-packed existence and trying to make it reality. But the question remains: Can we actually be successful?
I’m not entirely sure of its origin, but I think the whole notion of “having it all” started with a book written by Cosmopolitan Magazine founder Helen Gurley Brown. A true thought leader, she added a bit of glamour and solidarity for women living their hard-fought lives as single, independent people. And yet, I’m going to take a wild guess that when she penned her book, Having it All in 1982, she didn’t intend for it to mean “Having it All… at the Same Time.”
The book was written as a roadmap for creating your own destiny, which was a truly novel concept at the time for women. Over the past 25 years, we’ve seen an increasing number of female leaders step up to talk about how they’ve created their own paths, what works for them, and how to stand tall in the face of adversity.
Still, perhaps a refresher course for all of us might be a wise idea in today’s world. Whether you are a woman or a man, understanding what path you are on and having some sort of guide to get there is not just smart—it might just be good for your sanity.
Let me get a little personal to make my point.
I’m a single mother of two teenage daughters. I also have a career I love and people in my life I care about. Any problem I have is strictly first world. I have plenty to eat and a roof over my head. My struggles come in the form of wishing I had a night off sometimes to enjoy dinner with a friend or trying to figure out when I will find the time to get an overdue oil change for my car.
In essence, I have a pretty good life. And yet… I want more. I want the proverbial “all.”
WHAT DOES 'HAVING IT ALL' REALLY ENTAIL?
“All” is defined differently for everyone trying to achieve it.
While I won’t turn this into a feminist rant, I do believe that women are held to a different set of expectations than men, at least (very) generally speaking. We are the ones who give birth. So of course, in modern society, we tell women they can have a family and a career. While some companies have moved toward adding mothers’ rooms and have paid maternity leave, neither benefits are close to universal.
But then what? Plainly, I’d argue that as a society, we are a long way away from enabling women to have a thriving career and family at the same time.
Several years ago, a young woman early in her career told me about her aspirations. “In the next five years, I want your job,” she said. “And I’d like to have started a family. And I’d like to only work three to four days a week.”
Um, yeah. That sounds awesome. However, she was none-too-pleased when I offered a dose of reality. "Yes, absolutely you can achieve that," I told her. "But perhaps you just need to adjust your expectations on time frame and/or the order in which you plan to achieve these goals."
The reality is, sure, anyone can have kids. Anyone can build an incredible career. I’m a firm believer that you can do just about anything you set your mind to and efforts on.
I’m also a firm believer in reality. In this young woman's case, yes, she can start a family and elect to ease back on hours to commit more time at home. There are a number of companies and jobs that support just that and I applaud them. She can also focus on her career, climbing the ladder to a serious leadership position. However, doing all of this at exactly the same time is not just a recipe going crazy—it’s a fast path to failure.
FORGE A PATH WITH YOUR SANITY INTACT
Man or woman, we all want to achieve. So how do we create a sane path for ourselves? Here are three quick reality check questions to ask yourself before you get started.
I work smart and efficiently. True or False? Building a fantastic career doesn’t always mean you need to be the first one in and the last one out. However, it does mean you have to make the most of your hours. Be present during the core hours for meetings, and find creative ways to maximize your time at work. Stay focused, skip the twice-a-day runs to Starbucks, and you’ll likely gain some precious time back in your calendar.
I spend quality time with my kids/family/friends. True or False? There is a myth that to rise up at work, you’ll have to forego time spent investing in your personal relationships. But really, it’s about making the most of the time you have with any of these loved ones. Choosing to come in early so you can maximize family time at night, or refusing to even look at a computer screen for work on a Saturday are choices that you are in control of. Carving out the time, keeping it sacred, and then being present when you have it are all keys to maximizing quality time with loved ones.
I have a clear idea of what I view as 'success' in my life. True or False? It’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing anything particularly well if you don’t have a vision for yourself of what you’re actually trying to achieve. Take the time to figure out what defines success for YOU (not for your mom, or your boss, or anyone else whose opinion you might value—this is about YOU.) Then work backwards to craft a plan to get there. As you do this, apply rational timeframes, experiences that work for your lifestyle, etc.
With a little dose of reality and some thoughtful planning—maybe even a bit of sense of humor—you can have it all.
It just might not be all at the same time.
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