You Can Have "It" All

What does it mean to “have it all”?

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard, but last week in an article for The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter made “having it all” a hot issue. She says professional working moms really can’t do it in today’s economic and societal structure. Moreover, Slaughter worries that the “have it all” mantra has become more of an admonishment than an encouragement to young women today:

Slaughter’s article touched off a firestorm of responses. Some applauded Slaughter for speaking out on the pressure of “default rules” permeating corporate, academic, and government office culture, while others criticized her for having an unrealistic perspective. Many drew comparisons between Slaughter and another high-profile executive, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Sandberg has gained notoriety for asserting that women can have it all, if they are supremely strategic, creative and ambitious.

But there’s one question no one seems to be asking: What exactly is “it?”

For Slaughter, “it” meant maintaining a healthy marriage and mothering teenage sons in New Jersey, while serving in a dream job as Director of Policy Planning in the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. (is it any wonder she struggled?). In comparison, Sandberg’s “it” is relatively modest: protecting quality family time while running the world’s most influential social media company. Neither woman is the average working mom, but the tensions they feel resonate beyond their elite careers.

Do you wonder how to have it all? Start by defining your “it.”
I believe many women overlook this step – instead relying on a vague notion of unmitigated success and happiness.

What’s your goal? It doesn’t need to equal Slaughter’s or Sandberg’s. It just doesn’t make sense to have this “it” debate without detailing the priorities that guide our life choices, including where we work and how we work. We can have it all, but that has to be defined and judged only by each individual.

Living by someone else’s standard of success is a recipe for frustration and guilt. Instead, focus on what’s truly important to you. Can you pursue a fulfilling career, a healthy happy family, and a vibrant faith? YES. You absolutely can. Here’s what you can’t do:

These are realities every working parent (man and woman) faces. And they entail choices. Maybe you swap lower compensation for more time at home. Maybe you give up the flashy career path for a more stable one. Maybe you don’t have as many children as you otherwise might. Or maybe you have kids later in life. Maybe you’re the first to challenge company policies and ask to work from home. Maybe you take a short-term career “time-out.” Maybe, maybe, maybe … It’s a blessing to have these options.

We need to stop pressuring ourselves to achieve some unreachable standard and recognize that in the pursuit of “having it all,” these are choices, not failures. Slaughter calls for cultural and professional changes that could ease the burden on working parents. It’s nice to dream about a world where corporate hours and school schedules matched up. Or one in which the hard work of parenting is as respected as the disciplined training of marathon runners.  It’s not wrong to wish for that world, or to advocate for it when you can. Just don’t get hung up on that dream when you have a life to live right now. Don’t base your expectations on something you can’t control.

That’s my two cents … how about you?
What does having “it” really mean for full-time professionals who are also moms? If you’re single, are you on track for professional success while protecting time for friendships and dating, or are you immersed in work and delaying dating and marriage?