You Want It All? Be Careful What You Wish For

By now all of you have heard about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic ‘Why Women Can’t Have It All’.  Apparently this one article boosted The Atlantic’s circulation to record numbers, and the public response has been remarkable and passionate.  Slaughter makes certain recommendations which I heartily endorse – company policies that are more parent-friendly, family leave that is more flexible, etc.  But here is my very ungracious perspective – get over it.  If you define having it all as being the best parent, spouse, adult-child, employee, friend simultaneously, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.  I do think you need to re-think what it means to have it all, and perhaps if considered through a different lens, you may feel differently.

I have not met a highly successful business person who hasn’t given up something significant in their trek up the mountain.  I have seen young associates (men and women) sacrifice eight years of their lives in a bid for partnership.  Billable hours are budgeted at a high number, the expectations that you will also involve yourself in firm activities (recruiting, timely submission of needed administrativia, required continuing ed credits, showing your social ‘fit’ – it takes a lot of time.  Perhaps you squeeze in a wedding and a honeymoon.  You return to a peer group that is constantly jockeying for the inside position (I think that pun is intended).  You have to quickly get your rhythm and get moving, competing at the level of the thoroughbred you’ve been assured you are.  One in four attorneys abuses some substance, divorce rates are second only to those of doctors.  They have the money (in Big Law you get paid a lot of money to gallop on that track), they can even step aside to have a baby and take a generous maternity leave – but one day the call is heard to return to the galloping horde.  This is not solely a professional services phenomenon – career development is a competitive, challenging, time-consuming, energy-sapping commitment.

One of the women who works in the hair salon I go to told me that she had cut her hours to three days a week.  She’s a divorced mom with two teenage children and felt that they need her more during their adolescence than ever before.  No one pressured her to do this – her personal value system led her to this choice.  (The hair salon is a post for later this week – but it’s magical – I go in with a Pepe LePew stripe and come out with blond highlights).

Some people give up their social skills.  Their ability to develop relationships is stunted by years and years of isolated work and limited meaningful interaction.  To me – that’s an irreparable, life-altering sacrifice – though I know many people who have lost their interest in and concern for other people over time.  Their focus has been so precise and narrow, they have fallen behind in their personal growth.

In my world,  I was more successful than I ever imagined I would be (ok, so it wasn’t on Broadway, but I didn’t have the talent for that anyway – or the ego strength).  I made it to the C-suite, fought for an equally sized seat at the table (no comments about my feet not touching the floor please), raised children who so far have not dipped into the therapy fund I set up as soon as I knew that they were going to have me more for a mom.  I married a wonderful man who brought with him my wonderful third son (and another therapy fund).  And I made choices…I chose not to have a job that was going to require that I travel all over hell and creation until my kids were away at school.  I found mentors who could guide me through the dissonance of having conflicting wants and needs.  All those mentors were men – an interesting topic in and of itself.  I chose my family more often than not – though there were some baseball games I missed and I always felt that I could be doing more.   I called my parents every day – and eventually they knew my secretary who in turn would call to give them a heads-up if my 9:00AM call was going to be late.  And there’s the segue..

You need a rock solid support system willing and able to pick up the balls that you need to drop.  And you will drop the ball sometimes.  In days past, nuclear families lived in close proximity to each other, back up was ready and available, there were additional arms and meals and hugs.  When I moved to DC, I had to create a safety net, and it always had holes.

I want women to achieve their goals, dream big dreams, reach on their tip toes.  I also feel that having it all – all at once – is asking for a Roman feast that looks magnificent on your plate, and is impossible to eat in one sitting.   Perhaps we can have it all if we define this concept in more digestible bites.  And then we might even have room for dessert.

45 thoughts on “You Want It All? Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. Wonderful post with another great message. Only thing I would add is I wish it was OK for women NOT to want it all, or rather, that it’s OK to feel that what they do have IS ALL, even if that’s just being the best wife or mother or wife and mother, without justifying it to others. As one who does feel I’ve had it all, the all that’s important to me, I do hate the inevitable question “What do you do?” My answer is usually “I do it all, just differently than you do.” I have found the reaction to my answer to be a pretty good filter through which my friendships are made. Is that too old fashioned? Maybe, but I happen to like old fashioned, it works for me. I admire women who have busted through their glass ceilings…very much. But I know they didn’t do it alone, nor did they do it without sacrifice. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were easy, men would be in trouble.

    • You’re spot on babe…and I would add one thought. I honestly don’t believe that men have it all either. I watched my dad make the conscious decision that where he was economically was good enough and he was going to attend every one of his daughters’ school events, he was going to play tennis every Saturday morning. And at night he would invent stuff (some of it really impressive). He wasn’t going to work 80 hours a week for a bigger house. I watched executives and partners commit more hours to work that they will never be remembered for – yet they are caught on this seductive wheel of increasing wealth. I think it’s all well and good to want whatever one’s definition of ‘all’ is – I just don’t think it happens all at once, and if by chance all the elements align, it is impossible to be fully immersed in everything simultaneously. I don’t think you’re old-fashioned at all – I think you’re realistic and open-eyed and very, very, very smart. xo

    • Rhonda, I love what you’ve said here and I so agree with you. If people can be the best “Whatever” they are, then that should be the best for them!

  2. Another great post, Mimi! And I agree with Rhonda–the hiccup in the system comes for me with the definition of what “all” is (Geesh, I’m sounding like a certain former president here… ;-)). I never had children–a very personal decision, and though many have taken issue with it, one that has always felt right for me. I have not followed a particularly traditional career path, but again, it’s worked for me. My problem comes when I look at my contemporaries who *have* followed a more traditional path and appear, in many respects, to have figured out how to “have it all.”. That’s when the little green monster who sits on one shoulder starts whispering in my ear that I’m not working hard enough, not ambitious enough, not focused enough. At which point I refer back to the wisdom of your earlier, wonderful post of today (“Hold this thought”), and renew my commitment to keep dancing to my own beat, no matter how hard it sometimes is to hear the music…

    • And you know sweetie? As much as one can have it all – you do. I think that is the big bait and switch…do your friends have it all? I doubt it – I think they look at the writing you do and wish they had half your talent, I think there are people who envy your decision not to have children because they are struggling to be parents and perhaps not liking it as much as they thought they would. The beauty of the green monster (for I too have one that hops up and down on my shoulder) is that they are our own creation. And we could conceivably shrink that bad boy down to a whisper if we really accepted that no one – no one – has it all, all at once. If we’re lucky – and we are – you get pretty damn close, presuming that’s defined by the joy in your heart, the love in your life and ideally more peace in your soul than turmoil. Hope that makes sense…and today I finally get to listen to your cd!!! xoxo

      • Thanks Mimi. Your words always warm my heart. As for that little demon on our shoulder, always good to know that I’m not alone (misery loves company and all 😉 I was once advised that I should visualize slapping a jar over the little bugger and suffocating him (or at the very least stifling him temporarily). Gave me a good giggle and is often just the mental nudge I need to put the little devil back in his place. Enjoy your CD, my friend–can’t wait to hear what you think! xoxo

      • MiMi, you have this way of putting things into perspective and seeing things through a different color pair of shades. I love that about you and not only are your brilliant with your words, your wisdom and outlook on other people prospective is AWESOME!!! You are a wonderful teacher!

      • You flatter me dear one – far more than I deserve. But I am always here for you – you know that..:-) Enjoy the summer (once it gets a little cooler that is)..

  3. What an excellent cost analysis. I have a diagram from years ago of a wheel and its spokes. The hub is never perfectly centered because one (area of life) is weaker (shorter…sorry) than the others. You recognize the weakness so you work on that area but then it becomes stronger (longer) than the others and the juggling goes on and on. Today’s blog puts it right out there: “don’t expect a smooth ride, something will be sacrificed”. Thanks, Mimi, for new thoughts and needed reminders.

    • Oh my friend, I can take the shorter comments from you…true, you’re taller than me, but not by that much! 🙂 I like the visual that you create, the mobility of the spokes that get the most attention…and the constancy of the juggle that has to be done..Hope to see you soon (we’re down to 76 degrees in the house!!) hugs, me

    • Hi Marquita! So good to hear from you! I hope all is well..I’m glad you liked this post. The whole topic is clearly one that resonates with so many of us..:-)

  4. This is awesome. As you know, I have been very interested in this topic. In fact, I would love to interview you about this sometime as I am starting to collect stories of women who broke through the glass ceiling and the price they paid and the lessons they learned, etc. Would you be game for that? Maybe when I am back in the Baltimore in December…? Thanks for keeping this conversation going. This is a fascinating, timely and important topic. Thanks again! Glad you are back up and running!

    • I’d love to meet you when you’re in Baltimore! The whole topic of breaking through that glass ceiling is one that fascinates me as well. And there is also a part of me that feels that the whole concept of ‘having it all’ has gotten way off point and veering towards a perceived entitlement which I don’t feel exists if one tries to have everything at peak levels simultaneously. I’m really glad you liked the post and thank you – I am beyond happy to be sitting in my still-somewhat-warm kitchen again!!

  5. A great post with a wonderful perspective. I have only made it part way through that article as I keep getting pulled away from it to tend to some child’s need or another but I do hope to finish it sooner rather than later. I have no regrets about my act of becoming a stay at home mom. I do have concern and worry about re-entering the workforce both the act of doing so and how it will affect our family unit.

    • Your days are so full and your heart so big – as witnessed by all of us who read your blog. I understand the concern about re-entering the workforce (and perhaps we can talk about that when the time comes) and the effect on your family. My hunch is that should that time arrive, you will maintain the priorities you currently hold – and that will help you as you make choices outside the home…

  6. Very good and thought provoking post Mimi, I am glad I am on the other side of young motherhood. It is hard to make the right decision between bringing home the bacon or staying home to cook the pork ends because you cannot afford bacon. Balance is the key and for each person it will be differently. My prayer is that people who are in supervisor or manager rolls that have been through these trials, that they bestow wisdom and understanding to their employees that are trying to get through these hard decisions. Recently I just helped one employee realize that she would be saving money by staying home with her new baby. And I also hired a previous employee who had a baby a year ago and allowed her to start back to work two days a week and increase it as she felt that she could and was ready to. I understand that not all employers can do this, but the ones that can should, as they are gaining their employee’s loyalty and trust and you cannot put a price tag on that.

    • Would that there were other managers like you, developing a team of people that can adapt and support each other. I have made similar arrangements with team members – men and women – and the outcomes echo your point. The challenge of course is to exercise similar adaptability to those who have no kids – if someone wants to go back to school, or need time with an aging parent – I did the same thing..

      • Yes you are right, I have had a few employees go back to school part time and one was my daughter-in-law who just left to finish school on So. Cal. It does make it tough on the office at times but we have been able to work it out.

  7. Such a great post, and timely for me. I gave up a good job, excellent career path, to follow my husband’s job around the country and have my children. We are approaching school age and I have been toying with the idea of getting back into the game. This makes me rethink what game I want to play. Thank you!

  8. Great post Mimi. It IS all about choices. And those who find a way to commit themselves to excellence, to do things the right way in their pursuit of the corporate climb – and still find a way to manage a close-knit family – should be revered.

    • I agree – they’re a small percentage I think. I really believe you have to make choices – and will continue to make them throughout your life. Having it all is not an entitlement – it’s an acknowledgement of realities – you can have it all, but there will be choices, and there will timing issues and having it all is a fluid concept..

  9. I find it interesting that the debate always seems to center around women having it all. I very happliy noticed that you did not fall into that trap. Men have choices to make too. I opted to leave a very lucrative job to spend more time at home when my son was born. I have always believed that the first few years are the most formative years of our lives. They shape who we will become. I wanted to be around him as much as possible so I started a training business that allowed me to spend more time at home. It set my career way back, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. We seem to have fallen into this belief that the choice between raising the kids and having a career belongs to the mother. I do not share that opinion. I think if more fathers sacrificed their own career goals and helped to raise their children then we could solve a lot of the social issues that plague us. No one is going to rememeber anything I have done professionally ten minutes after I retire. That is just the way corporate life is. My legacy is my child. Every father’s focus should be on becoming the greatest parent that they can be. I will step down from the soapbox now.

    • I like when you’re on the soapbox, MBN – and I agree with you. I think my dad made similar choices, and certainly back then was quite unique for having done so. I think your decision was also reflective of the minority – even though more and more men seem to be aligning with you. It is also true that choices are not the sole bastion of women, which is where I caution that entitlement is not in the cards for my gender anymore than yours..Thanks for your comments – and I’m in total agreement.

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