Nope. You Can’t Have It All.

In this week’s newsletter, I used the Secret Sessions with Tracy column to discuss success, and how you can feel safe and confident with what you already have. About a month ago, I saw my female Generation Y Facebook friends rapidly posting Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic on how she discovered through her personal journey working for Secretary Clinton and balancing her desires to be a better mom to her teenage son that women couldn’t have it all. The online dialogue about this hasn’t stopped and I decided to throw my own two cents in and would love your comments.

I had never heard of Professor Slaughter before I read her piece and it sounded like she has an amazing and intense career with crazy impressive credentials, all earned while growing a family. I admire her for that and my intent is not to bring down another woman, but she published her piece in the public domain opening it up for discussion. And when I read her article, I hate to say that I cringed over and over again. I wondered if The Atlantic was afraid of editing such a distinguished academic, but it seemed rambling at times and more importantly, I just didn’t get her point.

I know women are responding to this article because they really want to have it all. My take is that is just not possible. We have limited resources, including time, energy, emotions, and money and there are just too much in today’s world to experience it “all” at high levels. Really, for an effective life, the focus must be on enough, and you can have enough of what you want with clarity and strategy.

Here are three coaching tips for folks who are feeling unfulfilled with the current status of their lives.

Do you know what “all” is?

When I read the piece, I had no idea what “all” was for Slaughter (I’m not going to recap the article so if you haven’t read it, please visit the link above for context). Was “all” really working 18-hour days for someone else doing bureaucratic work? Because the work that she described she was doing at the state department didn’t sound fulfilling and she hinted it was a pain the ass. So was it the title, power, and access? If it was the second that she truly wanted, there are lots of different ways to achieve that with different time constructs and relationships.

Second, did Slaughter want to spend more time with her son or did she just feel guilty about the decisions she had made? It was unclear to me. I wouldn’t judge any parent for making decisions about her life balance- after all, earning a good living and taking care of your life is important to being a good caretaker. But you have to know and then act accordingly.

The “all” you almost everyone is aiming for is experienced through emotional satisfaction and flow, not a collection of achievements and experiences. We have a hard time with this because job titles are so tangible and feelings are amorphous, but it’s the path to contentment.

No one gets unlimited time so get comfortable making choices and determining priorities.

Maybe it was just clear to me, but Slaughter seemed to want to do 48 hours of activity in every day, which limited her credibility on the topic for me. Time management is not a mother or gender issue. You must make choices about your time and energy. No one gets to avoid prioritizing.

When I chose to start a company, I knew that for a specific period of time I would work monster hours, be stressed about money, and potentially strain my relationships, as well as put a temporary halt on my quest to start a family. This was a choice I made because the urge to start my company was so strong. Logically, you cannot starts something without initial sacrifices and I talked about this when I was a guest on the GTD Virtual Study Group podcast. I made a commitment to limit the period of my sacrifice as I gained more resources and understanding of strategy that worked for me. Again, make timebound choices that make you feel empowered.

Finally, You can do more things if you accept you can’t be perfect at everything. Sometimes your work won’t be as great as you want it to be, but you’ll probably be the only one who notices. And yes, daycare is essential, but your guilt is not. So ask yourself what can I delegate? What can I ask for help with? What can you say no to? This piece from Fast Company on the myth of “work life balance” has more specific tips I highly recommend.

Your story is not only about you.

The part that left me with the most discomfort after reading Slaughter’s piece is how she treated the role of her husband and son in her journey. Her marriage may be fantastic, but her choices in writing on how she recognized their role in her journey was troubling to me. You can’t tell your story without the inclusion of critical characters.

What we do has an impact on our friends, family, and others. Life is about enjoyment and sharing experiences and you can’t hole yourself on a solo path without including people. All or enough is no fun on your own. Your relationships should not be an end destiny or about is not about ownership and collection. How can you plan to be present others while pursuing your goals and not have them as part of your collateral damage.

So what do you think? And if you want to read more about it, Harvard Business Review had a great series on Slaughter’s piece. Here are three posts from that series I highly recommend reading.

Anne-Marie Slaughter Misses a Huge Opportunity by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
– how Slaughter’s focus on motherhood is a disservice when childless women face the same issues (amen, sister)

“Having It All” Is Not a Women’s Issue by Stew Friedman
– the male response

Sandberg vs Slaughter, Who Wins? Business Loses by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
– what is our responsibility as women in creating power in the workplace?

 

Rosie the Riveter image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Suzanne Kaplan

    Hi Tracy,

    I’m so glad that you shared your thoughts about Slaughter’s article. If I could ask Slaughter one question, I would ask her why she thought she would be able to be an active parent and work relentless hours. I understand that she is coming from the context of the feminist movement and represents women who wanted to have kids and a career – I think that’s the “all” she’s referring to. But it’s true, she’s not clear about it. And I don’t think she really thought her life through ahead of time. For example, you say that you really wanted to start your business and that you knew that it would involve sacrifices – putting off starting a family etc. You realized, rightfully so, that you can’t do both. This is what I truly don’t understand about Slaughter, why she didn’t realize ahead of time that if she wanted to be active in her sons’ lives she could not live in another state for 5 days a week and come home to Princeton to do errands all weekend. I think it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Marissa Mayer, who just announced that she’s only taking a 2-week maternity leave when she has her first child. Currently, she says that having a child will not slow her down. This is pre-baby, of course. For such a smart woman, it sounds so naive.