Musings on having it all

19.07.12 | Posted in Women & Business Women In Business

I’ve enjoyed the banter and debate of the past few weeks, ignited by Princeton University professor, Anne-Marie Slaughter in a cover story in The Atlantic. Slaughter said “It is time for us to acknowledge the conflict between personal and professional life. It’s time for women to stop blaming themselves when they can’t do it all”. wonder woman

It’s sparked discussion across the US and now Australia, with the article read by over one million women, fuelling conversations on Twitter, Facebook and across the blogging world. And as if on cue, tech-giant Yahoo! appoints Marissa Mayer as CEO who just happens to be six months pregnant.

Every time I get interviewed by the media, I invariably get asked ‘can women have it all?’ My answer’s always the same. It lies in the definition of ‘all’. If all means having a stellar career, plenty of time with your family, available time to nourish your marriage and close relationships, the time and energy for your social life and exercise, the bandwidth to further explore your interests then I most certainly do not have it all.

Here’s what I have. I have a fast-growing, demanding business and I have a young family, and both consume pretty much all my available time.  Do I watch TV? Nope. Have I exercised in three years? Very rarely. Can I curl up with a book for hours? Only on long haul flights when I’ve had enough of clearing out my inbox. And that’s cool. I’ve chosen it to be this way for now. It’s not forever but it’s for now.

I’m also a little tired of the discussion being focused solely on women. Can our partners have it all? I think not. If they choose to spend 80 hours at work a week then it’s unlikely they’re training for marathons, catching up with their mates, doing the shopping and spending quality time with their families.

You can’t have it all but you can have the best of a couple of things that you value highly, and you can do those things well. Let’s stop beating ourselves (and each other) up. Let’s respect the choices we make, and the choices of others, whatever they may be.

What’s your all?

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29 Comments

  1. Bec

    My all (at the moment) includes:

    A job that I WANT to go to everyday and that keeps me on my toes and constantly thinking

    A partner that supports me

    And a dog to love!

  2. Stephanie Vilner

    Great to redefine what ALL means. I wrote such a long post over at Business Chicks in response to a blog post that I won’t dare go into such a stream of consciousness (it was based on quantified research findings of mine); suffice to say, I had a 7 year window from when Miss 7was born to when my Master 5 started Kindy in Feb and the focus was kids and a plate juggle of a sole trader consultancy, amongst other secondary things.

    Now I have some regular time back (school hours plus 2 longer days), the plates I juggles have shifted again and this year, I’m launching a solo startup I cooked in those intervening years, I’ve been to Mexico for 2.5 weeks and all manner of super exciting things are happening!

    Love that Wonder Woman pic, too – that so dates me as a child of the 70s, as I always rather thought Wonder Woman was great. The Lasso of Truth was a top accessory choice by WW!

    • Emma

      Sure thing. That’s the challenge, right? Gratitude. Can be hard to be consistently grateful in the chaos of career and family and whatever else you might squeeze in. I used to go to bed every single night and say to myself all that I was grateful for. Lately I’ve been falling into bed and thinking only about sleep and nothing else. Gratitude has no look in. Note to self: go back to your old ways Em!

  3. GraceB

    Oh Em, I loved your musings on this and it spoke to me SO much.
    Building a business is so incredibly all consuming isn’t it? Just today I have had to regretfully turn down three wonderful social invitations. Reading this helped lessen my guilt that it is simply part of not being able to have it all at once.

    • Emma

      Yep Grace! Building a business is single-handedly (in my humble opinion) the most time and energy consuming pursuit ever. It never ever leaves you. It consumes your thinking in the shower, while driving, at 3am when you can’t get back to sleep with the worry/stress/inspiration (usually equal measures of all!) Kudos to anyone giving it a go I say!

  4. Megan Dalla-Camina

    Hey Emma

    Love your musings. We are totally in sync on this – so much so that I have a book coming out in November (HayHouse) called Getting Real About Having It All. It is a career and wellbeing guide to help women decide for themselves what ‘it all’ means, and build a career they love whilst being well and happy with their life.

    It’s time a for a new conversation. One that does not revolve around a homogenous definition inflicted on people, assumptions about what people want, and guilt, blame and shame when we can’t live up to everyone’s expectations. And it’s not just about women as you say, and it’s also not just about parents.

    Here’s to a new discussion about women creating lives they want to live, and livng them well, in every sense of the word!

    Warmest
    Megan xo

    • Emma

      Awesome Megan! All the best with the book. You make another important point (that I missed) – it’s also not about whether people have kids or not. It’s about the choices we make and how others react to them. I feel strongly about women supporting each other, no matter what those choices! Please keep me in the loop with the book and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Rebecca

    Great post Em! Couldn’t agree more. I used to feel like I had to have it all, be working on a million things, trying to go to every social event AND expecting to squeeze in time to take time for myself. It just didn’t happen and always ended up in burning myself out. Learning to say no and accept that I don’t want it all, just the things that are MY all was a huge lesson!

  6. Maureen

    What struck me about this post is the fact that you highlight that it is not just a female issue. Well said and hear hear. I like that you put parameters around it ‘all’ and that you have a choice! I have found its about stages of life and fining what fulfills you at easy stage:-)

  7. Leanne Faraday-Brash

    I have never thought we can have it all (unless our all is defined very narrowly in which case I am sure we are ignoring some essential elements of life balance such as exercise or social connection or community etc.).
    I do think we are fortunate to live in an era where we can have it most. Goals and aspirations are wonderful energisers as long as we stay flexible, sane and don’t beat ourselves up if we didn’t make partner by 32.
    As a woman with a partner and four Gen Y’s all still living at home (haha) whilst I run a thriving consulting practice, I try to be realistic and positive about the choices I make. Recognising they are choices makes me feel more in control and reminds me that what I pursue and what I let go are just that, choices. What ‘suffers’ the most is our social life at this stage of our lives and what I’m not prepared to relinquish are my early morning runs 4-5 times a week or going to AFL matches with my boys when my beloved Saints play at home and we can sit in our seats. Ticks the box on social, family, communal/tribal and stress release!
    If we are mostly well, happy and not consumed with regrets or feelings of inadequacy based on others’ expectations, we’ve got it pretty right!
    As I tell my clients, tell-tale signs though of not being in balance are lots of guilt, making lots of apologies, cherished relationships deteriorating and diminishing health and vitality. When the wire trips on one of those, time to own our choices and make some changes.

  8. Michelle Gamble

    Great response Em and one I wholeheartedly agree with!

    As a working Mum of 3 kids it’s impossible to be perfect at everything and I agree if we shifted the debate to working parents vs working mum’s we’d all be better off.

  9. sonia

    loving what you are pointing to. it is a choice and as long as we are choosing how we live and that it’s for now, not forever. bringing awareness into what we do and giving ourselves permission to not always get it right!

  10. Fiona

    Hi Em, what a great read. Thank you! I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders tonight. You’ve bought to the forefront that it’s not realistic to have a million things going on all perfectly humming whilst getting all the sleep you need, exercie, social life with friends, making time for family and much much more. As long as we are doing what we enjoy and value then you are right, we do have it all! Thanks again gorgeous. Fi xx

  11. Fiona

    Hi Em,

    great post on what is a seriously complex issue.

    I think it was Quentin Bryce that said that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. That really resonated with me – so I am just trying to focus on the things that are the most important for the moment, which is a young family and fledgling business.

    As Stephanie said, the concept of having it all evolves as life unfolds and we adapt to its different stages. Reducing my expectations of how I thought my life was meant to be and what “having it all” actually means, has made life a lot easier, and I have stopped being so hard on myself.

  12. Sophie Bartho

    Great read thanks Em. And great to consider and include our important male partners of crime. As our wonderful GG says, “You can have it all, but not all at once”.

  13. Susan Harris - Absolute Events & Marketing

    Fabulous thoughts Emma. I totally agree having it all really does depend on what each of us define as ‘all’. Gender shouldn’t matter in what we choose to do.

    I’ve been running/ living/breathing my successful conference and event management business for over 5.5 years now and every day is different.

    In a recent article, Mark Bouris said “If you don’t sweat on your business there’s something wrong with you…. it means you’re not trying to make it better, or you don’t understand it. It’s tough and it’s challenging, and if you don’t enjoy doing it, you’re in the wrong game”. This was SO true… especially as I was reading it at 2am in the morning after spending hours finalising some last minute details for an upcoming event and needed to try and switch my brain off!

    So for me ‘all’ is a business I love working in and on, the flexibility to help and support my parents (including employing my Mum enabling her to leave a terrible job to do so), surrounding myself with fantastic people working in our team, taking pride in our achievements (including 4 industry awards in 2 years…woo hoo!), having clients we really enjoy working with, fantastic friends who understand that sometimes my schedule is ridiculous and “see you in 2 weeks”, and the highs when we win business. Don’t get me wrong, as for all business owners, the lows are there too…. in the late night hours sick of working and working and working, sometimes missing out on friends’ activities, the worries re staff/cash flow, where’s the next lot of business coming in etc, but the highs outweigh the lows.

    What helps me through is this. Years ago I heard a story saying that “life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” and it’s so true! I’ve had to realise that, much as I would like to always have a sparkling house, clothes put away, not be tired, and cook fabulously healthy meals each night… the reality is that we do have to make sacrifices to get the successes we want… and the world doesn’t stop turning just because the housework hasn’t been done or I have to get takeaway for dinner.

    I love what I’m doing and building and it’s still THE best thing I’ve ever achieved in my life and I wouldn’t do anything else AND it’s my choice to have my life this way. And, to me, that’s the definition of having it all.

  14. Susan Harris - Absolute Events & Marketing

    Fabulous thoughts Emma. I totally agree having it all really does depend on what each of us define as ‘all’. Gender shouldn’t matter. It’s our choice in what we want to do.
    I’ve been running/ living/breathing my successful conference and event management business for over 5.5 years now.
    In a recent article, Mark Bouris said “If you don’t sweat on your business there’s something wrong with you…. it means you’re not trying to make it better, or you don’t understand it. It’s tough and it’s challenging, and if you don’t enjoy doing it, you’re in the wrong game”. This was SO true… especially as I was reading it at 2am in the morning after spending hours finalising some last minute details for an upcoming event and needed to try and switch my brain off! So for me ‘all’ is a business I love working in and on, the flexibility to help and support my parents (including employing my Mum enabling her to leave a terrible job to do so), surrounding myself with fantastic people working in our team, taking pride in our achievements (including 4 industry awards in 2 years…woo hoo!), having clients we really enjoy working with, fantastic friends who understand that sometimes my schedule is ridiculous and “see you in 2 weeks”, and the highs when we win business. Don’t get me wrong, as for all business owners, the lows are there too…. in the late night hours sick of working and working and working, sometimes missing out on friends’ activities, the worries re staff/cash flow, where’s the next lot of business coming in etc, but the highs outweigh the lows.
    What helps me is this. Years ago I heard a story saying that “life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” and it’s so true! I’ve had to realise that, much as I would like to always have a sparkling house, clothes put away, not be tired, and cook fabulously healthy meals each night… the reality is that we do have to make sacrifices to get the successes we want. The world won’t stop turning on its axis if the housework isn’t done and I have to buy takeaway for dinner because I have to finish some work.
    I love what I’m doing and building and it’s still THE best thing I’ve ever achieved in my life and I wouldn’t do anything else AND it’s my choice to have my life this way. And, to me, that’s the definition of having it all.

  15. Elaine Batiste

    My all is:
    Dropping my kids at school – picking them up and being there for afternoon tea
    working as a midwife (in school hours – very rare and precious)
    Running my small home based business
    Going to bed early to read that novel.
    Thanks Em – love your blog

  16. Sal - Nourish Coaching

    hi Em

    I had this conversation in the taxi with 2 senior business women this morning – it is what we consider OUR version of success and not what others expect – who knows how the new CEO of yahoo will work – she may juggle a few calls from home as well as show up in the office.
    My ‘all’ is to keep things simple right now and when I am home with my family and children to be utterly present. To make them the centre of my world. And when i am working i endeavour to give the same to my clients and colleagues.

    Happy Friday!

  17. Bonnie-Kate

    Thanks so much for a smart reasonable voice in the discussion that has followed Dr Slaughter’s article. What reasonates with me from your post is not being too hard on ourselves. My all at the moment is running my own private practice in neuropsychology, writing up my phd, sorting out some major relationship stuff, and being with my four year olf and two year old.Its pretty full on and some days are fab, other days I go to bed with the promise to try better the next day. Can we have it all? Does it matter? Its about expectations and I feel if i can keep my eye on the longer term goals whilst enjoying the moments now, then that’s okay. If it doesn’t quite come together, what can I learn from it, (try! to) be kind to myself and have another go.

  18. Amanda

    Greatly worded.
    My view is often that I can have it all, just not all at the same time.
    My life resembles yours at the moment, but I know it’s not forever and I’m okay with that too.

  19. christina guidotti

    Hi Emma, I love this topic as it’s been my passion and expertise for a long time. In fact my 60,000 word book “How To HAve It All” was published last week – endorsed by Brian Tracy. I’ll send you a copy. Christina Guidotti

  20. Emma

    Thanks Christina and congrats on the publishing of your new book – big achievement!