Re-Defining Having It All

I feel the need to explain myself.

My last two posts on the topic of Having It All — both which might be interpreted as discouraging — are probably not very good marketing for someone in my profession. After all, my job as a coach is to help people dream big and achieve their goals. So where do I get off telling women and men that they can’t have it all and asserting that the very notion of “having it all” is not even desirable? What happened to following your dreams, overcoming obstacles, not settling for less?

To clarify: my critique of having it all is not about our desire for, nor our capacity to achieve, a full, rich, satisfying life. Instead, I object to the popular image of having it all that is too narrowly defined and too driven by external standards. In rejecting this vision of success, I remain firmly rooted in my belief in our capacity to live a fulfilling life, including both meaningful work and meaningful relationships. But what constitutes a fulfilling life looks very different for each individual, and changes over time.

A woman’s or man’s best hope for achieving her or his dreams is to define success on his or her own terms rather than looking to external standards. True fulfillment begins with identifying what is really important to us (our core values) and pursuing goals that reflect those values with persistence, creativity, and belief in ourselves. For most of my clients and friends, fulfillment has more to do with doing work that focuses on making a positive impact on others rather than achieving status or rank, on developing and maintaining strong, rewarding relationships, and on appreciating what they have rather than grasping for the next brass ring. If that is what is meant by having it all, then I believe it is available to us all.

 

2 Comments

  1. Instead of defining, or re-defining “Having it All” I suggest that we throw the term out altogether. Yes, women (and men) can have careers and families all at the same time. I think, though, you suggest that attaining a position of power in the workplace is akin to raw ambition and just seeking another notch on the professional belt. Slaughter’s main point is to acknowledge that it is STILL very difficult for women to climb to the top of their professions and give our children the attention that they need. In your earlier posts, you rightfully point out that men in the top positions of their fields miss out on child-rearing opportunities. However, men do not as a group, find this to be problematic. Because (and I’m generalizing here) it has been the women that have historically taken it upon themselves to ensure that their children’s physical and emotional needs are met. While I know several families personally whose nuclear framework involves the women as the primary career-driven professional, in each of these families, the men have put their careers on hold in order to drive carpool. The fact is, that I simply don’t see many models of families with two parents, both of whom have their careers going full steam at the same time. As Slaughter points out, what needs to change is the workplace – the male-dominated, male-created systems that reward long hours more than quality ideas. And without women in the top professional ranks, this is unlikely to change.

    • Yes, yes. I’m ready to do away with the term, “having it all.” And I think you’re right that two full-steam-ahead careers are the exception rather than the rule. You simply can’t have two first priorities – and historically and culturally, women make direct nurturing of children no.1 and men make career advancement no. 1 (although this is often deeply connected to a commitment to support their children financially). So long as the workplace forces a choice, women are disproportionately likely to sacrifice career for family. Yes, the workplace needs to change, and more women at the top will speed that along. So how do we talk to our daughters — and just as important, our sons — about their roles, careers and choices?

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