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On Having It All – Part 1

I was thrilled to be featured in the Sunday Mail article ‘Work. Life, Family And All That’, written by Genevieve Meegan (along with a gorgeous photo of myself and my daughter Harper, left). I was in very good company, sharing the page with Gale Edwards, Christine Zeitz, Suzy Reintals, Natasha Scott-Despoja and Antoinette Jones.

The article was Adelaide’s response to the story by Anne-Marie Slaughter ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’, published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic Magazine. The story has taken the internet by storm, and to date there have been 2,174 comments on the original article alone. This is not to mention the dozens of direct responses to the article in media worldwide (see some of this commentary below).

In a nutshell, Slaughter, who is a top US academic and former head of policy planning for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, writes that despite past expectations, women can’t in fact ‘have it all’ and that “the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.”

We Can Have It All. Just Not All At Once. 

In my opinion Anne-Marie is spot on (although I would probably remove ‘self-employed’ from the list). However, I do wonder who it is that truly believes we can really have it all? When it gets down to it, I think the biggest question we need to ask our selves is what ‘it’ actually is, as well as when we think we will get ‘it’. As I mentioned in the article, I love Oprah’s take on this when she says “We can have it all. Just not all at once.” We need to establish for ourselves, as an individual, what our ‘it’ is. We then need to get clear on when all the different ‘its’ will occur. Our answers cannot be defined by society, by other working women, nor by the expectations of young females following in our footsteps.

Slaughter’s own response as to why she used the term ‘having it all’ suggests a similar message:

“The reason I used “have it all” … is that in my generation, I graduated from college in 1980 … having it all just meant having a career and having a family. And that’s why it became the mantra that it became. It’s clear to me that many people hear it differently now. They think it means having everything you want. None of us have everything we want — men, women.”

Notice anything familiar about the cover photo?

Putting You At The Centre

Many of us fall in the trap of living up to the ideals and expectations of external influences such as family, friends, work colleagues and the media. Having it all doesn’t literally mean having everything. It means striving to live your life in a way that inspires you and gives you happiness.

Through discussions on LinkedIn about Slaughter’s article, I received this beautiful comment which I think perfectly explains my perspective. I publish it here with permission:

“I found it helpful some years ago, when my child was young, to stop trying to centre around the answer to work/life balance…..Instead, I put my name in the centre and asked ‘what is it that this whole person can achieve and be happy doing it?'” Elinor Graham, who works in communications around employee engagement.

Becoming Familiar With Patience

It also means becoming familiar with patience (something I struggle with). If we choose to have children, our career may have to slow down. If we want to travel, perhaps purchasing a new home will have to wait. If we want to reach great heights in our professional life, then we may have to be willing to work long hours and travel extensively. Yet this need only be for certain periods of time. The time for a new house, overseas travel, running a marathon, or whatever your goals are, will come. You can have it all, you just need to get clear about what this means to you and then prioritise.

You also need to set deadlines, so, as revealed by Gale Edwards in the Sunday Mail article, you don’t miss your opportunity:

“By the time I got to 45 I started to realise that I was hugely successful career-wise, but as a person I was very isolated and quite lonely. I didn’t make the decision not to have children, I just worked so hard for so long and I didn’t meet anyone until I started to slow down…….I grew up in the ’60s with women’s liberation and I bought it lock, stock and barrel. I bought the feminist dream entirely and nothing deterred me……I woke up at 45 and went: “Oh my God, it’s to late.” – Gale Edwards, Multi-award-winning and internationally successful theatre and film director.

Let The Debate Continue….With Action

I am pleased that this debate has raced to the top of the media’s conversation (and hopefully to the top of conversations within organisations). I now look with interest to see how people more actively and practically deal with the issues. I am excited about the potential of creative solutions in all areas of society – at home, in organisations and within government. At the very least, we need to give ourselves permission to seek a better way of doing things.

In Part 2 of ‘On Having It All‘, Abbie will discuss some ideas for the future and how we can move this debate forward, to improve work life balance for all. 

What do you think? We’d love to hear about your work life balance views? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? What are you doing in your life in your pursuit of balance?

Some Responses to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Article

“Slaughter is brave enough to say flat-out that she thinks mommies feel the pang of this frenetic juggling more acutely than daddies, and I agree.Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, Washington Post

“I want to stand up and applaud the author for having the courage and the compassion to say what needed to be said. We can talk about “choices” until we are blue in the face, but the context of our choices matters. Many women try to play the game, but quickly realize that the rules are stacked against them and choose not to play.” australianreader (comment on original article)

Isn’t the real problem not that women can’t do two jobs at once but that this entire debate is framed around the idea that it’s only women who should have to try to do so.” Lenore Taylor, National Affairs Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald

“How do we fit it all in? When my son was born, I took 15 months off my practice when most of my male colleagues only take two weeks of paternity leave. They bounce right back and nobody gives a second thought to whether they should be spending more time with their family.” Carolyn Anderson, Eye Surgeon, Wellness/ Productivity expert and founder of Impowerage, Huffington Post