Having It All

There are times that I feel old.  I know, I know…you are as young as you feel, yet there are times that my age is thrown in my face…like when peasant shirts and bell bottoms are back in style again.

And the whole discussion of Women’s rights.  I just finished reading one more story about Women’s Rights and the need to be Superwoman.  It is interesting to me since I have two daughters that are launched and at the beginning of their careers.  They have both started out recently, and I started to think about what they have to go through as they progress in their career.

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When I started out, the women’s liberation movement was in full swing and I proudly wore that trademark.  I was a bona fide women’s libber.  I admit it. Even when it was considered a bad thing to be a women’s libber.  I was not going to let any person tell me that I couldn’t do what I wanted.  I dressed like a man (even had those ties that women used to wear that “supposedly” looked cute); I had aspirations like my male counterparts, and I started my career in a male dominated industry (IT).  I ignored obstacles and kept pushing.  Later in my career, I made a life choice and decided to open my own consulting practice when I got pregnant the first time.  That was 25 years ago.

The other day I read article on the age old question, “Can women have it all?”  I have to say that I got a little melancholy when I read it.  The topic of women in the workforce doesn’t seem like it’s progressed much.  The young women of today are claiming that their issues aren’t the same as the previous generation, yet the article seemed like same topic….different spin.

There is still the ever present problem around gender pay equity. Women still get paid less than men for the same job.  Women have been fighting that fight for 40+ years.  Women are still trying to move up the corporate ladder and not get derailed when they choose to have children.    And the most painful topic is about women having it all.  I would hope that this topic would have been resolved by now.   I would love to see this generation figure it out once and for all.

Back when I decided to have children, I was forced to address it. I lived in a bedroom community where the majority of households consisted of stay-at-home Moms.  So when I got pregnant, I decided to leave my job at Microsoft to get off of the road.  When I had my first daughter, I started a consulting practice, and once my second daughter started school full-time, I took the opportunity to work on growing my business.

It was hard.  I felt guilty on a regular basis.  If I didn’t feel guilt on my own, my girls would innocently pile on the guilt when they wrapped their arms around me when I left.  I had a few friends that worked but we were not the majority.  Therefore, I didn’t have the working Mom network that I think is much more prevalent for the women in this generation.

Yet, I learned early on that I was not as “put together” when I wasn’t working.  I was a better Mom for my children working than I would have been as a stay at home Mom. Work was important to me and made me a happier person.   So I decided that I had to figure out what was most important to me and stick with the highest priority items.

I kept my office out of the home so I could still be around for my daughters as often as possible.  I made time and volunteered to be room parent every year for both kids as they grew up.  I took them out to children’s plays, playgrounds and museums every weekend.  And I avoided women networking events.  Back when I started, it seemed like all of the women networking events focused on how to figure out work/life balance.   I figured that with my limited time, I was better able to balance my life if I stayed at home with my kids in the evenings.

Fast forward today, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Both of my daughters are wonderful, smart, beautiful young women making their own way in the world and I couldn’t be prouder.  I believe I “had it all.”

So, after reading that article, I realized that this never-ending topic of women “having it all” is missing the point.  I believe I did have it all and I’m not superwoman.  The real question that we should be asking is….what is your definition of ALL? What does it mean to you personally?  Not every man ends up as CEO and neither will every woman.   I felt that I had it all because I defined “all” at the beginning.  I wanted to have children and be there for them but I also wanted to continue working.  Staying in a corporate role wasn’t right for me since I was a little more of a renegade.  By starting my own business, I was able to manage my own time.  Once the kids became school age, I focused on growing my business.  I still wanted to be a room parent so I made time.  By making time, my business didn’t grow quickly.  That was okay for me at the time.  It gave me a chance to better fine tune the company and myself as a leader as well as fine tune my skills as a parent.

Be aware that I made compromises (on both accounts).  My “all” did not include housecleaning, cooking and I never did learn how to sew from my Mom.  I had to prioritize and those things weren’t high on my list.  I had someone there to help with my children, which makes me more fortunate than many, but I also gave up other things so that someone could in fact be there for them.  I didn’t do “all” by the textbook definition.

Did I miss out?  Maybe… When my oldest daughter first came back home after going away to college, I was so excited, I told her that I would make her a home cooked meal….anything she wanted.  Her response was, “It’s not as if you cooked enough for me to have a favorite.”  I will not deny that her comment cut me hard.  In fact, I still find that I am pulling out the blade years later.  But in the grand scheme of things, that wasn’t part of my “all.”  My children didn’t starve, they both have a healthy work ethic and I know that they can do anything they set their mind on and they will always be able to take care of themselves.    To me…that’s having it all!

Let’s stop agonizing over theory and start being practical.   Men don’t have it all and neither will women.  You make compromises in your life and you live with them.  If it is important enough, find a way!  If it’s not that important, let it go!  I could never have stayed on my path in corporate America and had my all.  So I came up with a different plan.  Let’s change the conversation and start talking about having MY ALL.   Whether your ALL is to stay home and take care of children full time, or skip having children and have the career you want or trying to mix the two, define what it looks like to you.  Then stop beating yourself up over not having it all!  It’s ALL relative.

Laura

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