There's a phrase that came into vogue a while back: having it all. For a couple of years, magazines, newspapers, and TV were full of stories about superwomen who were doing everything: working full-time jobs, raising perfect children, volunteering at their children's schools, and hosting gourmet dinner parties in their spare time. These women were meant to be an inspiration, but instead they ended up making everyone else feel inadequate -- and probably having nervous breakdowns themselves within a few years.
As someone who is often perceived as "having it all," let me just say this outright: I hate that phrase. The implication is that every person wants exactly the same thing, which is completely untrue. You don't have to marry the lawyer or doctor, win the U.S. Open in tennis, and become a CEO all in the same year in order to find success and happiness. Blindly striving to have it all is not the answer. Having what I call a 360° Life isn't about reaching the top in everything you do, it's about achieving balance. It means creating a fully rounded existence, one that encompasses deep satisfaction with your personal life, work, and family.
Here's a confession: I was a workaholic in my twenties. I badly wanted not only to achieve, but to overachieve -- to go farther, faster, and do more than anyone else. Whatever it took to get ahead in my career, that's what I spent time doing. I was really happy during those years, and honestly don't regret a moment of all that hard work.
Yet today, with a husband of 25 years, two teenage children, and a floppy-eared black Lab, I have a keener appreciation for all the non-work pleasures life can bring. I still work very hard and travel constantly, but when I'm away from work, I'm truly away from it. Even if you're ambitious, it's not a crime to leave at 5:30 on some days. Because the reality is, you're going to be a better, more effective employee if you have a satisfying personal life.
So, how do you define success for yourself? How do you determine not only what you want in your life, but what you can realistically achieve? One way is by looking at these questions from a slightly different angle: Maybe you can have all the things you want -- just not all at the same time. In my case, this meant focusing mainly on work in my 20s and 30s and becoming a mother in my 40s. That choice wouldn't suit everyone, especially considering the potential age-related complications of getting pregnant after 40, but it has worked well for me.
Some women want nothing more than to stay home with their kids, and some are dying to get back to work. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. The key is to make the decision that's right for you -- no matter what anyone else thinks your right answer should be. So, let's say you've made the decision that you want both a family and a career. How can you do it all? I went back to work within a couple of weeks of adopting our son, Duffy (we adopted our daughter, Alison, four years later). My husband, Tom, and I both were comfortable with making the decision to have me go back to work full-time. I did bring Duffy with me to a few offsite meetings at USA Today, with nanny or mother-in-law in tow, and to his credit, my boss, Al Neuharth -- who had very progressive ideas about families and work time -- encouraged parents to bring their children to work on occasion. But even with these advantages, I remember what a balancing act it was to raise our kids, work long hours, and do so much traveling at the same time.
It is possible to have a family and a career, though time and energy are both finite, so you'll have to make choices and, sometimes, sacrifices. Feel free to explore any solutions to the family-plus-work equation -- either traditional or not so traditional -- that might work for you. And remember, it's not about whether you can do it all, it's about whether you can be happy whatever you're doing.