I have some bad news for Anne-Marie Slaughter: she does have it all. Or at least the 'all' she commercialized, scores of speeches and hundreds-of-thousands of royalties ago, by telling us women couldn't have it.
I only wish that if Slaughter had felt discouraged, she could have vented over a beer with friends, instead. Goodness gracious, about the last thing the women in this country need is more messaging designed to guilt us and to remind us of what we can't do! Having 'it all' is a false paradigm -- unachievable, like a Rubik's Cube with seven colors. Regrettably, by dredging up that ever-elusive utopian work-life balance, Slaughter's article ignited another round of ruminations and contortions, and inadvertently, provided fodder to put women down. As one college woman shared with me, during her internship last summer at a major bank, the guys on the trading floor gleefully waved Slaughter's article in her face -- See, we told you!
Slaughter's article fed an insidious meme promulgated by our media that life for women and girls is marred by limitations and shrinking possibilities. It's no coincidence that as forms of media have multiplied and become increasingly pervasive in our lives, so too has women's progress stalled and in some cases, moved backwards. Since the mid-1990s, college women have narrowed their choices of majors, and ensuing careers fields. In fields like STEM, women's representation is back to levels of the 1970s. In 2011, an alarming Princeton study concluded that in the first decade of this century, college women's desire to take on leadership positions has significantly waned.
The other issue is practical reality. The 'it all' paradigm of work vs. stay-at-home is a choice available to just a privileged few. Today, women are the sole or primary breadwinners in 4 of 10 families. Almost 1 in 3 families are headed by a single parent, of which women compose 79 percent. Three in four women are currently in the workforce, and even more will be compelled to work during their lifetimes.
It's time for a new meme that can impact and inspire all women, instead of holding us back. The endless handwringing over having 'it all' is an utter waste of our collective time and energy. Instead, let's focus on what we can do and what works for us. Let's focus on having 'your all' - creating a happy, fulfilled and meaningful life. Here's some tips on how.
1. Think of Your Life in Chapters
Since we're relative newcomers to the workforce, there is no typical career path for women. You may have a linear journey like Marissa Mayer's ascent to CEO of Yahoo. Or, like me, you may have a chapter in one career field, then a stay-at-home chapter, then reinvent yourself to follow a new passion. Women's lives are rich with possibilities! Whichever chapter you're in, the key is to enjoy it, until you no longer feel fulfilled, and then be ready to turn the page. This doesn't preclude being mindful, always, of our economic independence -- having a skill set to fall back on. It is, however, liberating to know that our current chapter is just but one on our journey, and not a permanent state.
2. Make Decisions, then Move Forward
Recently, my daughter had to choose between playing field hockey or fall basketball. The important part wasn't the sport, but developing a decision making process. Throughout our lives we'll have to make choices -- some easy, some less so. Too often, we shrivel and let a non-decision become our decision. No more! Instead, develop a process: do your homework, reach out to experts, trust your instincts, and then move forward. Remember, there isn't a right or wrong decision. Whichever choice you make, you give something up, and that's okay to acknowledge. But on our path to happiness, we must empower ourselves to make decisions and not look back.
3. Practice Courage
In the eloquent words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier." Practice courage. Not the running into burning buildings kind of courage, but the small acts that are possible each and every day. Start with one act of courage each week. Your act might be making a difficult phone call; or attending a PTA meeting with unfamiliar faces; or inviting a colleague to lunch; or voicing your opinion in public. Whatever the act, feel the empowerment of doing it unapologetically. Gradually, you'll notice things shift - that others will admire you, and follow your lead. Now, practicing courage can become part of your everyday routine.
4. Chase your Dreams and Passions
My dogs chase squirrels every morning. In the span of eight years, they've caught few; yet they gleefully persist. The act of the chase gives their lives meaning. We all need to have dreams and passions. You may dream of becoming a Fortune 500 CEO like Marissa, or you may be passionate about teaching art to underprivileged children like my friend Marnie. Have dreams and passions - celebrate your self-interests. Be mindful: in your efforts to avoid being selfish, don't inadvertently become selfless.
5. Support and be Supported
I think of my girlfriends like a closet full of shoes: the comfortable sneakers I've had forever, the practical pumps for work, the stilettos for going out dancing. I value them all and know it's imperative to keep my closet fully stocked. Make time for your friendships, personal and professional. Be open to new people coming into your life, even if you don't know how they fit in to your journey right away. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need from your girlfriends. The person you're asking gets the double benefit of the gift of giving plus building her network of support. Play it forward.
Now, you're having your all!