Every Mother's Day, after another year of hand-wringing and questioning about whether women can have it all -- can we really have great careers, great marriages and be great moms/daughters/friends, etc.? -- I still feel compelled to write this blog, even after more notable people have weighed in. Why? Because with each passing year, we make ourselves more and more crazy, and I just want the madness to stop.
But before I go any further, let me say that I know there are additional constraints facing women in other countries or living in poverty. So I will not presume to say that I am able to address all their issues. But for educated American women (and there are millions and millions of us!), I am confident my advice will apply.
So here it is, my great pearl of wisdom, this thing I've been dying to share, my absolute belief on this subject: Yes, women can have it all... just not at the same time. How is this possible, you may ask? Sadly, Disney was wrong: happiness rarely comes via magic wand. It takes work. And focus. And planning. But, with these things, it is doable.
As I have met women around the world while giving talks about my book or giving speeches on behalf of my company or serving on NGO Boards, I have been told time and again that my story is inspiring. Across companies, countries and cultures, it seems to resonate. I am "proof" for many women that it can be done. And I agree I am "proof" of that. But I am also "proof" that it's hard, that it never works out exactly as planned and that even when you "get it all," you may feel like it's not enough.
But if you want to go for it, here is my 3-step plan for having it all:
Step 1: Admit you are not super-human. Say it out loud. Right now: "I am not Wonder Woman. She does not exist!" Then forgive yourself by recognizing that you cannot do it all at the same time. And PS: This isn't just about us girls. Guys can't do it all at the same time either. They just rarely even try!
Step 2: Prioritize. So if you can't do it all at the same time, how do you actually have it all before it's over? My advice is to think of your life and career as a series of stages. I look at 3-5 year chunks. Decide what each chunk is about. Be intentional. Life will just happen, but if you know what you really want out of each stage of your life, you are WAY more likely to get it. For example, in my twenties, I was very clear that I was chasing my career. I wanted money, power, status. I wanted to excel professionally and to have an exciting, exotic international career. And I was willing to trade relationships, real estate and even physical comfort to get it. By my mid-thirties, having achieved a fair degree of professional success, I started thinking hard about finding a husband, having kids and buying a house. So, while I still had a really good job, I moved back to the USA and put more energy into these personal goals. And, by 39, I had all three -- husband, house and kids. Today, as I reach the end of my 40s, while I am still hard-charging (it's genetic), I am much more relaxed about "achieving" (hard as that may be for some who've only known me in the last few years, but honestly this is more relaxed!) and much more interested in "enjoying".
This is what I mean by stages. But I didn't just think of my life in stages. To get where I wanted to get, I thought about every year as well. Each New Year I would decide what the year ahead would be about. I limited myself to three priorities. No more. No less. I have found there is real power -- dare I say "magic" -- to the number three. For years as a mother and global executive my first two priorities remained the same: job and kids. So I really only had one variable to play with. One year it was writing a book. One year it was my marriage: Yes, note that while I wasn't a total failure as a spouse any year, my husband/marriage did not always make the priority list. And he knew it because we talked about it. And, we muddled through. Ditto with friends and extended family. I was a good sister/daughter/friend -- the proof being my solid relationships with my family and many lifelong friends. But, I did have to pass on so many things I would've loved to have done in order to have the time, money and energy to do a great job on the things I had prioritized that year. So, I am not saying you do nothing in those other areas. If you do nothing, they will likely not be there when you finally are ready to focus on them again. You must stay invested. But be smart about how you do that and don't beat yourself up about the things you will miss. That is exactly the kind of futile and exhausting practice we need to stop. So, this Mother's Day (whether you have kids or not), take at least a few minutes to step back and think about what the various "chunks" of your life have been about thus far. Think about what this current chunk is all about. And think ahead... what future chunks would you like to have? If you are honest with yourself and can make conscious choices about the three most important things in your life right now, you will find you can do a great job managing those things and you'll be happier doing it too!
Step 3: Build a true support system -- professionally and personally. This is the third thing that every women needs if she wants to have it all. I am not talking about the "in" crowd you wish you were part of or the superstars in your field who's every word you hang on. Having those people in your life is fine. But they are not the people you need to build a life where you can have it all and actually enjoy it. You need people who will have your back. People who will tell you the truth when you are screwing up. People who will listen and not judge -- or at least not judge too harshly -- when you share your fears or frustrations. People who will pick up your kids when a meeting runs late. People who will read your resume with a critical eye or introduce you to a potential new client they know or suggest your name for a promotion. You need to literally encircle yourself with these people. They should include family, friends and neighbors. Colleagues and superiors. Mentors. Role models. And, very very importantly, the right spouse/partner -- someone who wants to join you on the journey you dream of. When it comes to support systems, I will admit that I have been blessed. But I will also say that I have done my part. I am a consummate "collector of cool people." I seek out people who not only accept who I am, but actually like the fact that I am direct, opinionated, talkative, energetic, enthusiastic, even a bit over the top at times. In short, I seek out people I find truly interesting and who I like spending time with. They accept me for who I am -- for better or worse, richer or poorer, thinner or fatter. You can find those people too. You just have to put yourself out there. Ask them for coffee. What's the worst thing that could happen? They say no! So what? Move on. There are tons of cool people out there who would love to meet the real you. You just have to put in the effort to find them and be their friend in return.
So that's it. That's my three step plan for having it all. I did it and so can you. It wasn't easy. And I made my share of mistakes along the way. I almost missed being a mom. I struggled in my marriage. I've gained and lost more weight than I care to think about. But I've also gotten to work with amazing people on groundbreaking initiatives. I've traveled the world. I've made a fair amount of money. I've even had a bit of "fame." And now, having decided that this chunk of my life is about social impact, family and me (yes, I finally made my own priority list!), I've started my own business, become a girl scout troop leader, got a puppy, am getting back in shape and started dating my husband all over again. My goal is to be sure that when I get to the end of my life, I have as few regrets as possible... knowing I went for it, even if it didn't all work out. I know now that I have been lucky. I have had it all, at least my own personal definition of "all." My wish is that all women can someday say the same!