Making Choices and “Having It All” in Sum

There has been a lot of debate around the question, “Can women have it all?” This question has certainly generated a lot of discussion about the high expectations placed on a woman to perfectly manage her career, her relationship with her spouse/partner, and her role as a parent. The debate exposed the everyday challenges around work-life balance, including the demands of caregiving and need for flexibility at work.  

One of our recent Women’s Center for Leadership events had a panel of female speakers from different age groups (30’s, 40’s, and 50’s) talking about career phases. Each shared their thoughts on how they made trade-offs to make career and life transitions.

One executive woman on the panel said she achieved her career goals, but has “over-edited her personal life” in the process. Others traded off career opportunities for family or relied heavily on their partners to share the workload at home while they focused on their careers. After that event, a WCL member reached out to share her thoughts.

Can you really be the best wife, the best mom, and the most successful woman? Is that what “having it all” means? Maybe, but how happy will you be if you always give to those three entities? Will that bring balance and fulfillment?

What does it really mean “to have it all”? To say “you can have it all” in the world today is fairly misleading. I prefer instead to think that we can have what we CHOOSE. There will always be a sacrifice on some level, whether personal or professional . . . but we can have whatever we align our goals with. That doesn’t necessarily mean we can have EVERYTHING (and do we really NEED everything)?

What we need is balance and fulfillment. We make choices every day based on our values and our desires. And I’m a very happy, balanced, 46-year-old woman/wife/mother/daughter/friend/runner with a career.. but I wouldn’t say I “have it all.” I would say “I have everything I want at this point in my life,” and what I don’t have now . . . I will get, because I am driven and I have a plan. And, I have time left to get what I want. It’s all about the journey. Let’s just slow down and appreciate the journey!

The consensus among the women on our panel and this Women’s Center for Leadership member is that it’s all about being clear about what you value most (i.e., knowing what you want), creating a plan, and making tradeoffs. Since your situation and “what you want” values changes over time and as you progress through career phases, having a sounding board can help. One of our board members replied back.

“Life is about choices. I have never had it all, all at once. But over the course of the years, I have had it all in sum. And, in reflection, it is good to be able to say that. Maybe “having it all at once” is that which leads us astray and makes us less satisfied with our lives. As you say, if we focus on the journey with a plan, maybe that is the golden ring. It’s all about expectations isn’t it?”

I like the idea of focusing on your priorities, enjoying the journey, and having it all in sum.

Kelli Gizzi
WCL President

Three Tried and True Ways to Let Your Inner Leader Shine

So you are not the CEO, not even the manager, but you can hone your leadership skills and start behaving like a leader no matter what you do or what level you are in the company. In the HBR article “Act like a Leader before You Are One,” author Amy Gallo outlines several strategies to start acting like a leader.

I have been employing a few of these over the past few years. Here are the ones I know work:

1.    Knock your responsibilities out of the park
This one is a given. You have to be a rock star in your current job. Which means you have to pick jobs and assignments where there are meaty project you are passionate about. Make sure they are challenging enough to keep you engaged and that there are clear key performance indicators, so it’s obvious when you have nailed it. Or hopefully over-nailed it. And don’t be shy about letting others know what you have done. A great way to do this is to send a thank you to the people you worked with on the project thanking them for making the project successful. Build visibility and good will at the same time.

2.    Help your boss succeed
Make sure you know the goals of the organization and your managers. It doesn’t have to be a “drop everything” kind of task.  I picked one goal our Vice President had and focused small portions of my time over the past year on helping her nudge the needle on that goal. Knowing the vision and the end goal, set some milestones and report progress. You will get some awesome one on one time and direct feedback from your manager – the kind of stuff you wouldn’t get when talking about a regular project.

3.    Seize leadership opportunities, no matter how small
Large corporations have been eliminating layers of middle management. While it used to be fairly easy to land a job in management, someone who has been an individual contributor for a long time may find there are fewer and fewer opportunities available. At one point I felt that maybe I had missed the people management boat by focusing on managing programs as an individual contributor for so many years. I did what the article suggests and interviewed for a non-paid board position at a local Portland non-profit. I have been learning about how boards and non-profits work, have had opportunities to lead and have received lots of support and coaching from the board’s president and other senior board members.

I develop my leadership skills to grow my career, but I also do it because it energizes me. It is true, the skills you gain, the experience you collect and the connections you make along the way are invaluable. Your current manager and organization reap the benefits of your new skills and confidence. And over time, others outside of your organization or in your industry will start taking notice.

Don’t be surprised if opportunity starts knockin’ – just by letting a little of that inner leader shine through.

Kelli Gizzi
WCL President


Year-End Adjustments

Fall is here! A season of change. The leaves are turning, producing for us a beautiful display of colors. And, not surprisingly, we are beginning to experience those cool, crisp mornings. Time to pull out our favorite sweaters and scarves!

For me, fall can be a contemplative time of year. A time to reflect on my goals, hopes and dreams … and to realize there is still time to make that end-of-year push. The year is almost over. Winter will soon be here. As I look back over the year, I think about what has occurred in my life. What were the highlights? The low points? What have I learned? What have I accomplished? What impact have I had on others’ lives? What is left to do? And maybe, what do I need to let go of?

In this season of change, we see the trees drop their leaves, in order to nourish the ground beneath them. I, too, plan to take the time to slow down a bit and focus on which leaves I can shed to fuel my life. What do I need to maintain, harvest, or divest of? What will be important for me to close out the year?

Before you hunker down for the long winter ahead … could this be a time for you to refocus on what is important to you?

Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn–Elizabeth Lawrence.

Michelle Sosinski
WCL President