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