The Internet this past week has been full of discussion about an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic, titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All?” Ms. Slaughter writes about the difficulties she experienced in holding a high-level policy position in the State Department, and why she ultimately returned to her role as a dean at Princeton University in large part because she needed to spend more time with her family.
She argues in the piece that women cannot “have it all” in today’s society, for a number of reasons. She says that we tell ourselves half-truths about “having it all,” such as believing we can “have it all” if we are committed enough, or if we marry the right person, or if we sequence our lives right.
But in fact, we cannot have it all.
And here I state my own beliefs, based on having lived most of my professional and family life:
No one has it all.
Everyone makes compromises.
I posted in March about women “opting out.” The truth is, we all opt out of some things and opt into other things.
I worked for more than 25 years in demanding positions in corporate America. You would recognize the name of my employer if I named the firm. I worked 60 hours/week, and managed to stay married and raise two children. I had many of the advantages that Ms. Slaughter had, but not all. I probably had other advantages she did not have.
And through it all, I made choices.
- I chose not to take job opportunities that could have separated my family and would have required a long-distance marriage and parenting.
- I chose not to have more than two children.
- I chose to leave work in time to be home for dinner most nights, and chose to quit working at home at bedtime, rather than pulling all-nighters (though I had many sleepless nights from stress).
- I chose to live in the Midwest, instead of on the East or West Coast, where life seems more frantic.
Along the way, my husband made his choices as well. Some of his choices enabled my career, and some made it more difficult. And my choices had positive and negative impacts on his career and other activities.
Could I have done more at work? Yes. I held several senior positions in my company, but I could have risen higher and had more authority. Some of why I didn’t rise further was probably due to my choices, and some was probably due to how others perceived me, correctly or incorrectly.
But I had a very good career, and I left on my own terms. And I raised two children who are now successful young adults. I look back on these accomplishments with satisfaction, no matter that I could have had more.
I didn’t have it all, but I had most of what I wanted. And I was responsible for my choices.
I hope that my children – son and daughter alike – have more choices than I had. I hope they worry less about the choices they make. But the odds are, their lives will have some of the same difficulties as well as new ones that develop in the 21st century.
Life doesn’t permit any of us to “have it all.” It’s not meant to be easy. Nor even fair.