Most moms realize this pretty quickly, but there’s a certain futility to trying to compartmentalize your life. You can’t just be a mom at home and an executive at work, you can’t just overcompensate by working harder and burning out.
And I think a lot more people were confronted by this reality over the last two years, as more people started working from home — work and life just have a way of bleeding together.
That doesn’t mean we can’t “have it all.” But maybe we can’t if we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them.
The Origins & Evolution of ‘Having It All’
The phrase entered social consciousness with Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 book “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, and Money…Even If You’re Starting with Nothing.” Society took the phrase and ran with it, and I think most women since have felt this unrealistic expectation projected onto them:
You will be a mother (of course), the primary caregiver, and a full-time employee so that you can help financially support your family, and it’s a personal failing if you can’t achieve all of those things at the same time.
Ten years ago, Anne-Marie Slaughter offered a rebuke of these expectations in her essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” She wrote, “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”
I so appreciated this essay when it was first published because it made me feel less alone. I left a c-suite job to pursue a path of independent consulting because I wanted more freedom. But the goal was to be there for my kids; the goal was to be the mom I want to be and still learn, still grow, still mature professionally. I saw that I had to take the reins of my career if I didn’t want to sacrifice either of the two things that are most important to me: my family and myself.
Redefining Success: Creating Your Definition of ‘Having it All’
I want every person to feel empowered to redefine success as progress.
Honestly, I think that is the single most important thing you can do if you want to feel successful — acknowledge that there isn’t a single metric or endpoint at the end of this journey and just embrace the things that help you make progress. If your definition of success exists as a binary, you’re going to feel like you’re failing most of the time.
You get to define what ‘having it all’ means for you, not Helen Gurley Brown, not your mom, and not anyone else.
Slaughter realized it after three years in government, I realized it after a few years working my way up the corporate ladder, and thousands of people have realized it working from home during the pandemic: time freedom is the ultimate factor that makes ‘having it all’ possible.
And freedom over your schedule just is not possible in a lot of traditional jobs. This is one of the biggest structural issues that Slaughter outlined as preventing us from ‘having it all at the same time,’ but there is a silver lining — there is significantly more opportunity to create freedom in your life than just a decade ago, mostly thanks to new marketplaces and technologies.
Things are getting better, especially over the last two years, but you might have to think about work a little differently. Your career doesn’t have to be one job; think of your career as a portfolio that can consist of multiple part-time positions, side gigs, roles, or small businesses.
In-person or online, there are dozens of marketplaces for gig workers. The technical and financial barriers to selling something online, either on your own website or through an existing online marketplace, is negligible. If there’s something you like to do and you think you’re good at it, there’s probably someone out there who hates doing it and is willing to pay you to do it. There are even platforms like The Mom Project that recognize the specific skills and talents that moms can bring to work.
The opportunities are out there. I won’t lie and tell you creating more freedom in your life is easy, it’s probably going to take a lot of work up front and you’re probably going to have to make yourself uncomfortable, but it’s easier now than it ever has been in the past, even the very recent past.
So, if your current career doesn’t give you the freedom you need to have it all, consider creating the career that does.
CONNIE STEELE’S BIO
Connie Steele is a Future of Work and Life Expert, author, co-founder of management consultancy Flywheel Associates, and host of the Strategic Momentum podcast. Her book Building the Business of You: A System to Align Passion and Growth Potential Through Your Own Career Mashup helps professionals and entrepreneurs navigate the new world of work while aligning personal purpose and professional advancement. She’s also passionate about helping leaders build fluid organizations to adapt and thrive in a world where uncertainty is the new certainty.
Connie published “What Workers Want,” the second annual State of Work and Career Success survey. Connie is conducting this survey annually in an effort to understand people’s needs in the new world of work: What does it take to be successful now? What holds us back as individuals (not employees) from reaching our goals? What does it take to reach one’s career potential and what is that relationship with their company’s potential?