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Why You CAN Have it All

25+ years ago I had no idea where I was headed - or what I could/couldn't do in this world…what a blessing that was.

Back in 2013, I was been seeing a lot of stories out there about how it is impossible for women to “have it all”. Here were some of my thoughts back then that still ring true today...

At the city business journal's Women of Influence luncheon I attended, they recognized women in the business community.  Well, they gave them “Orchid Awards”.


The female stereotype symbols going on in that room were obnoxious – women-are-flowers (the “orchid” award – can you imagine if we gave “tulip” awards to men?), the room was in purple, and we were all forced to eat salad for lunch.  With only a few exceptions, diversity was low, from ethnicity to age to job.  In a town called the Silicon Forest, only one on the long list worked in software.

Oh, and one of the big “____ of the year” award winners?  Doesn’t even live in Portland.

And my very favorite, of course?  Talking about being a parent as the icing on the cake, as the “hardest job” (read here why it's not), and women actually defending themselves for deciding not to have kids.  Once again, functioning uteruses taking center stage rather than celebrating ALL of our differences, and leaving childless women in their relegated role of lower on the totem pole.

Yes, as you can imagine, I left feeling snarky and pissed off, as usual.

So the panel topic began with babbling incessantly about Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Yawn.

Let’s just say that while once in a while Sandberg has a few good points – especially on how women need to choose men who are equal partners – I’m not a fan overall of extraordinarily wealthy people with Ivy League educations telling the rest of us what we should be doing, especially when Sandberg says about work, “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone,” and makes assumptions that women all have those equal partners for spouses and money for the childcare and willingness to put personal and family time to the bottom priority so they can try to be even with men who have been leaving family priorities behind for years in the executive world.

Women are starting their own businesses in droves, blazing their own trail instead of a corporation’s path (one that’s often environmentally destructive and sometimes even socially destructive, like Facebook, a site that is coyly represented as “bringing people together” when it’s just collecting personal data for marketing and yes, spam). But Sandberg wants us in the boardroom. If we truly want that, we need to pass legislation like Norway that mandates a female presence on boards. But don’t tout feminism at me and say we need to be like the guys to get good lives. While yes, confidence is lacking in some women, there’s a lot we’re doing right that men need to imitate, not the other way around.

I found this response piece to be particularly powerful along with this awesome opinion piece by Elsa Walsh. As Walsh says, “I have to wonder if Sandberg does not realize that she is going to die someday. There is so little life and pleasure in her book outside of work.”  Sandberg asks us to let go of our time and balance to pursue Fortune 500 executive roles. And I again echo Walsh: “That is not how I want my daughter to live, and it is not how I want to live.”

The moderator went on about was about how it is “impossible” for women to “have it all” – great job, family, social life, home, etc.  That if we choose them all we will “not do any of them well”.

I think that’s total crap.

When the hell were men ever told they couldn’t have these things?  It’s so completely defeatist towards women to say they have to sacrifice something important to them because otherwise they’ll be terrible workers/partners/friends/mothers.   Rather than telling women to adapt to a male-dominated, male-orchestrated world, why are we not insisting they meet OUR needs rather than us running to catch up with them all the time?

Why do I get so ballsy to say this?  Because I have it all.  And I’ll explain this in a moment. I had the pleasure of stumbling across a dad’s blog, Let Her Eat Dirt, where the writer hits the bullseye in his post, Men need to figure out the “good enough” life too:

“Whether it’s Sheryl Sandberg or Anne-Marie Slaughter or Marissa Mayer, much of the commentary seems to assume an emphasis and priority on work achievement over personal life. Go ahead and have kids, folks seem to be saying — but don’t actually raise them or let them change your life…In our achievement-oriented culture, work accomplishments can be quantified and compensated; family can’t (and shouldn’t be) neatly summarized on a resume and rewarded accordingly.  Here’s my beef: where are the men? Why are all these commentaries about work-life balance written by women? Why is this seen as a debate for moms? Why aren’t men taking a more active role in challenging the work obsession that devalues family?”

The biggest issue I see out there is women listening to the media and other people rather than to their own intuition.  As a coach, the first thing I ask is “what do you REALLY want do?”  And the answers often start with “well, I should…” or “this would be good for me”.  So I have to coax them into admitting their dreams.  Let go of what others say you should do and find a way to get closer to your own dreams.  Don’t listen to those who say you can’t build the life you’ve always wanted.

I’ve wanted to be my own boss ever since I started stepping away from the kids on the playground who wanted to play house. I ran for the trees, read a book, explored on my own, hung out with others who were creating their own paths.  And learned over the years that those who look at me like an alien for walking to the beat of my own drum, for questioning authority, for following my heart wherever it takes me?  Those are the people who are not good for me.

What going into business for myself taught me (among the many lessons) is that I am alone responsible for my happiness.  While this was always the case, in the corporate world we often equate happiness to weekends and those two or three weeks off a year we get as “vacation”, rather than making your whole life about being happy.  (Gasp! Did she actually say she wanted her whole LIFE to be happy? Heavens to Betsy, how selfish!)

So yes, as I said earlier, I have it all.  I have a home.  I have friends.  I have a partner I am crazy about.  I have a garden I love to work in.  And I have a job that I have chosen because it allows me to have all of these things.

How do I have this?  I live simply.  I chose to live in a neighborhood where a car wasn’t essential to my survival.  I have always unquestionably chosen work (even during layoffs) that is within public transportation’s reach (if not bikeable).  Sure it means my home is smaller, but who cares? It’s a place to rest my head.  And over the years I’ve worked on it enough so I can now grow a lot of my own food on a small footprint.  I know my neighbors because I chose not to live in suburbia where people are farther apart and where people have to drive everywhere.  Where I live, we’re out on the sidewalks, walking to our local cafes and grocery stores and parks, on our bikes enjoying the simple life, finding fun in the simple, not the malls or with video games.  I chose to leave my job of 80 hours a week last summer, and jumped off what seemed to be a cliff into potential unemployment, only to realize that I would not only survive, but thrive in following my instincts to do what gave me peace rather than try to do what others thought was right.  I don’t have cable, and I live energy efficiently not just because I’m a treehugger (smile), but because I save a ton of money doing it.

And guess what happened because of this?  I see my friends more.  I am back to volunteering.  I took my first vacation in 2.5 years.  I’ve lost 27 pounds. I’ve got time for yoga class again.  I’ve got time for my sweetheart.  I’ve met more people.  I am better at what I do than I was 9 months ago, because I’ve allowed room for clarity in my life that the busy corporate life never allowed.

They were always first.  Now I’m first. 

"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” ~ John Lennon

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