It’s International Women’s Day, a day designed to celebrate women. I’ve seen so many posts telling women how they can do anything, have anything, have it all. And I want to tell my daughters this – it isn’t true.
I don’t mean that they can’t be who they want to be or they are not as capable as men. That isn’t it at all. I have two amazing daughters who have already done things that blow me away. But they can’t have it all. And telling women that we should is a huge part of the problem.
The first problem is that I don’t need anyone – men or women – telling my daughters how they should define all. Does it mean having a thriving career? A healthy family? Both? Does it mean kicking ass at work and still having an immaculate house and well-behaved children who get straight As and do volunteer work? Does it mean spending your free time volunteering in the community and serving those around you? A lot of us, even women, seem to think this is “all” and spend time killing themseves trying to make it happen. But I’ve learned that my “all” is different at different stages in my life. And that unless I define my “all” I can never achieve it. So girls, don’t let the rest of the world define what “all” is for you.
Second, don’t lose yourself trying to have it all. I did that for a while. I forgot who I was while I was trying to balance the “all” everyone else told me I wanted, I should have. I spent time really unhappy as I chased the all. And I became a stranger to myself. It has taken a long time to find me again. Don’t sacrifice yourself in your quest to have it all.
Finally, and this may be the harshest part, you can’t have it all. But that is okay. No one can. If you decide to balance a career and family, something, likely both at times, will get less attention, less of your all, than it deserves. You will feel guilty about work sometimes because you have to stay home with a sick kid. You will feel guilty about family because you had to work and missed a performance. You will feel badly that your family is eating take-out or something from a box. Then you will feel like spending the time to come home and cook meant you left a project at work unfinished. You will feel bad for working late and you will feel bad for leaving work early. Why? Because somewhere along the way we as women bought into the lie that we have to have a successful career that gets our full attention and a family that lives in a immaculate house with gourmet meals and we spend time making sure other women see and know it. Along the way women have become some of the biggest perpetrators of the lie of “all.”
Girls, you can’t have it all. But you can have it amazing and wonderful and flawed and even a bit broken. It’s okay if your family sits down to eat take-out pizza more times than you had hoped. The important thing is that you are together, talking. It’s okay if sometimes you aren’t at every single school event because you are working, helping support your family and hopefully doing something about which you are passionate. It’s okay if you choose to stay home with your kids and not pursue a career. And it’s okay if you choose to passionately pursue your career and not have have children. It’s okay if you do both. But it’s not okay to let other people decide for you, to let other people define your all, and to lose yourself in the process.