by Nikole Reaksecker
As women, we often struggle to figure out how to combine professional success with our personal lives. We “want it all” – loving, supportive partners, strong friendships, caring families, a beautiful, safe space to call home, and enriching, fulfilling, impactful careers. No matter how strong or grounded you are, at some point, you will experience the dissonance between who you truly are, who you are being asked to be and what you can reasonably achieve. Stories about our worth, our commitment and our ability (or inability) to “have it all” are everywhere. We judge ourselves and are constantly judged. We also judge other women. Here, we take a look at several of the stories we tell ourselves and are told about “having it all.”
Story #1: Are you committed?
As women we are told the lie that “having it all” can be achieved through sheer force of will and that “it’s possible if you are just committed enough.” When we find ourselves struggling to balance multiple demands, our commitment is questioned and we are told, “You must not want it bad enough.” In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg states her belief that women have an “ambition gap” and that we simply are not dreaming big enough. I don’t know about you, but I know a lot of women who have big dreams, work hard to balance their personal and professional commitments, and still struggle. It simply isn’t true or fair to say that these women lack commitment especially when we live within a system that does not support balance.
Story #2: You aren’t working hard enough.
Another related story is that you simply “aren’t working hard enough.” I’m sure you’ve felt this tension. You feel pressure to arrive early, stay late and be available – always. You are constantly “on” and expected to answer each email, text and voicemail with lightning speed. How can this tremendous pressure be healthy, foster creativity or nurture productivity? It isn’t and it can’t. This type of “productivity” comes at a high cost. Our health and our relationships suffer. I know because I experienced this firsthand. I ran myself into the ground working harder and harder for a company that wasn’t nearly as committed to me as I was to it. And, I know I am not the only one. How many of you have had health problems as a result of working too hard or have seen your relationships suffer because you’ve spent too many long hours in the office? You know as well as I do that it is incredibly difficult to sustain healthy, functioning relationships if you are not present. Sadly, the expectation that we always be available negatively impacts men, women and children.
In The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second most common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”
Story #3: The playing field is even and fair.
Let’s face it. In many subtle (and not so subtle) ways, we are told that we cannot be ourselves in the work world. The unspoken rule is that women need to act more like men to “get ahead.” Male leaders are praised for sacrificing their personal lives and men are frequently condemned when they choose to care for their families first. Women leaders are simply told to prioritize and make the tough decisions. What isn’t spoken is that even though you work as hard as your male counterparts, you are still held to a different standard. When you recognize and draw attention to this imbalance, you are told it’s all in your mind and that your experience is not real.
In 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter wrote a very controversial article for The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In the article, she stated that as a society we rarely have “an honest discussion about the real barriers and flaws that exist in the system.”
At this month’s WEN event, we will not only explore the stories above more deeply, but we will also have a candid conversation about the system and learn powerful strategies for transforming how we move through the world. Please join us for this important conversation.