Can you have it all?

This question is just so loaded. If it simply meant, “Can you have a career and a family?” then yes, of course, we all can do that. Men do.  Single women do.  Plenty of married women do, too.

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But what is really being asked here is:  “Can you do it all?” Can you hold down a full time job while being the primary housekeeper, parenting expert, daycare manager, and coordinator of the extended family? The answer, is, of course, no. There simply is not enough time in a day to do it all.

Worse, we add to this a high standard of perfection: We need to have the perfect house, our children need to behave perfectly and be in a multitude of activities, we need to dress perfectly, and we need to show up to work fresh and energized, never skipping a beat.  This is unrealistic and impossible.  The reason men and single mothers can have it all because they don’t do it all, they don’t even try. They shed unnecessary activities and are content to do some things less well than others.  They delegate work they don’t have the energy to do and pace themselves over time.  They don’t need to be perfect.  Some even marry stay at home spouses so they get the best of both worlds: A fulfilling career, gorgeous home, and a highly qualified manager to take care of it all.  What a great setup!

Of course you can have it all; you just have to stop doing it all.  First, you have to stop doing the unnecessary.  It may mean putting off getting the kitchen remodeled until the kids are in kindergarten. Or buying store-bought baby food instead of making your own.  Second, you have to  figure out what can be done at less than perfection.  It may mean letting the report go out without going through it for the 15th time.  Or responding to emails within every hour.  Finally, you have to delegate and invest in some support. You could hire a high school student to walk the kids home and start dinner so you can work late a few times a week.  Or ask your spouse to share in the “must have” jobs at home.  You may even be able to leverage co-workers to share the more menial tasks at work for the benefit of everyone.  Think of these expenditures of money and political capital as investments in your long-term career, just like going to college was.  They will pay off.

All of this may seem overwhelming and impossible because you have been trained for so long to do everything and then rewarded for achieving it all.  But it is a bad trap that does nothing but limit your options.  You are smart and creative: When you remove the limitations of “Doing it all”, it frees you up to brainstorm new solutions.  What activities can you shed?  What can you do less than perfectly?  What can you delegate?  How can you free up time and energy to focus on what really matters?  You can also enlist friends to try this as well: When one of you decides to stop doing it all, others can do it, too!  What a relief it can be to take the pressure off each other!

You can have it all.  What are you waiting for?

(Check out this recent article By Angela Priestley, Australia concurring – quit trying to do it all)

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