When we think of “having it all”, we most likely think about an attractive woman in a smart business suit and high heals carrying her baby in one arm, the other carries a designer bag while she makes a phone call. Next to her is her toddler all set for pre-school. She drops her children off and then rushes to her important meeting as the high-powered CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company. Her supporting and loving husband will pick up the kids from school and if both of them are too busy, there is a nanny or a grandmother to help out.
Throughout my teens and twenties that was the ideal towards I strove for. I did believe that a woman can have it all. Until today, I still think that the above-mentioned scenario is indeed possible to achieve. However, I am not entirely sure if this scenario still means “having it all”. When I started my career I realised how difficult it can be. A high-flying career with a certain salary to afford a luxury lifestyle came with sacrifices – long hours, moves across continents, failed relationships, men who were scared of a woman who earned more than them, being away from my family.
Last weekend, I stumbled upon quite a few articles about this topic – one of them was a discussion with the founder of the online magazine Manrepeller, Leandra Medine-Cohen. All of the articles agreed on one topic: the need to redefine what “having it all” means. Let’s discuss it according to the image I described above.
According to a poll by the social career network Linkedin, 74% of women think that they can have it all – in the sense of having a fullfilling career, relationship and children. Let’s assume that the scene above has this assumption of a balance between these three pillars as a base. Hence, our main character is a woman who obviously has a career (hint: phone), a relationship (the husband who picks up the children) and children (on arms and waddling next to her). Let’s move on to the details.
Career, Money and Children
I still think it is possible to have a satisfying career and personal life at the same time. But the definition of “satisfying” needs to assessed for each and every woman. To some, it means to be a board member of a Fortune 500/Dax-listed conglomerate or a business owner while employees/grandmothers/partners look after the children. To others, it means freelancing and juggling the children partly or fully on their own or with the support of their partner. Others may opt to stay at home full-time. And yes, there are plenty of women who just do not want to have children. And some women opt to be single rather than being in an unfulfilling relationship. Therefore, the notion of “having it all” needs to cover all dimensions.
I think also our attitude to “having it all” in terms of money differs. To some, money is important because it allows for a certain lifestyle and nice things, even though the job itself is not satisfying. To others, money is less important – they opt for a pay-cut to work on projects they see as fulfilling. I think what we all have in common is that we strive for money because it means independence and freedom.
Of course, women not only need to be successful but also attractive. A successful male CEO can be old and have a “healthy belly” as a sign of his success. If we think of the images of power women in the media, this is unthinkable. Think about how Angela Merkel had to change her style. The book covers and editorial pictures of female role models are always polished. It is just not possible to go out on the streets without make-up to pick up your children from the nursery. Maybe this ideal has changed as well? I am not a big fan of sweatpants. But maybe the ongoing trend of sweatpants paired with sneakers, messy buns and nude make-up has its roots somewhere. Maybe we do not want to conform to a polished picture anymore?
Long Hours, Hectic Life without Social Satisfaction
The scene I described above also transports one assumption on a subconscious level: stress. The mother hurries from home, to school to her job and back. It implies there is just no time for anything else than our jobs and families. It completely ignores the social dimension: the time we spend with friends or investing in ourselves. Still, we consider a life centred only around job and family as “having it all”. Is it really? For me, it clearly is not. During stressful weeks, I need some downtime on my own – even if it is only an hour or a brief catch up with my friends. I cannot imagine that I would completely forget about that once I have children.
I think, most importantly when redifining “having it all”, we need to expand the number of pillars – from the three involving job, relationship and children – to many more including me-time, quality time with friends. Furthermore, I think our view to money has shifted as well. While I still think it is a major goal for most striving women, I met quite a few (and I am including myself) who made a major career transition, very often resulting in lower salaries at least for a limited amount of time). But they did it because they found this new career path more satisfying and rewarding.
Lastly, the mere fact that the discussion about “can we have it all” is still around means that maybe we still cannot have it all. Does it mean we gave up on the image I described above because women realised it is not achievable? Or have our priorities changed? I leave it to you to think about if there is still a need to strive for “having it all” or how you would define it for yourself.
Whatever “having it all” means to each of us and how money pillars your definition of the phrase may include, the important thing is to find the balance which makes you happy. It is about you and not about certain standards, goals or role models society imposes on women.