June 22, 2012

What Is Having It All

I was reading an article recently talking about another article regarding this idea that women can work full time, have families, and have it all.

It made me ask, "What is 'having it all'?"

I think that people get lost sometimes in this fictitious happiness that we're all supposed to attain. The American dream has gone far beyond being able to educate your children and owning your own home.

It's moved into you're supposed to be happy, everyone marries for love, and women are supposed to be able to have it all.

Happiness is crap. If you stay in tune with life, there are good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, sick days, well days, tough days, easy days, rainy days and brutally scorching hot days.

Nobody can stay happy all the time without drugs being involved.

And that's not my goal in life. My goal is to strive for contentedness. To be content.

Marrying for love, that's an American/Western European thing and although I did it and my boys might do it (the might being if they bothered to get married), but marrying for love doesn't guarantee its going to last. As a matter of fact, looking at American divorce statistics, I'm going to think the probability is that their longevity is less than those who marry for convenience, out of arrangement, or because that's what you do and 'he's a good guy, can provide, comes from a good family, and he doesn't smell bad'.

Being in love doesn't breed commitment.

So let's move onto this 'having it all'.

I did the career thing, fast track, trying to move to the top of the corporate ladder. I worked the long hours, fought the good fights, knew the right people. And this was back in the day when not many women were doing what I did.

As I tell people, 'If I walked into a meeting, that meant that there weren't any other minorities, no Asians, African Americans, Latinos or other women. One minority per meeting please...' That's just the way it was.

I didn't wear pink because I needed to look like I fit. I didn't bring attention to myself. My skirts were a certain length, my heels a certain height, my hair practical, and jewelry minimal. I didn't dally at people's desks for fear of being pegged as a girl gossip, because we all know, that's what women do... gossip.

I was in a man's world and although I look nothing like a man, I did everything I could do to not draw attention to the fact I was a woman.

I remember once I bought a new dress to wear for my engagement pictures. It was really pretty, very feminine. I usually wore suits or coat dresses to work, but this one day, I wore that one. I had three men tell me I 'looked so pretty'. I was so aghast, I never wore it again. I wasn't angry or feeling harrassed. I was horrified at myself that I'd overstepped my own personal boundry... I'd taken that step to not blend and looked... very feminine.

And then I started having babies. And my husband's job is very demanding and is not one that is flexible so although we worked our schedules so I could go back to work at 20 hours a week, I'm the one that had to miss if babies got sick, pre schools were closed, or anything else that required a parent be home.

And although I will admit, I was resentful that I was having to always be the one to stay home, my job was important too Dammit!, in reality, I felt like I wasn't giving 100% to anyone.

I was giving my best at work, but being 20 hours I was really only giving 50%. That was thrown in my face by many a manager.

When I got home at Noon (I worked from 7-12 four days a week), my brain hurt from thinking so much, I'd been up since 6AM, up all night feeding babies or walking them or up with a vomiting kid (my husband did get up those times too) and by the time I got home, I was absolutely beat, to be faced with little people.

I didn't have 100% to give anymore. I couldn't.

By the time I had my third kid, I felt nobody was getting the best of me. Everyone was getting cheated. I was tired, mentally spent, and physically a wreck.

Then the company closed, I got laid off, and while everyone else was crying, I was doing a big "YAHOOO!" No more interviewing nannies, worrying about missng work because someone caught a stomach bug in preschool, or trying to figure out how to work business trips into the whole mix.

I was relieved. Four years prior I'd been fast tracking it, ready to take the world by the tail, and gladly spilling blood of the incompetent along the way.

Now I wanted nothing more than to play with my kids, fret about dinner, and not worry about what was happening at some far flung air base.

But somewhere, someone thought... I had it all. I'd achieved it, right? I was working that great job in a man's world, I had a handsome successful husband, three great kids... and I 'had it all'.

In someone's eyes.

And the thing is... only the person walking in the shoes can decide what 'having it all is', because it means something different to me than it does to a lot of working women. In the beginning with just one kid, I felt like I did 'have it all', working part time at a fortune 50 company, very well respected and home by noon to play with my baby and hang the rest of the day!

But by baby #2, that feeling was going away and by the time I had the third kid, I didn't feel like I 'had it all'. I had nothing inside at all. I was spent.

Some women are perfectly content in their high powered jobs, working 60 hours a week, never home, missing all the big moments as they travel. In their eyes, they have it all. And THEY DO.

Some women want to be home full time with their kids, never work again, run carpools, be the one who is with the kids when they're sick, be class Mom, and run the field trips. In their eyes, THEY have it all. And THEY DO.

And some women did what I did, working part time, being home as much as they could, and in their eyes, THEY have it all. And... THEY... DO.

There are thousands of combinations and permuations of 'having it all'. And when a woman is content, that's probably when she "Has it All'.

Everyone has to figure out what 'having it all' means to them.

It took me awhile, but 'having it all' to me was a moving target. It continued to change.

And now I'm going to be 47 and I'm back in the work force, and my kids are independent, and we all come and go, but I still run them around, I'm still the person they come to when they're sick, I volunteer at their schools. Life is easier because they're bigger.

But I don't want to run the show at work anymore. I don't want the tiger by the tail. I don't want to be the boss, giving raises, doing performance appraisals, having to take care of people, making big decisions. I don't want that anymore.

I just want an honest wage. Pay me what I'm worth, let me do my job, don't impede my progress, respect me, and I'm happy. Let me be with my kids when I'm needed, vacation with my family if we can, and walk out the door with no worries at the end of the day.

That's MY own personal "having it all" now. It's not the same as it was 10 years ago. Twelve years ago, my 'having it all' was being home full time. And four years before that it was working part time and coming home to sweet babies, and ten years before that, working 60 hours a week in a predominantly male industry was 'having it all'.

Women have to figure that out. Nobody can tell someone what 'having it all' is.

It's not expando one size fits all pants.

So I guess my advice to young women would be, "Don't let society dictate to YOU what YOU need to be to be successful. Don't let society tell you what you need to do to 'have it all'. You define those terms... not anyone else. Definitely not society'.

Listen... to your soul.

Posted by Boudicca at June 22, 2012 09:43 PM

Nicely done, Bou!


Posted by: yak at June 22, 2012 11:05 PM

I, for one, would like expando pants. I was happy and content until you mentioned them and I realized I don't have any.

Posted by: PeggyU at June 23, 2012 12:46 AM

This. Is. Perfect.

Posted by: Ted at June 23, 2012 06:20 AM

Dosen't matter if you're a woman. "All" is just another way to spell difficult. I've had it "ALL" before, and I didn't like it. Good post!

Posted by: Yabu at June 23, 2012 07:28 AM

Absolutely LOVE this post! ;-)

Posted by: Nina at June 23, 2012 07:41 AM

Exactly! I read the same articles you did (I think) and was frustrated by them. I am so sick of the "mom wars"... You said it all perfectly!

Posted by: Jody at June 23, 2012 08:24 AM

This really is perfect. Wish all young women could read it!

Posted by: pam at June 23, 2012 01:24 PM

Very well put. I think some people confuse "having it all" with not having to make decisions.

Posted by: Pogue at June 23, 2012 04:46 PM

Reminds me of that movement by women about 15 years ago that they had to 'find themselves'. Always drove me crazy. They would follow what the magazines said versus listening to their own internal ticker. My mom said it best to me... if you are content over 75% of the time, you are in a good place. Otherwise, look around and see what is making you unhappy and change that thing. You said it better..

Posted by: vwbug at June 24, 2012 05:44 AM

Excellent words! I made my daughter who is about to leave for college read this. I'll probably leave it on her roommates' beds when we take her up there in the fall...

Posted by: Mrs. Who at June 26, 2012 10:12 AM