For the past couple of years, the media can’t seem to stop talking about working women and whether or not they can “have it all.” The latest wildly successful woman to weigh in on this question is Pepsi’s CEO, Indra Nooyi. In an interview worth reading in its entirety, Nooyi talks about sacrifices she’s made as a mother, a wife, and a daughter in order to be successful in her career. She’s made compromises and developed coping mechanisms; she taught her secretary how to judge whether her daughter was allowed to play Nintendo. Still, Nooyi believes she doesn’t have it all because she can’t be there for every single event in her personal and professional lives. But is this really the right way of looking at it?
In a lot of ways, it appears that Nooyi does have it all. She has an incredibly successful career, and a family, while many of us are still working on having just one of those things. Sure, she may have missed a few school events or been less attentive than her husband would have liked, but isn’t that literally the cost of doing business? When we talk about “having it all“, do we really mean being able to be there for every event, giving 100 percent, all of the time?
When I was in high school, I couldn’t decide between joining newspaper or yearbook. I wanted to do both. I mentioned this to the newspaper editor, and he gave me this advice: “You can do both, but then you won’t be able to do either of them to the extent that you want to.” I took his advice, picked yearbook, and eventually became editor in chief. I got to be successful, but I hear newspaper had cuter guys and better parties. Was the tradeoff worth it? Absolutely, but I didn’t get to “have it all.”
My point is this: If “having it all” really means having anything and everything that we want, personally, professionally, and everywhere in between, no one’s ever going to have it all. That’s just basic math. There are only 24 hours in a day for each of us to work, have social lives, tackle our pet projects (training for a marathon, writing that novel, finally turning all of your college t-shirts into a quilt, etc), and also find time to eat and sleep. No one is super human, something has to give. And maybe that something is our definition of ‘having it all’.
Instead of having it all, let’s focus on having what makes us happy. If that means a corner office on the top floor, great. If that means a job that pays just okay but makes you happy and gives you time for your family, friends, and hobbies, that’s great too. If that’s deciding you’d rather stay home and take care of your kids, that’s another wonderful option. It’s not about what society, or your parents, or your friends define as success. It’s about what you want to be doing. If you’re filling your days and weeks and years with things that make you feel happy and fulfilled, I’m pretty sure that’s having it all.