I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone tell women “you can’t have it all” or read an article with the same message. Always with those same words: “have it all.” What does it even mean to have it all, and why is it only women who need to hear this message?
Having it all is a term used to describe a perfect balance of work, family, and everything else. Having it all means a respectable and personally fulfilling job that also comes with a hefty paycheck. Having it all means finding time to cook healthy meals that actually taste good while staying in shape. Having it all means making time for family, friends, and oneself without leaving anyone behind. Does this sound like the life of any woman you know?
More importantly, does this sound like the life of any man you know? Women cannot have it all, but neither can men. To put it simply, no one can have it all. The balance between work and life is both important and difficult for everyone, regardless of gender. In “View from the Top,” Gordon College president Michael Lindsay writes about how difficult it often is for men to make it to their children’s performances and sports games. Without making a gender distinction he writes, “The majority of leaders say their professional success has cost them something personally.”
[pq]Women cannot have it all, but neither can men. To put it simply, no one can have it all.[/pq]
Still, significantly more attention is focused on how women strike this balance. A recent Politico article on political wives included a profile on Heidi Cruz. Her successful career helped fund her husband’s congressional campaign, and she is involved in the couple’s ongoing financial decisions. “Still, there is a defensiveness about those choices, a sense that she is eager to prove she can be both the perfect wife and the professional powerhouse.” In a profile on Mary Pat Christie, NJ Governor Chris Christie’s wife, her life balance is examined; the way she “juggles” her roles as wife, mother, and businesswoman. There is no mention of Christie “juggling.”
This may be indicative of societal expectations that make it more difficult for women to have a successful career and good family life. Lindsay mentions that 32 percent less women than men in his study of 550 people in leadership roles were married. He also notes that women were almost three times as likely to be divorced. Interestingly, the anecdotes about married leaders working towards balance included effort and compromise from both individuals.
Striving for too much can lead us to do everything adequately (or even poorly) when we could have done just a few things exceptionally. Additionally, the rise of constant connectivity has made it difficult to draw distinct lines between work and the rest of life. Emails follow us home on smartphones, and texts from loved ones accompany us to work. Even so, a healthy balance is essential. For some, this may mean a full-time job, family life, and hobbies on the side. For others, staying at home full-time may be necessary. No one expects to learn exactly the same way as friends and peers or have the same skill sets, so why do we spend so much time comparing our lives?
Keeping up with the Jones’s is not an exclusively female interest. Comparison is everywhere, and undermines relationships, both personal and professional. It can drive both men and women to spend more time at work and less time with family. This permanent busyness isn’t healthy for anyone. Brian Brown at Humane Pursuits recently wrote about how our culture is obsessed with and addicted to being constantly busy. A healthy work-life balance is, to some extent, counter-cultural. Why is that? According to Brown, “We were raised to think that life is something to be scheduled.”
It is time for the language and emphasis of this discussion to shift. The right goal is a healthy balance, not striving to have it all or avoiding excessive success. Discussing this concept only within the context of gender misses the broader human element. While there are obstacles that are unique to men and women, there is a great deal more in common. If both sexes were encouraged to find a middle-ground between career, family, and friends, perhaps we could progress from “having it all” to having exactly what we need.