I have thought a sufficient measure of civilization is the influence of good women. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There has been a lot of attention given lately to the whole notion of whether women can have it all. We’ve seen great examples of women who juggle a successful career along with motherhood. Women are being asked to stay emotionally attached to their career path and to not check out as soon as they plan for a family. The discussion at times has been pitting working mothers against stay-at-home mothers. The stay-at-home mothers at times might be faulted for having left the corporate world. Especially, since our society is heavily pushing for more women to enter the corporate C-suite, boards and the realm of politics.
After hearing Arianna Huffington speak recently at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and state that as women we need to redefine success, find back to our own inner wisdom, and try to make the world a better place, I came to the realization that the whole debate about whether women can have it all is extremely disempowering and truly burdensome. The question isn’t: “Can I have it all?”, but: “Do I want it all?” Yes, we can have it all, but can we do it all, and more importantly — is having and doing it all truly, truly what we want?
I can share from my own personal experience that I decided that I couldn’t do it all and also didn’t want to juggle motherhood with a career. I was raised by a single mother who juggled her demanding career with motherhood. While raising me, she also went back to school at night to be able to advance in her career. My mother’s life wasn’t easy, which made me decide that I didn’t want to follow in her shoe steps. My love for advancing both my education and career was stronger than a call for motherhood. What I truly wanted was to just focus on my career and commit to putting my all into it. When I met my husband, I made it pretty clear from the beginning that my career was my “baby” and that I didn’t want kids. Fortunately for me this didn’t pose a problem for him since he has been my biggest cheerleader in pursuing my own successful career path. For me, my definition of success has been that I’m achieving life satisfaction through a successful career that allows me to combine both my passion for leadership development and achieving social change.
This then leads me to ask why we have defined the notion of success for women that they must be both striving toward moving up the corporate ladder, as well as highly committed to growing in their roles as mothers and wives. Does this definition of success still apply to women today? I believe that today’s definition of success for women is that they can choose to redefine success exactly according to their own aspirations and dreams. For some it may be a combo of career and motherhood. For others, such as me, the sole focus is on career. Then for some women, it might be that they just solely want to focus on motherhood. We get to structure our life and resulting success and happiness according to our own needs and wants. Yes, we can have and do it all, but we choose to only do what works for us and makes us feel good, happy and successful.
How can we then influence and redirect the energy around the discussion on whether women can have it all?
1. Get honest with yourself. What do you truly want? Write out your own definition of success. What does it entail? This isn’t about what your family or friends think you should do with your life. It’s about what you want deep down in your heart. Then start taking actions based upon how you’ve crafted your purpose.
2. Allow other women to create their own success definitions. We need to give other women the right to choose what they want. Just because you might not want to be a stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t entitled to make this choice. No more putting down other women for their own paths.
3. Throw out the 50% rule. While we might represent 50% of the population, do we truly need to fight for 50% of all career levels, board representations and elected positions? Our choice shouldn’t be based upon this percentage, but because this is something we truly desire.
4. Band together with other women. Don’t be the lone ranger out there; look for other women who can help you influence corporate and political decision-making. Use your combined influence to start the conversation on what redefining success means for women and men.
5. Communicate clearly and persuasively. Use your voice to impact change. Challenge people to rethink their expectations of women and men in the workplace and what careers have to look like. Let women know that they have choices and don’t have to follow a subscribed path. Paint a new picture for what success can look like for women.
How about you? How do you define success? What steps could you take to influence that women can live according to their own definition of success?