Having it all – a real possibility for women or a myth? - Emerge UK
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Having it all – a real possibility for women or a myth?

Over the last 5 years, we have coached senior women and run women’s programmes around the world. This has resulted in our model Elev8te, the 8 Traits of Successful Women, our development programme RISE and our Empowered Women’s Development App.  At the end of each programme, we collate impact statements and we will be sharing these alongside a series of tips for women.  If you would like to hear more tips then download our App now or contact us for details on the RISE programme.

So, can women really have it all?  It’s a debate that has run through many mediums, over many years and across many continents.

The catch-all phrase for women’s ability to raise a family and have a career was largely attributed to iconic US magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown, who literally wrote the book on it; ‘Having It All’ in 1982. 

However, in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover story editorial ran under the controversial headline “ Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The story became one of the most popular in The Atlantic’s history, with an estimated 2.7 million views.

So, why are we still having the debate? Well, firstly, we need to define what ‘having it all’ means before we can decide whether we can have it all! The problem is that, nowadays, people seem to be obsessed with ‘work-life’ balance. It is constantly being discussed, with people lamenting their ability to achieve this elusive ‘work-life’ balance!  Maybe 20-30 years ago when the norm was to work from 8.30 to 5 pm and then people came home and spent time with their family, no one had laptops or Smartphones, and shops didn’t open on Sundays then someone decided that was the perfect work-life balance. You went home the minute the clock struck finishing time and then you didn’t think about work until the next morning when you went to work. 

But, in these times, where is normal?  People work from home, services are open 24/.7, Smartphones give us full availability, conference calls with different time zones are part of many people’s roles, and weekend travel for work or working on Saturday and Sunday is the norm. So, it is no surprise that people are overwhelmed and exhausted and unable to achieve this perfect work-life balance, which is no longer a reality.  But, how do we work through this maze and find our own perfect balance? Perhaps we need to think about life balance, rather than work/life balance? Unless you know what you are really trying to achieve, then it is unsurprisingly always going to remain elusive.

This subject is a huge debate on our RISE programme, as women battle with exhaustion as they struggle to be perfect role models, workers, mothers, wives, goddesses in the kitchen and the bedroom and all the other stereotypical roles they have been cast in.

As a working mother myself, who started my business when my youngest was 8 months, I think it is also time that mothers are allowed to be honest.  Not all mothers are “earth mothers”.  It is quite possible to be a good mother and to not spend 24/7 with your children.  Please don’t think that is a dig at mothers who stay home with their children – I totally admire them, God, do I admire them, I wanted to be them, I spent years feeling guilty that I wasn’t like them but I have to be honest, I just am not.  Having children wasn’t something on my agenda until I actually had them. I adore them and now admit they are the best things I ever did. But I liked working!  I used to feel so guilty about the fact that I preferred to get things done rather than have creative playtime with the children – playing Barbie with my daughter inevitably turned into me reorganising her dolls house!  I wish then that I knew that it was OK to be like that, that it was perfectly normal to desire the company of work colleagues who didn’t have Weetabix on their face and that you didn’t have to spend all day with your children to be a good mother. Unfortunately, no one told me that at the time and I just had to interpret the knowing glances and tutting of grandparents, other mothers and general society.

So once again I ask – what is “having it all?”  Surely it has to be your own vision that you create that is a lifestyle that works for you?  Maybe you are a single mother and you share custody of your children?  For some mothers when their children are away at the weekend with their father, they actually prefer to do some work.  If they have a few single friends and don’t want to date then they enjoy catching up with work or taking the time to be a bit strategic. And who is to say that is wrong? If I have a choice in an evening between watching crap TV and doing a blog, catching up on emails or doing some research I prefer to do the latter.  So, am I only having a good home life balance if I use my evening for leisure activities, spending time with my family and having quality conversations or being a dutiful wife? Seriously – how many of you have rushed home from work to have a nice “family” meal only to find that everyone is on their phones? 

Or is it organisations criticising us and have the well-meaning organisational well-being initiatives caused us to doubt our lifestyles?  The fact is, it is not about whether you are working during perceived home hours that causes people to feel stressed or unwell.  It is when people are subject to ridiculous deadlines that are impossible for them to meet unless they work late into the evening and then cannot sleep that causes stress.  It is the, not having a choice that causes stress and it is the having to choose between work and family that makes people feel anxious and out of control.

So perhaps the solution is to think of it more in terms of mindfulness and choice.  If we are being present and mindful, whatever we are doing, we are likely to have a far better experience of life in general.  An hour spent mindfully with your family is worth 4 hours spent in an agitated state, constantly glancing at your phone and worrying about all the things you are not doing. Often at the weekend, I choose to work for 2 hours.  It is my choice and when I have done the work that I planned I can then enjoy the other things that I want to do.  For me that is “having it all”, having a job that I love and enjoy spending time on, (whenever I choose to), but being able to spend the time that I choose with my family and loved ones.  There is no calculation, or equation or rule book to tell me that I have got it right, just a strong feeling of well-being that I am doing what I want to do, whenever I want to.

So, having it all is about you and your vision for your life. If your vision is to have a really successful career and enjoying family life when you can, then you have got it right!

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