I started writing this blog post several weeks ago while thinking of how life is full of choices and that you have to choose your own best path if you hope to achieving a work-life balance. The problem for many people, women especially, is that there are a number of things in life tugging us in multiple directions which makes that balance difficult to achieve. So I thought I would provide my take on whether or not women can “have it all.”
Let me step back about 17 years. I had just gotten married and was focused on how quickly I could climb the corporate ladder. I would leave my house before 7:00 a.m. each day so that I could arrive at work no later than 7:30. I put in long hours and took on extra assignments to prove my worth to my employer. After work I would head to the gym to satisfy my fitness craving and then head home around 9:00 p.m. My husband kept a similar schedule.
When my first child was born I was already leading a department. I worked for a start-up company so expectations were high and resources were tight; I understood that and made a choice to prioritize my life accordingly. This meant that some nights I left the office at 6:27 p.m. to drive the three minutes to the daycare center where I would pick up my daughter, before the center closed at 6:30, and take her back to the office with me while I finished my work for the day.
When my second child was born I set up a playpen in my office so he could be with me most days. With both kids, there were many days when they slept under my desk because they were too sick to be with the nanny or at daycare and I needed to be in the office
By the time the kids had entered elementary school I was in a position where I could rarely have them at the office with me because I was either in meetings throughout the day or they served as too great a distraction. This is when the guilt started. For years I had found balance in being a career woman, a wife and a mother but something had to give. I couldn’t be the “class mom” or attend every holiday party, I was struggling just to make the parent-teacher conference that I had scheduled for 7 p.m. – one year I missed the conference altogether because I forgot about it.
At some point, I made my choice to have both a career and a family. My husband is an overachieving corporate star who spends more hours a day at work than I do, which makes splitting responsibilities equally a difficult task. I commute a minimum of three hours a day, cook dinner, drive soccer carpool, manage homework and try to find a few moments for myself to maintain my sanity.
With that said, let me circle back to addressing whether or not women can “have it all” because Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says yes while Indra K. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, says no. I say that only you know if you can have it all because only you know what your “all” is. I struggle to find balance with being a vice president and a wife/mother/daughter/friend. I am learning to accept that some days I can’t do,,and have it all while other days I can.
My reality is that something has to give somewhere some of the time. Some nights it might be take-out because I am too tired to cook, or that I don’t make the choir concert because I can’t get away from the office, or I am not going to make the 5:00 p.m. conference call because I need to dash for a train to get me to the parent-teacher conference. Each of my children has had their moments of disappointment because I was the only mom who wasn’t there for them that day at school. I have tried justifying it to them, but I think that is more for me than it is for them. By the time they are grown and out of the house they will (hopefully) remember a mother who made it to sporting events, sat down and did homework late at night after a long day at the office and who loved them with all her heart. I have it all because I have decided what I want my all to look like.
Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations, Public Relations Society of America
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