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Marilyn Nagel Headshot

Why We Need to Redefine 'Having It All'

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I recently read an interesting Forbes article on why it is damaging to tell women they can't "have it all," and I would agree that it is the wrong lens through which to view our lives. If we come from a state of "abundance" (a framework Lynne Twist defines beautifully in her best-selling book The Soul of Money) in looking at our lives, we totally shift the discussion from focusing on what we can have to appreciating what we do have.

I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed an extremely satisfying career that was stimulating and rewarding while I raised my wonderful children for many years as a single mother, and later in life, I handled elder care issues. It was not easy to juggle all aspects of my life, but I knew I wanted to be a mother and knew that I wanted a career where I could contribute. Then, when my parents needed my assistance, there was no way that any high level meeting or trip could get in the way of me being there for them. Attending a child's recital, being by a parent's hospital bedside, spending time celebrating a partner or spouse's success -- these replenish our souls and allow us to give ourselves fully when we are at work. They are not distractions, but rather, enhance our ability to be fully present when we are at work, just as we can be fully present at these events. They enhance "having it all," if having it all is having a full life.

Of course I did have challenges and hurdles both at work and in my personal life, and at the time, they seemed overwhelming but I never let them define me entirely. Losing childcare resources or dealing with illness or an unrealistic deadline at work are difficult for sure, but they will pass. I learned what I was able to handle -- a lot, it turns out -- and used these experiences as a way to build muscle memory regarding my strength and ability. Challenges are a natural part of living and offered me opportunities for growth, ultimately making me a better and more humanistic leader, parent and member of our society. I definitely made plenty of mistakes in every facet of my life, and was not always as present as I would have liked, but I have learned from both my mistakes as well as my triumphs -- and all have contributed to the person I am today.

I measure my success by what I have done and what I am doing with my life, how I contribute to those around me, how I show up and how I make a difference in the world, and there is nothing that limits my success when I define it this way.

We need to reframe the conversation for women (and men) around success, but not focus on an antiquated notion of work-life balance or having to achieve a certain "level" of success, but by the fundamental way we live our lives and what we want to be remembered by. As Arianna Huffington said at a recent Watermark event, "No one's eulogy includes the deals they made or highest level at work they achieved." This does not exclude a desire to move to a higher level role, obtain a board seat, become a CEO or whatever your career aspirations are -- in fact, it is inclusive of them. It simply means that as you go for that next rung up the ladder, remember to focus on what matters and recognize you already "have it all" if you are living your life in a way that you are proud of. That next job or promotion is simply icing on a delicious cake!

Ask yourself this: Are you making your mark in the way you want?