THE BLOG
09/29/2015 01:27 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

Forget "Having it All" -- Have What Matters Most

mattjeacock via Getty Images

Ever seen one of those cute stock photos of a mom working productively at her laptop, with her toddler nestled contentedly on her lap?

I hate photos like that.

They set an impossible standard for "having it all" -- the career, the family, the impossibly small post-baby waistline...

The truth? Photos like that just make women feel like failures -- because the reality is far (and I mean, FAR) from what those images portray.

I should know -- I live that reality every day. As an entrepreneur, wife and mom of three boys, life isn't perfect. Sometimes, meetings have to be rescheduled. Occasionally, the fridge is empty. And often, I don't feel like that smiling mom in the photo -- I just feel really, really tired.

But I wouldn't have it any other way! I've made my peace with the fact that success and fulfillment isn't about "perfection" or "having it all."

It's about having what matters most to you.

Too often, though, I think women (particularly entrepreneurs) whip out our measuring sticks: Am I successful enough? Loving enough? Attentive enough? Strong enough?

It's the "enough" part that can drive you crazy. So don't do it! Save your sanity. Forget about "having it all." And do this instead:

Define your success by your own standards.

And nobody else's. Put away that measuring stick and ask yourself this one question:

If you removed everyone's expectations but your own -- how would you define your success?

It's a tough question, but an incredibly important one. And only by answering it honestly can you really achieve the long-term fulfillment you're seeking.

Clarify your priorities.

Not too long ago, I read an article on Inc.com about female entrepreneurs "having it all." In it, the author, Mayra Jimenez, makes three simple points about why she decided to delay having children to build her business:
• "I don't want to regret anything."
• "I want my life to mean something before I bear another life."
• "I want to have the freedom to control my own schedule, and make an impact."

This woman has her priorities straight. I'm not saying her choices are right for anyone else, though, and that's the point -- she knows what matters to her, and she's pursuing a path that will help her achieve her dreams.

Life is all about trade-offs. In any 24-hour period, each of us has to decide how many hours to devote to career, family and self. So be practical -- and be realistic. Put pen to paper and clarify what's most important to you. Make no apologies and no excuses. Then vow to pursue what makes you happy and fulfilled.

Protect yourself. If you're like me, family and career are both important, which leaves little room for "me" time. To be blunt, my schedule is crazy. Most days, I have little or no down-time. Sleep? That's typically in short supply, too. And occasionally, something happens either at home or at work that makes me question whether I really do "have it all."

But I'm used to it. Over the years, I've come to realize that being a professional mom isn't about avoiding work/life balance struggles -- it's about coping with them. If you want to succeed as a parent and an entrepreneur, you need to be tough and get used to the ups-and-downs that will happen every day.

And you need to create a great support system for yourself -- so that, on those days when you're not feeling like superwoman, you can turn to your family, friends and associates for help.

Cut yourself a little slack. We women are incredibly hard on ourselves. Instead of thinking about all of the amazing things we accomplish every day, we often focus on our failures and shortcomings. We tend to carry a lot of guilt about being working moms.

If you're a habitual fault-finder, be a little kinder to yourself. When you forget to do something, think of the 5,000 things you remembered to do. If you make a mistake, forgive yourself, learn from it and move on.

And take a page from my book. I accept my career and home life for what it is - imperfect, a little crazy, and yet totally wonderful.

It works for me. And that's what matters most.