THE BLOG
08/21/2014 02:04 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2014

Having it All vs. Having What Matters

Oli Kellett via Getty Images

I came of age at a time when women's appeal for equal opportunity on the career ladder was coupled with a decree that we could, in fact, do it all and have it all. We believed that "work-life balance" was an achievable, worthy pursuit. So it's no surprise the recent proclamations that "women can't have it all" have been a deflating notion.

We see this message taking the cover spot on magazines, but perhaps most prominently existing in the hearts of women everywhere who are hanging on by a thread. According to Megan Dalla-Camina's research shared in her book, Getting Real About Having it All, 70 percent of women are struggling with well-being, 64 percent of women who have children and 72% without children believe they will never have it all, and only 16 percent say they are very satisfied with their lives overall. It would seem these numbers indicate a defeat in our pursuit.

I long believed that "work-life balance" was attainable by those smart and savvy enough to figure out the formula. Perhaps you've seen at one time or another those pie charts indicating an equilibrium between certain universally blessed buckets for how we should spend our days in order to be well-rounded and happy -- an approach to living in proportionate harmony that could lead to a sense of "having it all." Well I'm older now (and hopefully wiser) and can confidently say women cannot have it all (and neither can men, by the way). But instead of grieving this truism, I see this as an important opportunity to reevaluate what we are in pursuit of.

Perhaps if we were to trade the notion of "having it all" for the pursuit of having what matters, the statistics of well-being could shift dramatically and we would find ourselves on a trajectory of a life of deep satisfaction.

But this idea calls us to act in a way that is not easy. It means we need to unlearn habits of endless busyness, trying to be all things to all people, multitasking fervently with hopes of being deemed with superhero status. It means we need new disciplines. It means being aware of limitations and saying "no" to things we think we're supposed to say "yes" to, especially when there is no alignment with those things that matter most. It means being clear on what is important in life, making decisions based on that understanding and filling our days with the things that bring us the deepest meaning.

After years of my own journey leading a company and being present for my family and community, I have concluded that "work-life balance" is an elusive goal to be thrown out. The very phraseology infers that "work" and "life" can, and should be, separate from one another. But I have found that I experience the greatest sense of balance when my purpose is present and central in everything I do. Then, "life" and "work" flow into one another and who I am and what I live for is the same in all arenas of my life. As Stephen Covey says, "How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to know what matters most."

Yes, this type of living will mean I may have a sense of imbalance at times, or that I may feel like I don't "have it all." (But then again, no one really does.) I love that my understanding of what matters grows more acute as I get older. I love working harder than I've ever worked, but only because it ties to the core of who I am and what I find significant. I love finally stepping out of a myth and into the most valuable life I've ever known -- a life of purpose.

What are the things in this life that really matter to you? What element of "having it all" has lured you away from having the life of meaning you've always wanted?