Earlier this week, I was surfing through my Facebook friends' status updates, and I noticed a former classmate had spoken at our high school's career day. She mentioned that it had quickly spiraled into an intense debate as to whether or not one can "have it all."
By way of background, I went to a stereotypical, ultra-competitive, over-achieving private all-girls school in Washington, D.C. At the age of nine, we were taught that we can and should be anything we want to be. Because it was an all-girls school, it was all girls who were the star athletes, valedictorians, student government leaders, yearbook and newspaper editors. We had an annual "Women in Power" day. In short, we were taught that with the right combination of hard work, social responsibility and, of course, good grades, there was no reason we couldn't have it all.
No one ever told us that we were chasing an impossible dream. Having it all is an illusion. Life is all about making choices--sacrifices--leaving roads untaken, and anyone who says you "have it all" demeans the sacrifices you've made in life. At least, that's what I believed until I heard about the cynical comments from my friend's career day panel-mates.
There was the 50-something alumna who started her own business and got married in the 80's. She worked so hard she never had kids and later got divorced (all her friends are divorced). Now she is happy to have a 24-year old live-in male caretaker (who has dinner prepared for her when she returns from work!) and lives vicariously through her friends with children.
Next, there was the 40-something alumna who stepped off her career path to have kids. Now she's back at work, but making one-third the salary of her husband, so her job takes second fiddle when it comes to child-rearing responsibilities.
Each of these women envied the other and both drove home the impossibility of "having it all." The high school seniors sat slack-jawed as all the hope drained from their little feminist minds. Even my 30-something friend (with a good job and engaged to be married) could offer no reassurance.
This shocked even me, because as much as I believe I can never "have it all," I would never complain about the path I have taken in life. So I took stock in what I do have.
I have two beautiful, smart daughters who are blessed with a late-sleeper gene. I have a husband who's willing to change diapers, bring me dinner at work late at night, and be an endless source for blog fodder. He has yet to don a fudgy brownie suit to hand out Tribeca Treats postcards or become a Redskins fan. But that's neither here nor there.
I have two parents, three sisters, a huge extended family and great friends, all of whom have helped me follow my dream. I get to make cakes for a living, and I have a business that's showing early signs of success.
I have a wonderful dentist (Dr. Saul Pressner) and amazing movers (Personal Touch Movers). Don't underestimate the value in this.
Of course I don't have it all. Among other things, I don't have a lot of sleep; I rarely have time for myself; I could use more vacation time, or at least work-free vacation time. When I'm at work, I miss doing things with my daughters. When I'm with my daughters, I'm often worrying about work. I could have better hair. Or a favorite football team that's won a Super Bowl in the last 17 years.
But I am content. No, not content--content implies that you are not going to continue to strive for things, and I have plenty to still strive for, but I never look longingly at another's life. Sure, I would love to be able to take spontaneous trips to Morocco and have a personal trainer that comes to my home or a closet full of Christian Louboutins, but I am surrounded by the rewards (and, of course, challenges) of the choices I have made, and this makes me happy. I chose to have kids; I chose to start my own business. I may not have control of the Redskins' win-loss record, but I do choose to put on my burgundy and gold jersey year after year.
Looking at it that way, I realize I am lucky to have one of the most important things in life--opportunity, something I'm sure both these panelists had as well. So I encourage the aforementioned 50-something panelist to just wake up and revel in her own cougar-ness. It may be impossible to have it all, but as long as I have the ability and means to make my own choices -- then I have enough.