“Having it All” Is Not What You Think It Is

I am nine weeks back to work after taking four months for maternity leave, and I thought I would share my perspective on the elusive notion of women successfully “having it all” – a challenging career, kids, balanced family life, healthy social life, personal hobbies, and the like – while it’s fresh on my mind.

Before I was pregnant, I easily worked 70-80 hours a week, attended happy hours once in a while, and averaged 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Surprisingly, I was able to be relatively high functioning on such little sleep. Luckily (or some would say not so luckily), my husband kept the same hours so our lives were fairly in sync. Once I found out I was pregnant, I immediately convinced myself that “nothing would change” – I would be able to contribute just as much, or more, to every aspect of my life. Nothing would change.

This was the source of my greatest error – I mistook “contribution” for “time commitment”, and those are two very different things. In fact, everything changed, and I should have embraced it and rebalanced. Instead, I continued on with the same old strategy… keep adding to the boiling pot and never expect it to overflow. Needless to say, I made it through alive, but admittedly I should have taken more of an opportunity to enjoy this very special experience.

The past two months back at work have been about me learning very quickly how to aggressively prioritize my time, energy, and resources. I can no longer compensate for the lack of hours in the day by making it up overnight – every hour of the day is accounted for, and those few hours I have to spend with my son are the most important.

I know several women who have recently reentered the workforce, and we all made the same mistake. We assumed that we would be able to step right back in and contribute at the same level as we previously did. I’m here to challenge that assumption and question whether it was ever appropriate to be contributing at that level in the first place. For some, the answer is yes. For others, no. For me, that wasn’t having it all. It was one or more of four things:

  • Having a career and nothing else
  • Being ineffective at delegating
  • Not knowing when is appropriate to say no
  • Having difficulty identifying and focusing on the most critical strategic priorities and driving for results there

Today, “having it all” has taken on new meaning for me. For all you working moms out there who are trying to Super Mom your way through life, what “having it all” means to you will likely be a little different. I’m here to tell you that it’s probably not what you originally thought it was. In fact, it’s probably much better.

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