Want to Have it All? Don’t Forget an Important Part: Yourself

It’s a question women around the world ask themselves every day: Can I have it all?

Let’s cut to the chase: The answer is “yes,” but women must decide what “all” means to them, and acknowledge that the definition will evolve as their lives evolve, too.

Recently, I delivered a keynote address on this topic for the 2019 Women’s Leadership Summit in Shanghai, China, a gathering of women leaders from China, Korea and Japan.

I asked the women in the audience to draw a pie chart composed of the four major domains of life: self, family, community, and work. I asked them to think about how much of their time and energy is currently allocated to each domain, and portray that on the chart.

I was surprised by the results. Many women placed “self” at 5 percent — some at zero. I then asked the women to imagine an ideal future. If you could visualize the life you want, how would the pie chart look?

Even then, many women only increased “self” incrementally, to 10 or 15 percent. Some, however, increased it significantly, completely changing their charts. It was reassuring to observe the women having this realization in real time: My life can be different and it’s up to me.

Over the next few months, I’d like to explore the topic of “having it all.” I’ll discuss the four major domains of life, how they change throughout our careers and life, and the process of integrating them. I’ll do this through the lens of my own experiences and the experiences of the extraordinary women I have coached throughout my career as an executive coach.

One of these women is Dr. Darlene Solomon.

Darlene has been the CTO of Agilent Technologies since 2006. I was her executive coach 15 years ago and have known her through all stages of her career: scientist; the only female lab director in her company; vice president of R&D; and, today, chief technology officer. Every step of the way, Darlene was able to adapt and integrate her work, family, self and community into her whole life.

I recently asked Darlene if she thought women could have it all. “Yes,” she responded. “We can have it all. But you have to decide what ‘all’ means to you.”

What defines “all” for a single woman at the start of her career is not the same as a woman in middle management with children in school, or an empty nester in the C-suite.

Darlene also shared what she believes can help women integrate the four domains of their life, based on her own experiences.

Prioritize. This helps keep what is truly important in perspective.

“When I came back to work after six weeks maternity leave with my second child, I realized I have to prioritize,” Darlene said.

Compartmentalize your life. Make sure you are single minded on whatever it is you are working on.

“When I am at work, focus on work. When I am at home, focus on the kids. I have to find ways to make the most of each piece of my life,” she said. “Don’t make them compete with each other.”

Take care of yourself. You deserve more than 5 percent. Taking care of yourself is about more than exercising and eating well. It’s about knowing yourself and what you need to feel whole.

“I am an introvert. When I travel and don’t have an evening business commitment, I often order room service so I can have quiet time by myself and recharge my battery,” Darlene said.

Build a support network. From family, to friends, to services you can outsource household work to, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“I took turns with my husband to pick up the kids from school, asked my Mother who lived just an hour away to help out when I travel,” Darlene said. “I had a supportive boss to work flex hours. I used services available to pick up dry cleaning, clean the house, etc.”

Let go of being perfect. Release any pressure you feel to be a perfectionist.

“If the house is not clean, laundry piling up, dishes are not put away, don’t stress about it,” Darlene said. “Learn to live with imperfection — in the areas which are not your top priority.”

You can have it all. Accept that what defines “all” is everchanging, and you’ll discover that creating a life where family, self, work and community are integrated is not only possible, it’s achievable.