I am far from someone who has it all figured out—a strong, empowered woman in her 30s, married, with children, in a job that’s fulfilling and challenging, with savings in the bank, and a lot of time to spend with friends and family, and the occasional travel and leisure. Here I am, at 31 years old, single, but with 2 kids, in a 9-5 job that has helped me grow my skills, but at the same time has put my priorities and long-term goals in question.
Your life has seasons
Despite not having it all figured out, what I do have, however, is an awesome tribe of strong women I am blessed to call sisters. Surrounding myself with these brave souls has allowed me to thrive, and work on who I am as a woman, as a mother, and as a person, without fear of judgment or discrimination. Because with them, I can be myself, and we can simply try and try, despite the mistakes and the road blocks, and the set backs.
For IWD 2020, I was fortunate to be invited to “Existential Courage: Women’s Day Celebration”, together with 200 men and women, who are trying to make a difference by finding a deeper purpose in life. Organized by The Purposeful Creative, this was the first event of this kind I have attended (ever). It was amazing to be in the same room as inspiring, successful women who talked about redefining labels, instigating change in institutions, and are in it for the long haul (more on this in a separate blog post!).
But what spoke to me most is what Bianca Gonzales-Intal said, “yes, you can have it all. Just not all at once.” It’s important to note, that while this statement remains inspirational, it is realistic. To her point, we cannot be 100% in all aspects of our lives simultaneously. There’s just one of us, and several roles and priorities we are expected to meet. But here’s the thing—these roles have seasons. We have seasons.
Feminism has championed that, because we are equals, we can achieve the same level of success as men—have a kick-ass career, be the boss of your own business, be a hands-on mother who does not miss sports meets and ballet recitals, be an amazing and doting wife, be a woman of the world—well-traveled and pursuing passion projects and doing social work.
And though I personally believe that the thought of having it all empowers us, it also has a tendency to burden and overwhelm if we fall short of these expectations. As someone who believes I should have it all at this age (I’m 31), it makes me feel less of a person because I haven’t made it.
It made me question myself, “If I can have it all, why haven’t I figured it all out yet?”
Yes, We Can Have It All. Just Not All At Once.
According to an 2013 article published on Hollins Online Magazine (“Can Women Have It All”), yes, we can still encourage ourselves and younger generations that “we can have it all.” Just share the disclaimer right away—that this “all” varies from person to person, and that most importantly, this may not happen all at the same time. Every success, every achievement, every accomplishment is unique to a person.
And no amount of social pressure should dictate otherwise. Because we are in the era of social media, with all the things we see on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and YouTube, it’s so easy to compare where we are versus what other people have accomplished. And though it can make one feel insecure or inadequate, it also has the power to influence and inspire. To uplift and empower us in our individual and collective endeavors.
There should be no shame or judgment in choosing one priority over another. Just because you do not have your own house yet does not mean you are not successful. Just because you are in your third job in three years does not mean you do not have your life together. Just because you choose not to have children does not make you less of a woman. Just because you choose to set aside time for your career while having a family does not mean you are selfish, either.
Tipping the Balance
In the New York Times 2012 article, The Complicated Origins of ‘Having It All’ , I read that “having it all” has been glamorized, not by any civil rights or feminist movement, but by a marketing pitch. It talks about how a woman can balance her career and motherhood through integration—similar to the concept of “hitting two birds with one stone.”
This idea, however, is more like having-your-nails-done-while-getting-a-perm thing, than a corporate-executive-slash-PTA-mom–slash-wife kind of thing. (Imagine Christina Applegate’s Gwendolyn James from Bad Moms). What was not heavily accounted for, was that having children is not a task you can un-focus from.
Being a parent is no job for the faint and halfhearted. Human beings are involved; children who, depending on their stage in life, are extremely dependent on you for several reasons. How can one balance having this and a full-time career? Adequate parental leaves, attractive compensation and benefits, plus affordable and safe child care, are essential, but do all women have access to them?
And while some companies do offer the above, those who cry for equality in the workplace will be cast as demanding, entitled, and self-absorbed. Or worse, stereotyped as whiny complainers because they are women with these specific needs. The world has made us believe that asking for what we deserve and what we need is too much; that we are being too much.
Understanding Choice as a Privilege
But for women to really thrive, one has to have the privilege of choice—choice to have flexible time for her family, choice to accept or decline the kind of job she does, choice to prioritize specific aspects of her life.
Alas, not everyone has the same privilege. (Remember Kathryn Bernardo’s line in #HelloLoveGoodbye — “Ang choice, para lang sa mayaman.”). A single mother with 2 kids cannot afford to simply choose a low-paying career in something she is passionate about.
Much like how a 59-year old almost retiree cannot afford to quit working because her family needs her to survive. Or how women in below-minimum wage jobs cannot simply “take a break, travel once in while” because there are more important expenses to prioritize. Probably a reason why women in middle to lower class families set aside their personal dreams for their families, is because over anything and everything else, survival is crucial.
Older generations may say that, back in the day, they have thrived despite the lack of privilege or opportunity, but not without sacrificing one or the other—their connection with their families, their own hobbies or passions, or worse, their physical and mental health.
Battling Guilt from our Choices
On the flip side, high-achieving men are not even asked the question, “How do you balance work and your family?” This question is geared more towards women, According to Harvard Business Review’s April 2002 online article “Executive Women and the Myth of Having It All”, high-achieving men do not have to make difficult career trade-offs, unlike mothers, who would ultimately have to make a choice between work and family.
Another idea presented is that the more accomplished and successful a woman is, the less likely she is to attract a spouse, and ultimately bear children. This is the opposite for men, wherein the more successful they are, the more viable they are as a husband and father. As more and more women rise in ranks in the corporate setting, the expectation has evolved to us working as if we don’t have kids, AND taking care of kids as if we do not have to work. Because we CAN have it all. Because we CAN do it all.
This unrealistic expectation has brought about working mom guilt, giving us thoughts like, “Am I providing enough? Am I doing enough? Shouldn’t I be at home with the kids? Shouldn’t I be focusing on my career? Am I selfish for chasing after my dreams?“
Getting Help Won’t Hurt
Let us free ourselves from unrealistic expectations. We are human, and we do need breaks. And we need all the help we can get, if we are to prosper in whatever field or aspect of life we choose. Let us first shake off that idea that we have to have it all. And we have to have it now.
And we should be doing it alone. I mentioned my squad of crazy, amazing, kick-ass women before, and they have helped me so much more than helping me keep my sanity. Women, when we band together, can accomplish far greater, far more amazing things. Let us be kinder to each other, be more supportive of each other’s endeavors, understanding of each other’s choices.
Woman—your life has seasons. This may be your season for career, or your season for your passions, your season for family and children, or your season for yourself. No matter what season you are in, thrive in the present. Focus your energies on the things that matter to you NOW.
Each season may be different for each aspect. It may just a week, or a month or two, or a few years. It will differ from one person to another. Someone else’s career season may be 2 years, while yours may just be in the next 6 months. But, keep your heart steady.
These experiences will mold you and prepare you for the next season ahead. And if you feel like you need to have it all, just think that yes, of course, you CAN have it all, in its own time. With a little help from your friends.
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