Can We Truly Have It All

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told “You can have it all.”  And this conversation usually centered around having both a thriving career and a rewarding family life, not to mention an intimate relationship, a healthy body, etc.

Yet as women like me have attempted to live into this paradigm, many of us have realized that we have to become Superwoman to do it. And though we’ve tried very hard, living as Superwoman has been very elusive and even impossible. It has always felt just out of reach.

Unfortunately, trying to be Superman is not much easier.

Many folks have felt ashamed or saddened by our inability to fully live up to this Super-human ideology.  Others have succeeded in some areas and paid the price in others.

Take me for example.  I worked very hard to earn high accolades and pursue an entrepreneurial career that I truly love. But in the process, I pushed too hard for too long, and ended-up burning out my adrenal glands. And it’s taken quite a long time for my body to recover. In fact, years later, I am still recovering.

So when Anne-Marie Slaughter published her recent article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in Atlantic Magazine, it struck a chord in me. And I was obviously not alone.  The article has catalyzed quite a lively conversation about what IS and what IS NOT possible for women who attempt to balance demanding careers with other life priorities-especially kids. (**Note, if you missed the Atlantic article, you can check it out here:

But for all the conversation that’s been brewing, it seems that one critical topic that hasn’t gotten much attention: what does it truly mean to “have it all?”  Is having work-family balance the “be all end all” of a meaningful and happy life? While this balance is certainly critical, I personally want to invite us into an even greater possibility.

As I think about the women we’ve served in our Soulful Women programs, they are often seeking deeper meaning for their lives. They are seeking to make a contribution with their unique gifts and talents.  They are seeking authentic connections and community with other like-minded and like-hearted people.

Yes, they want aligned work and enough time for their families. But the conversation is much bigger than balancing work and kids.  It’s about re-defining success-on our own terms!  This is a conversation I’ve been spawning in various leadership circles in which I participate. And it generated a lively dialogue with Lisa Nichols, which is now a centerpiece of a course I am hosting with her through the Shift Network (check out

Lisa and I agree that instead of adopting someone else’s viewpoint about the appropriate priorities for someone of our demographic, let’s each map it out for ourselves.

Given our unique lives and values, “having it all” will look very different for each person.  For my friend Suraya, it includes being a great mama to her baby boy while she does drama-therapy work with inmates at the San Quentin prison (Check out her amazing project, where I’m now volunteering:

Or for some other folks I know, success means having a schedule where you can spend multiple hours each day in meditation or in the garden, while just earning enough to keep the lights on.  Another person may instead value having a six-figure income, while taking 6 weeks of vacation per year. Another might define success as riding her bike to and from work and working to pass legislation for more “green” governmental policies.  And for yet another, success might be having both the time AND the energy to care for an ailing family member.  The possible “having it all” scenarios are endless.

So Instead of complaining that we’ve been “sold a fiction” by elder feminists who asserted “we can have it all,” let’s reclaim our power by re-defining success-on our own terms!  What does success look like to you?

I believe we CAN still have it all. But “having it all” may mean something very different to people today than it meant when we were growing up.  And as we set our own standards for success, we give ourselves permission to have much more satisfying, joyful lives. Now who doesn’t want THAT?

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