Is it possible for women to have it all? A career, family, friends and a social life, and still maintain some semblance of sanity? Can we really juggle all these different hats (and for most women, even more) without dropping the ball on anything? This question is what keeps us up at night. Literally. We sit and try to plan and figure everything out, but often seem to come up short. But are we really coming up short? Or, as I believe in most of our (women’s) case, we are just holding ourselves to impossibly high standards. Not only that, but we set high standards for each area of our lives. We expect to climb the corporate ladder (or excel in whatever field you’re in) and if we aren’t then we are failures. We want our kids to be in all the extracurricular activities and sports and get awesome grades. We want to have a girls night out with our friends and still have time to be social. We want to pamper ourselves (theoretically for most of us) but never quite seem to find the time. We expect ourselves to be the best in everything we do, and then tell ourselves “Well I can have it all just not at the same time.” However, the problem isn’t with us. It’s with society. As women, we have more pressure to succeed than men for many reasons. We feel like we need to prove our worth and have to make a bigger effort to get noticed. At work, we hear the excuse “Well she has kids so she can’t put in 100%”. Even worse is when you are seen as not being a team player, not reliable because you have to pick up and drop off kids or take personal days to take care of them, or even as a liability because your priority isn’t work. So we end up feeling guilty and putting in more hours and push ourselves even harder to prove that our family and kids have no effect on our work and we are no different than the men. But then we get stuck feeling guilty because we aren’t spending enough time with our kids. Since now we’re stuck at work we might miss some of their games or not be able to make a home cooked meal every night. The mom-guilt kids in hard and we feel like we aren’t spending enough time with our kids and not only are we missing out on their milestones and fun but also they are missing out on having their mother around full time.
The pressures of society on us to be perfect and have to prove ourselves in every aspect are not only exhausting but very unfair. Men don’t have the same pressures. Even if they are mediocre in their careers, they are never seen as a “failure”. However, if women are “only supervisors” we get pressure from all sides saying things like “She could be so much better if she focused more on her career”. So somehow we are achieving higher but looked down up lower. This is the pit we are falling into, and the pressure to “have it all or nothing at all” doesn’t help. The solution is easy, yet hard to actually accomplish. We need to change our mentalities. We need to not accept the criticism unless it’s constructive. We need to not be so hard on ourselves. We can have it all, and at the same time. We just can’t expect ourselves to put 100% in every area. And that’s ok! We don’t need to! The saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none” for me is my motto. It can be taken as a negative connotation. I, however, like to look at the positive. I’d rather have a lot more tools in my tool belt instead of just one or two. I can know enough about many different areas, excelling in some that I need to, to get by. I can be good at a lot of different things without needing to be an expert. We don’t need to be perfect in every area, just good enough that we are satisfied and getting things taken care of.
Still, most women are naturally overachievers. I know I am, and I’m never satisfied with just sitting still or coasting. Recently, I took a long hard look at my career. When I got hired in, there were three other engineers in our organization. Now, ten years later, all three of them are supervisors. Except me. I’m the only one who hasn’t really risen in the ranks. At first, I was bothered by this because I don’t think I’m any less of an engineer. I started thinking about being treated unfairly in a few positions and being held back from promotions because of almost discriminatory reasons (nothing I could prove concretely). Was that why I wasn’t a supervisor? Was I not enough of a hard worker? On the other hand, I knew a lot of phenomenal engineers who have tried to interview for supervisor positions that have not gotten it. So why not? What’s the catch? Well sometimes, it’s politics. Managers like to put people into positions that are not only good engineers but also have good leadership qualities and know how to interact with upper management. For me, however, I didn’t think that was what was stopping me. I know my assets, and my communication skills are pretty good. So what then? I literally spent weeks being so hard on myself. While I was very happy and proud of my peers, I was frustrated for myself.
Then one day, I asked myself, “Do you even want to be a supervisor?” And the answer was unequivocally no. I didn’t. Further, I never really have either. For various reasons throughout my career, I’ve never wanted to be a supervisor. Not because I don’t believe I’m capable of it but more because I didn’t want to deal with the politics of the position and feel like I’m not tied to my job. I knew I wanted to have a family, and while having kids it would have been tough to be a supervisor at the same time. At least not with the way I imagined myself. I knew that when I had kids I would want to take an extended maternity leave, which as a supervisor is near impossible due to the physical duties and job responsibilities. Which is understandable. Also, I knew there was a possibility I might want to work part-time while my kids are still very young (babies and toddlers). Again, very difficult to find a part-time supervisor. I’ve known women who have job-shared (where both are the supervisor with the same responsibilities but each are able to work part-time and share the job). However, that’s not something that interested me. So I knew that at least until I was done having kids, being a supervisor was not really on my radar. So why, then, was I so frustrated at not being a supervisor? Again, it was because of the pressure of needing to be the best. Once I realized what I really wanted, I was relieved. Glad, even, that I wasn’t a supervisor. When I was taking an even further look at my career goals and aspirations, I was realizing I might not even want to be a supervisor in engineering. I’m reaching the point in my life where I know I need to be passionate about something. Although there are some aspects within engineering that I know I would not only love but also excel at, I still question the other politics and timing involved. To me, more important is the flexibility I have for now to be able to balance my work and my family. So I’m perfectly content with staying in the position I’m in. That doesn’t mean I don’t have any ambitions for the future. I’m always looking for something to do, and even though I have my career and my kids I’m working on other various and completely unrelated projects as well. That’s how I balance. By doing what I need to do (my career) while growing my family and having a little fun on the side (for me that’s writing and helping make a difference). So while I’m open to the idea of possibly one day being a supervisor, I’m content at staying where I am for now. I’ll wait for the best opportunity for me, in something I am passionate about. I won’t become a supervisor just because it’s expected that I climb the corporate ladder or it’s the next logical step. I won’t do anything unless I feel it’s the best step for me and my family.
I’ve realized that the main action we need to take is to create realistic goals for our lives. Tailor your goals to what’s most important to you. Change your perspective and aim for what you want, not what society tells you to want or you need. You can have a career, and a family, and still balance your friends and social life as well. Just as we budget our finances, we have to budget our time. Manage your time wisely, some days your career will have to be a priority and some days your kids will be a priority. It’s ok to change your priorities daily. If I know I have an important meeting that I need to prepare for, I might have to take some extra time away from my kids for a bit. But other days if the kids are off school or I just want to spend some extra time with them, then my I might take a vacation day because my kids will be the priority. I’m lucky enough to be in a flexible working environment and understanding management. This is definitely helpful, however I would like to think that if I didn’t have the flexibility I needed I would do what I had to find it. So don’t be too hard on yourself and know that you are enough. You are always enough and you’re probably doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.