There’s a story on the front page of the New York Times on Friday headlined: Elite Women Put a New Spin on an Old Debate. The debate in the title is the debate of all debates, at least where women are concerned. Can we or can we not have it all?
It comes up again because Anne-Marie Slaughter, who opted out of her job in the State Department to return to her post as a Princeton Professor, wrote a cover story for the Atlantic about her choice. She didn’t feel she could give her teenage son what he needed on the schedule Washington demanded. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has been advocating the flip side, telling young women that they can indeed have it all and that they shouldn’t compromise.
My son, my oldest, graduated from high school last night. Perhaps that’s why all the talk is speaking so loudly to me. I know that people sometimes look at my life and think that I’ve managed to have “it all.” And admittedly, I have a lot – a career I enjoy and that has provided me and my family with financial security, two healthy kids, a husband I love, and a modicum of flexibility. For all of that, I am very, very grateful. But the notion of “it all” doesn’t resonate – at all – with me. Neither does the advice not to compromise.
I started making conscious choices (a term I prefer to compromises) about building a life that would (I hoped) allow me to be a mom and a successful journalist before Jake was born. That was when I stepped off the track that would lead to becoming a top editor at a top magazine and onto the one to be a writer. The logic: Writers could more easily work from home. Editors couldn’t (at least they couldn’t then.) Being a writer opened a few doors, and joining the Today show opened many more. But I still make choices – hard ones – every week. Do I accept a speaking engagement on the day my child has a match? (Reluctantly, sometimes.) Do I take on a new television show that will require me to miss dinner on Tuesday nights? (Not reluctantly, yes.) Do I travel to Washington to participate in a White House confab on personal finance and miss the end-of-year awards ceremony? (Absolutely not, but I still wondered what I missed.)
So what would I tell a young woman on the start of her journey? What will I tell my daughter when it’s her time to start choosing? You may not be able to have it all, but you can most certainly have not just a lot – but enough. You get to decide what that means to you. And if things aren’t working, you can – you must – change them. So…I’m with Slaughter. How about you?