Usually, I resent articles with the sort of title that tells us women STILL can’t have “it all”, despite it being the 21st century and all. In general, I resent the idea that we have to choose between our careers and our families. And I particularly resent articles of this nature written by women at the height of their careers who feel it is their right to impart “advice” to my generation, often from the perspective of someone who has already had the luxury of having “it all.” Such pieces usually either tell us we could have “it all”, if only we weren’t so lazy/incompetent, or that we shouldn’t even try because it is actually impossible.
My own personal theory is that we should do whatever will fulfil us and allow us to lead lives that are true to who we are as individuals – and that, crucially, only we can determine what this means. Yes, it’s tough and there are lots of demands on our time and balancing the things we want with the things we have to do is really hard. But this idea of “it all” is surely just another social construct used to bully women and make them feel like what they do have still ain’t enough.
But before I digress to full-on rant territory, let me come back to my point. I recently faced a choice that made me reconsider this theory, and wonder whether, perhaps, it really is a choice and we really can’t have it all. Allow me to explain…
I was recently offered, in the space of a few days, two amazing jobs. One was based in Istanbul and would be fun, interesting and allow me to FINALLY relocate. The other was based in Oxford, a big step up in terms of responsibility and pay, and something I’ve had in my sights for a while but never dreamed I’d be able to do yet.
Naturally, the career girl inside of me, mouth salivating with ambition, wanted to seize option two with both hands and to hell with the consequences. But the girl who’s planning to get married later this year? Needless to say, she was rather less keen…
And, suddenly, there I was, facing the ultimate woman’s choice: personal life or career? My love or my ambition?
My feminist guard was up immediately. Would choosing E over my dream job undermine my status as an independent woman? Would making decisions for personal rather professional reasons negate my feminist beliefs?
I spent three full days writhing in an agony of indecision. E was fantastic. I knew of course which option he wanted me to pick, but he was very careful to say all the right things, telling me I had to do what I most wanted, to think about what was best for my career, that we’d make it work whatever happened.
And in the end? Try not to vomit as you read this, but in the end I listened to my heart.
Ultimately, I realised, I was struggling with this decision because I was choosing between one thing I want (to live with E and work in Istanbul) and one thing I think I ought to want (a big shiny promotion). The choosing was horrendous because in choosing what I actually want for myself, I felt like I was letting EVERYONE down: my parents who taught me my independence; the director who was offering me the higher position; my colleagues in that team; even myself as a feminist and independent woman.
But as soon as it was decided I felt instantly lighter. Why? Because, I realise in hindsight, this was a decision I made for myself, which was true to myself and how I want to live my life.
So do we have to choose, or can we really have “it all”? I can’t say I have the answer, or I’d be a raging hypocrite, and no-one likes them. However, what this experience has taught me is that the only way to be happy is to be true to myself. When you’re brought up to please, as many women inevitably are, this is bloody hard. But it’s the only way to get remotely close to happiness, which is surely more important than this nebulous idea of “it all.”
Have you ever faced a choice between personal and professional lives? Have you grappled with the question of whether you can have it all? I’ve love to hear from you and how you dealt with the situation!