7.12.2012

Can You Have It All

I wanted to post some of my personal musings on a provocative but (in my mind) largely fair and honest cover article in this month's Atlantic Magazine entitled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All."  The article was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former high-ranking official in the State Department who left the position to spend more time with her family - and actually meant it.  In the article, she attempts to debunk the myth that women who want to have it all but are unable to fall short because either they're not committed enough, haven't married the right person, or didn't sequence their achievements in the right order. 

While everyone can find at least one quibble with Ms. Slaughter's perspective, I salute her for raising the issues and for having some insightful and brace responses to the usual questions. Since I'm too doped up on cold medicine right now to string together more than one coherent argument, I'll react in a more bullety, stream-of-consciousness manner:

First, let's be clear about who we're talking about here.  Some women love only to raise kids, some women have only career aspirations, and most women are not so fortunate to be able to have so many high-achieving positions available to them.  This article doesn't really touch on anybody in those groups, nor should anyone judge anyone in those groups for their preferences and limitations. 

Second, it is not quite correct to extrapolate these pressures to men, since so much of what Ms. Slaughter is touching on relates specifically to what women uniquely encounter.  Nevertheless, I hope that men who desire to be both professionally successful and intimately involved in their children's lives will take notice of these issues and become more empathetic towards women as well as less hard on themselves.

Third, I do think that at the very highest echelons, it is impossible to have it all.  If you want to be reasonably successful, there are enough hours in the day to hone your craft and be an involved parent, so long as you make sacrifices, have a great life partner, know how to manage your trade-offs, and accept that you can be a 90% professional and a 90% parent (but not a 100% in both).  But when you get to the very top of your profession (whether it is government or law or business or sports), you are not usually afforded such trade-offs or such gaps from perfection.  After spending 80 hours in a week on your profession, that next hour may be better spent being a parent, in terms of that hour maximizing your personal productivity and happiness; but it means one less hour spent inching ahead in your profession, which may mean all the difference at the elite levels. 

Fourth, Christians face a slightly different aspect of this tension.  For many of us, we are figuring out how to balance not two but three demands on our time and energy: career, family, and ministry.  For some of us, two of those three overlap considerably (e.g. a person whose career is her ministry), but for many of us, there are very real trade-offs in putting more effort in one at the expense of the other two.  For us, the goal isn't so much how to "have it all" in all three but how to put God first in and before all three.  But, clearly, there is no way to "have it all" in all three, which leaves either settling in one or more or forsaking one or more. 

I wish I had more to say about the last point, but it's where I am and I can't say I've figured it out for myself, let alone for others.  But it is useful to consider such matters, and so I applaud Ms. Slaughter for putting herself out there so that we can gain from her struggles and lessons.








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