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WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Why 'Can You Have it All?' Is the Wrong Question

Debates that center on "having it all" have been one-sided conversations for too long. Now that men are joining in, it's time to focus on a new question.
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For generations, women have monopolized the "Can you really have it all?" conversation. For far too long, men didn't even seem to ask the question. But that's changing.

Men Join the Conversation

Recent articles like Jena McGregor's, "How do men define 'having it all"? highlight the ways men are finding answers to this conundrum.

The survey that McGregor cites tells us some interesting findings:

  1. Men place more value on family than on money.
  2. Women are more flexible, even riskier, when it comes to career advancement.
  3. Men are slightly more concerned with achieving work-life balance than women.
  4. Women value a company's benefits and perks higher than men.
  5. Women are less likely to link success to marriage or relationships.

My instincts were to point out that women and men actually want very similar things. I wondered if the only real difference is the paths we pursue toward these goals. Depending on where we are on the path, we may undervalue or overvalue different things (i.e. money, family).

I also wanted to explore how mobile technology makes "having it all" more possible than ever before.

Then I realized something.

Be More Human

I couldn't shake the frustration that this topic continues to be so gendered--and the frustration at myself that I'm complicit in this.

Then I remembered something from graduate school.

Studies show that boys tend to get their humanity hammered out of them around age five when they're told, "Don't cry." They learn early that anger and domination are legitimate and approved expressions of emotion. To be male means you often go it alone, your most valuable contribution is monetary provision, and vulnerability means weakness.

For girls it happens a little later. They get their humanity driven out of them around age 11 when they're told, "Play nice." Girls learn to dumb down their intelligence in order to get approval, to be acquiescent, and to place others' needs before their own.

Both boys and girls are the victims of this cultural heritage, which is one reason I'm excited to see more men in the conversation.

If we're awake enough, at some point, we all realize the beliefs we internalized as "truths" were lies meant to protect us from the cold, cruel world.

Instead, they insidiously stripped us of some essential human qualities.

What Are We Really Asking?

If you scratch a little deeper you'll discover that most professionals are really wondering if they can be ambitious and happy? Can I live an undivided life--nurturing relationships while also going full throttle in the direction of my personal goals and dreams?

At the center of all these questions is an inner yearning to be a whole person--head and heart, yin and yang, doing and being.

"Can I have it all?" is the wrong question. It reflects the consumptive attitude celebrated in society. It's like we're saying, "If I have everything, even good things like financial security and a happy family, then I'm good--I'm living right." It discards the process in order to acquire the product.

Having it all has become an outward reflection of an internal anxiety. It tells the world--and yourself--that you've assembled all the right ingredients to live a perfect life.

Maybe having it all is really about finding a way to counteract these messages and reclaim your humanity.

For many women, it's demonstrating intelligence and authority.

For many men, it's about nurturing others' success and voicing compassion.

Let's start asking this question: "Am I brave enough to be fully and totally human?" Ambitious and compassionate. Directive and collaborative. Strong and yielding.

Having it all is being conscious to the internal process that's refining you to be fully human, to acknowledge once discarded parts of yourself, and to participate in all aspects of who you are.

Last updated: Nov 20, 2013




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