“Women can’t have it all. At least not all at the same time”.
This was the advice given to me by a mentor early in my career. At the time, she was a very senior leader in the corporate world, with a happy family and a booming career. I thought she did, in fact, “have it all”. And so, at the time, her words crushed me.
Having it all
18 years later, as the Head of the insights function for Unilever Africa, I not only get it - but I am also liberated by this truth. My career is in a good place, and I am happily married with two beautiful boys. From the outside, I am sure it looks like I “have it all”. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t. And that’s more than ok. It doesn’t mean I am not happy or fulfilled. It means just the opposite. Without the self-inflicted pressure of seeking the nirvana of perfect balance, I am free to be gloriously & imperfectly human. I have good days and bad days. I make good decisions and bad ones. I am winning in some areas of my life while feeling like I am failing in others.
So here is my truth – raw & personal. Could I have climbed even higher in my career than where I am right now? Maybe. Could I be a better wife & mother? Probably. But trying to do both of these things, I have no doubt, would have killed me. And holding myself accountable to such unattainable standards would have left me feeling miserable. Instead, I have tried my very best to accept that at different moments in my life, I will need to make choices & trade-offs.
I turned down a promotion after having my first child, as in that season of my life, I chose to invest more energy in my family. I accepted a promotion after having my second child, as I was entering a new season where I wanted to accelerate my career. Today, I have been clear that I am not geographically mobile – a choice that no doubt closes many doors. But right now, having my support system around me & my family is what I need. Choices are never easy – but as long as you own them and make them intentionally, with clarity of purpose, they are always worth it.