The Elusive Promise of "Having It All"

Define your goals for career, motherhood, marriage, and faith

You want to succeed at work. You want to invest in your family. It’s the classic—and sometimes heart-wrenching—tug-of-war. Can you “have it all” as some suggest? And what in the world does "having it all" even mean for a working mom?

In an article for The Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter made “having it all” a hot issue once again. Slaughter suggested that professional working moms really can’t do it all in today’s economic and societal structure. In her Atlantic piece, Slaughter examines how the “have it all” mantra can be more of an admonishment than an encouragement to young women today.

The responses to Slaughter’s article ranged from support to condemnation. Some applauded Slaughter for speaking out on the pressure of “default rules” permeating corporate, academic, and government office culture, while others criticized her for having an unrealistic perspective. Many drew comparisons between Slaughter and another high-profile executive, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Sandberg has gained notoriety for asserting that women can have it all, if they are supremely strategic, creative, and ambitious.

Define your “it”

But there’s one question that I haven’t seen anyone asking: What exactly is “it?”

We need to stop pressuring ourselves to achieve some unreachable standard and recognize that in the pursuit of ‘having it all,’ these are necessary choices, not failures.

For Slaughter, “it” meant maintaining a healthy marriage and mothering teenage sons in New Jersey while serving in a dream job as the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. (Is it any wonder she struggled?) In comparison, Sandberg’s “it” is relatively modest: protecting quality family time while running the world’s most influential social media company. Neither woman is the average working mom, but the tensions they feel resonate beyond their elite careers.

Do you wonder how you can have it all? Start by defining your “it.” I believe this is a step that many women overlook. Instead of specifically defining what they want, many rely on a vague notion of unmitigated success and happiness.

What’s your goal? Having this “it” debate without detailing the priorities that guide our life choices, including where and how we work, just doesn’t make sense. I believe we can have it all, but that has to be defined and judged only by each individual.

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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May 25

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