Who wants it all anyway?By Dr Gemma Munro | Aug 13, 12 09:05 AM
Repeat after me ... "I respectfully do not care"
In the July/August edition of The Atlantic, academic and former White House senior staffer Anne-Marie Slaughter published an article entitled ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All’. The article went viral, in every sense of the word. Women (and men) commented on the article with such support, and such vitriol, that it was if they had vomited their feelings on to the page.
I found the article interesting, and agreed wholeheartedly (sometimes violently) with many of Slaughter’s points. This quote, in particular, rang true for me:
The best hope for improving the lot of all women … is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.
I wanted to shout ‘Hallelujah!’ from the rooftop of my house when I read that passage. If there is one thing that makes me want to vomit my vitriol onto a page, it’s the commonly heard excuse from CEOs and Boards (and even senior women) that ‘it’s important that our organisation is a meritocracy – that we recruit and promote based on merit alone’. Well, of course organisations should be meritocracies. But really, when only six of our ASX200 CEOs are women, the assumption that Australian organisations are meritocracies is laughable. I work with many all-male or mostly-male executive teams. In assuming these organisations are meritocracies, we are actually painting the women who work there as lacking in merit.
As much as I agreed with Slaughter on the vital need to close the leadership gender gap, I do have a problem with the premise of the article. What is ‘it all’? And who wants to have it? I certainly don’t. I don’t want a home cinema, an expensive car or a closet full of shoes. I don’t want to work six days a week and, at the same time, be totally committed to being there for my children for every single scrape and bump and finger-painting session. I’m not attached to rock-hard abs or expensive jewellery. To me, having it all is synonymous with creating a version of yourself that meets the needs and expectations of others – not creating a life that you love.
In my women’s leadership programs we talk about ‘having YOUR all’ – shaping your life and career so that it meets your needs for pleasure, for fulfillment, for giving back to others. This inevitably necessitates saying no to some things that others may find worth striving for but, in reality, mean absolutely nothing to you. It involves knowing who you are and what you want, and deciding, courageously, to not give a fig about what others think of you. One of the most freeing phrases I use comes from Martha Beck:
I respectfully do not care.
So I respectfully do not care about rocking up to coaching sessions in my five-year old Corolla with biscuit crumbs ground to a fine dust on each of the two booster seats. I respectfully do not care if others raise their eyebrows when I head to a yoga class in the middle of the day. I respectfully do not care if anyone disapproves of me sending my kids to crèche three days a week. I respectfully do not care if my PA sees my house in hovel-state first thing in the morning because my husband and I have chosen to work late into the night instead of doing dishes and laundry.
What is my all? It’s having a business I adore that allows me to shape my day according to what I love doing, and to pick my kids up at 3pm. It’s spending money on overseas holidays, not expensive cars. It’s forgoing a really flash house to have my two vegie gardens and loads of fruit trees out the back. It’s giving up my stable but stressful management consulting role to be fully present with my children. It’s sacrificing some of my earning potential to spend time with my husband – and still feeling my heart go kerflump after 12 years of togetherness as a result.
This is my all. And I love it. ‘Having it all’ is a ridiculous concept; unachievable and ultimately not particularly pleasurable. In striving to have it all I think we create stress, pressure and ridiculously high expectations of ourselves. Choosing to create a life that reflects YOUR all – and respectfully not caring what others think about our choices – feels and tastes like freedom to me.
What's your all?
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Gemma Munro is the Director of Inkling Coaching, based in Adelaide Australia. She has a PhD in performance psychology and extensive experience working with leaders to maximise their enjoyment and success. Inkling Coaching works with individuals, groups and executive teams, and specialises in women’s leadership development. Outside of Inkling, Gemma has two small children, a large husband and a medium-sized vegie patch that demands attention. She sings, when she can, and likes to play – and win – 500.