Women@Work Wednesday: You can have it all… Just not at the same time

brown girl

“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not children while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.” ~ Annabel Crabb

The “all” in “having it all” is different for each one of us. In an ideal world, having it all for me would be nailing business, babies and being all day every day. For another, it might be career, wellness and travel or entrepreneurship or championing social change or getting the perfect sugar daddy. For yet another person, it might be marriage, babies and being. We are all different so we find fulfilment in different things.

With my first year of truly testing this ideal drawing to a close, I  have been thinking really hard about this idea of women “having it all.” I love the empowering ideal behind it. The feminist in me recognises and honours the feminist in it. However, as this year has taught me, the practical business of having it all is an entirely different ball game.

This morning, and right on time for this post, I caught a little snippet on YouTube about Michelle Obama. She is currently on a book tour for her book “Becoming” and at one of her meet and greets in New York, she said,

“Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all. It ain’t equal. And I tell women that it’s not equal—that whole ‘so you can have it all’? Nope, not at the same time. That’s a lie. And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that s*** doesn’t work all the time…”  

She was speaking in the context of a time when she was balancing a full-time job as a lawyer with raising her daughters Sasha and Malia. And during that time, her husband was often out of town in Washington, D.C., campaigning, or travelling for work. Prior to this, I was feeling lukewarm about buying Michelle’s book but I am now officially interested.

Michelle captures the essence of what I wanted to blog about today. The lesson that 2018 has confirmed to me is that aspiring to have it all must be tempered with a healthy dose of reality and pragmatism if you are to achieve it while remaining healthy, happy and sane.

After building in the amount of quality time I felt I needed to have with my baby,  I found that despite partnering with a hands-on father and having a full-time helper during the work week, I could not put in the same amount of hours I was accustomed to putting in at work. The best way to describe my job is to say that it is a bit like tending a little fire in the veld. If I don’t keep a constant eye it, it will either flame out or burn the entire veld. Either way, I’m in serious trouble. When I course-corrected to put in more work at the office, I found myself exhausted all the time. When I put time for myself back in, I noticed that it took away from the other two. This is a very simplistic view that can not even begin to truly sum up all I want to do versus what I need to do versus what I can actually manage. All that versing made me feel mediocre at everything.

I remember anticipating this issue with deep worry in January 2018 and I posted the above quote from Annabel Crabb on Instagram. I was in my first month of maternity leave at the time. In response, @tondiruwa gave me what I felt is truly the answer to the riddle of having it all for me:

“I was liberated by accepting the fact that, yes, you can do it all BUT you won’t EXCEL at everything. Some areas will THRIVE while others will just SURVIVE. It is up to you to decide which one is the most important. The greatest issue is strict time management. When everything has been apportioned its timeslot, give 100% to that thing in its time. I could go on….it was my life lesson for 2017.” ~ @tondiruwa

In short, Tondi and Michelle are saying:

  1. you can have it all; but
  2. you can’t be everything to everyone in the same moment no matter how much you “lean in;” so
  3. Organisation and time management are key; and
  4. As you apply #3, give your all to each thing in its time – while you are being a mum, be a great and present mum. While you are working, focus on working and while you are looking after yourself, switch off and rest.

As I take these lessons into 2019, what does this mean for my personal journey? It means that I must finally do the one thing I have successfully dodged my whole life: strict time management and organisation. This has never been my strength but it must now become one in order for me to do all 3 of the things that make me happy to the best of my ability.

It means that I will be trading in the quantity of time for an increase in the quality of time with each of these things. When it is my baby’s time, I want to be present in that time with him. At a recent school event at my niece’s school, one of her classmates said, “when I grow up, I want to be a dad so I can play on my laptop all day.”

When it comes to the little fire that is work, it means increasing efficiency, maximising on the advantages that technology offers, learning to delegate what I can so that I can focus on the priorities and concentrating on the tasks at hand. There will be less idle chit-chat and distractions and more working. The aim is that whatever work I turn out in the amount of time set aside for work will be excellent even if the quantity is less than my pre-baby self.

Finally, it means putting myself on the priority list as well. 30minutes of exercise 3 to 4 times a week can double as some much needed alone time to regroup. In addition, blogging regularly so that my head doesn’t explode from a build-up of thousands of words engendered by strong feelings on hundreds of topics. I think my husband is all listened out 🙂

I am far from figuring it out but I have a roadmap and willing spirit and for now, that is enough. The journey continues.

P.S. – I hear the voice in my head asking but why is the work-and-family debate always about women? Well, that’s a post for another day, isn’t it?













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