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Stop saying women can't have it all

Wednesday, March 25, 2015  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Kathy Caprino

The latest trend in women’s leadership circles is telling women they can't have it all (at the same time), and they should stop trying. Top female political and corporate leaders in a wide range of industries and arenas have been quoted in the past few years saying, "You can't have it all — it's a pipedream."

I was a corporate vice president when my children were little, and I personally lived the grueling experience of feeling guilty and ashamed that I was letting down everyone and everything I cared about in my life — my children who needed me, my husband who needed my parental and spousal support, and my professional life that needed full-time attention. I was sick frequently and felt depleted, depressed and exhausted. So, I truly get how challenging it is to juggle both identities. I'm absolutely not saying that it's easy or simple to build a satisfying and enriching personal life while being a highly-contributive professional. Not easy at all.

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I am saying that to frame the entire discussion — and the way you view your life and your world — in this negative, limiting and pessimistic way sets us up to believe "I can’t have everything I want in my life when I want it, and I'm doomed to fail. So why try?" It also makes us think there is some objective standard of "all" that we have to live up to.

I've been in leadership and career workshops by the dozens with young women who express how fearful they are to go for a big career, because all they hear today from women leaders is how they can’t have it all. And the phrase "We can have it all, just not at the same time" isn't an accurate representation either.

From my view, this "You can have it all, but not at the same time" is 100 percent the wrong way to think and speak about life and work. And it’s not what we need to teach and demonstrate to our young girls as they're about to embark on their adult lives and careers. If it were up to me, I'd banish the phrase "having it all" forever.

What’s a more positive way to frame how you think about your life? Adopt a mindset of "I know what matters most to me, and I'm honoring that, every day, with every choice and decision I make." Stop thinking about and defining life in terms of "all," because that just leads you to think you’ve ended up with "nothing." Think instead about what you've already created in your life, and how to relish and appreciate that more, and build on it to pave the way for greater happiness and success, on your own terms. Where you are today is your "all." If it’s not to your liking, find new ways to shift it.

Reframe your life story

I learned in my training as a marriage and family therapist that one of the most positive things we can do with clients who are struggling emotionally is to teach them how to "reframe" their problems. A reframe is a positive reshaping of an issue and a new telling of a person's story so that it fits the facts equally well (never lie and never twist the truth), but allows for more positivity, expansion and growth. It's not about seeing life with rose-colored classes. It's about looking at the situation clearly, but from a positive perspective that can open doors for more growth, happiness and change.

An example of this is when a client came to me recently after being laid off from her high-level public relations role, and she simply couldn't get a job. She was emotionally devastated by the layoff, and had been on five interviews for similar public relations jobs that seemed to go well, but didn't move forward. She literally said to me, "I'm a big loser — nobody wants me."

That story — of being a complete loser and unable to create opportunity — framed the entire way she experienced herself, and how she was viewing her present situation and her future opportunities. After learning more about her situation, I asked, "Hang on here — it sounds like you went for these jobs, but in your heart, you really didn't want them. Sounds like what you really want is to start your own business. Is this right?" She answered, "My gosh, that is right. I don't want more of what I had. I'm so done with it. I want a complete change."

Now that's a positive reframe. She realized there was a positive root underlying her seemingly "negative" situation and that her life was teaching her something important. She realized, "I'm not a loser. There’s a reason behind what’s happening is my life, and I need to honor that."

So how should we reframe the issue of "having it all?" Be ever-vigilant about how you view, and talk about, your life and career — the lens you use to see it through, and the language you use to describe it. If you think, "There’s no way I can have it all" you'll end up feeling like you have nothing that you want.

See your life a new, more empowered lens. Think about what you want now, and what you'll give up to have that, and follow that. Understand that your career — and your life — has seasons. It's not all about today.

Kathy Caprino is a nationally recognized women’s career and leadership coach and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Author of  Breakdown, Breakthrough, Caprino is a contributor to ForbesHuffington Post and AARP. Follow her on Twitter @kathycaprino. For Kathy's original post on this topic, visit her Forbes Leadership blog.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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