The Sobering Reality

“I observe that many people seek happiness “out there.” They imagine it will come to them if they get a raise, a new car, a new lover, or something else they want but do not have. My own experience, repeated many times, is that the actual reward of getting and having, is usually much less than the one imagined.” ~Dr. Andrew Weil

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The race. The drive. The rat wheel. The hustle. The rush. The adrenaline.

The TRUTH.

Here is the truth. My truth, but I have a feeling it’s a truth for many other women out there too.

Last week, I sat down with a warm cup of coffee, a cozy fall blanket and the November issue of Marie Claire magazine. One of the moms at school had suggested that I grab a copy, because there was a big feature on some trailblazing women in America.

The article opened liked this:

“In an era when a million Twitter followers trumps a million-dollar paycheck, and viral videos capture more views than Hollywood blockbusters, all the old rules about power are dead. Today, networks are the new companies, and your contacts are currency. Knowing how to leverage them is real power. And nobody knows that better than the women spotlighted here, the most connected women in America.” –Marie Claire Magazine

Oooooh, this was gonna be gooood. Real good. Right up my alley. This was gonna be inspiring. Uplifting. A learning experience for my craft, where I can soak up the knowledge, and then implement strategies to up my own game.

And on my cozy couch, I read about woman after woman, doing BEYOND amazing things.

Like Dyllan McGee, founder of Makers.com. Makers is one of my favorite websites of today, and if you haven’t checked it out, I suggest you get on it pronto. I read about another PR rockstar Brooke Hammerling, who has been dubbed “yentapreneur,” which made me chuckle. It’s so perfect! I even read about my long distance uber-smart friend Rachel Sklar, who is changing the ratio in her new startup http://theli.st. The list went on and on about women who are helping shape our world for the better.

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And after I finished reading the glossy pages filled with such pioneering women in America, I felt struck by a reality. Actually it was more like a sobering reality…. I’m not even in the race. Brace yourself ladies, yes, I’m going there today. In fact, I might even have what one would call the unfair advantage. Even after everything I’ve accomplished (not tooting my own horn here, just making a point), I still can’t compete with most of these women. Why? Because I have made a tiny little decision: to put my family first.

So get ready, I’m going there NOW. Not in a jealous way, but in a very realistic, pragmatic way, I’m trying to make peace with the fact that I cannot compare myself to women who have no children, and even further, to those who don’t have a partner. These female trailblazers without these relationships present in their lives have the career advantage. They can pick up and travel for 6 weeks to chase that new story, or can work till midnight days upon end, because they don’t have little bodies to come home to, to feed, to read bedtime stories to, or do Hebrew homework with. These fantabulous women without children are simply able to dedicate more time to their craft and will therefore always be ahead career-wise. They just will. It’s the Malcolm Gladwell Outliers Law of 10,000 Hours.

I have made my choice, (one that I am so grateful for and proud of) and have blogged about it umpteen times. It’s the only choice for me… my family comes first. It always has, and until my husband and I are empty nesters, I will make peace with the fact that I will continue to miss out. I will continue to have to, BITTERLY at times (if I am to be honest), turn down very frutiful career opportunities as they continue to present themselves, just because I am a mom. And if you are a working mother, chances are you will miss out too. And you will have to make peace with it too. Plainly put, we simply cannot compete with the woman who has no children. Shit, as hard as we try, it just ain’t possible— unless you are cool with your children being raised without their mom, or unless you have a super supportive full-time stay-at-home husband. It’s just not feasible, and it’s just not humanly possible.

It’s ironic that as I delivered a great speech last night at a conference on Chutzpah and entrepreneurship success, I still can’t help but feel the sobering reality…  I’m really not in the game. And sometimes, I can’t help but wonder where I would be if I hadn’t chosen family first. Who knows? Maybe divorced with a bigger empire like Martha Stewart. Or maybe I would have made it all work beautifully. I don’t know, and honestly, I’m not going to test it. My family is my oxygen, I love being a mother and wife, and us moms, we don’t get any do-vers. I want to be the one helping with homework. And I want to be the one reading the bedtime stories.

I will close by saying, this is certainly not the annoying stay-at-home mom vs. working mom war, nor the childless women war either for that matter. It’s simply a point that as working moms, we all have the same sobering reality: we really just aren’t, truly, in the game. We may be good enough to make it to the playoffs, but we ain’t bringing home the Stanley Cup without losing something.

Because we are human.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Can working moms truly have it all? Do you even want to be in the game, or are you happy to have opted out of the workforce? It’s a big debate, and I’d like to go there with integrity and respect. Please chime in.

Erica3

26 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts, Erica! Great post! I’d like to contribute to the conversation by asking, is the grass always greener on the other side? Single, childless business owners like myself may say having a partner to support you (general you, not necessarily specific you!) both financially and emotionally as you pursue your dreams may be the advantage. In addition, as a mother you have a large audience with whom you automatically connect because you’ve all ‘been there,’ i.e. stayed up all night with a feverish, vomiting child, did eight loads of laundry the next morning, and had a home cooked dinner on the table by 6:00. (Seriously, how do you do it all?) I’m sure there are pros and cons to both scenarios. Best to you and your family!

    1. I absolutely agree that having a partner – being married – is a huge huge plus, whether you work outside the home and in, or not.

  2. I’ll chime in here as a guy. What I often see is women on either side of this debate characterize one another based on their own internal schemas. There are a number of truism though. If you want something badly, you will have to sacrifice something else in your life, and this doesnt apply only to the working vs stay at home mother debate. The second is that you need to be happy in your own skin. Do you judge success by your own internal metrics or based on what other people have achieved. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, so never make the assumption that just because someone achieves some level of notoriety, it means they are happy.

  3. It’s so true; there are only just so many balls you can juggle before you start dropping some. Those of us who choose to have families owe it to their families to be there for them and make sure that they are not the “balls” that get dropped. This goes for both men and women, by the way. The family man who doesn’t put his family first is just as doomed to failure as the woman who does.

  4. Seeing that I haven’t yet reached that phase in life, I am in no position to have a strong opinion about this. But I will base it on my reading/research material.. It seems that the notion of “having it all” is plausible from the sense that it can all be done, but not perfectly. In her book, Sheryl Sandberg beautifully illustrates how having a fruitful career, being a supportive partner and a loving mom can all be done – and worthwhile – but with limits and without factoring in “perfection.”

  5. Great post! I used to believe that I could not be in the game because I am a single working mom. Then, one day, I decided to be grateful for what I have. Since then, amazing opportunities are literally coming from every directions. I am now in a comfortable position where I can say no or yes depending on how I feel. Everybody needs to make choices and be at peace with them. I decided to put my kids first, my work second and my love life third (have been single since my divorce 7 years ago-never met a supportive man yet)

    No matter what your situation is, be grateful, make the most of what you have and I assure you that you will be happy!

    Love Cathy

  6. Suddenly my kids are starting to leave home and go to university. I have wrestled with being a working mom for 20 years and it has been a struggle at times. My kids come first. Period. But I still have had to be a performing employee and earn a management salary to pay the bills. I am stressed and rushed all the time, but don’t regret a single time that I rushed out of the office to attend a school play, or take a kid to the doctor, or get them to soccer practice on time. THAT is what’s important. And now that they are heading towards adulthood, I am glad that I have been there for them, whatever the toll on me or my career. There is no wrong or right answer to career versus stay-at-home or leaning in versus leaning out, but my single piece of advise to anyone in the middle of raising kids is: Don’t waste these years. You will never regret not getting that CEO position if you have happy, well adjusted, bonded kids. Nothing else matters.

  7. While I TRULY believe that there is NO Such thing in having it all, there are plenty of married women with children who are at the top of their game–for whatever reason. I definitely see myself as having an advantage of being childless to building my brand to where I need it to be, but that’s me and because I know my limitations and I couldn’t possibly see myself doing both if I had children (unfortunately). But whose to say? I’ll never truly know how much I could wield as a mother and writer…and I’ll probably never find out? There are some newer talents out there that are…doing both nicely. One example is Twitter phenom Kelly Oxford…2 kids, a hubby, a book, twitter fame and major TV writing development deals. But again, her rise to famedome is rare, but she seems to be ‘doing it all’.

    1. Hi Renee, I feel completely at the top of my game (you know I do). I’ve built a wonderful career and still manage to be a completely present full-time mom to my kids. I might be exhausted (as all working WOMEN are), but that’s a universal point. My point is, it’s not feasible for a full time working mom to compete work wise with a woman without kids, because something always has to give.

      1. Well, the facts show otherwise. Look at any list of CEO’s. Entertainers, entertainment execs, Tech titans who are women? The vast vast majority are women with kids. The VAST majority.

        And I honestly don’t think working women are more exhausted than stay at home moms. We all get the same 24 hours. Being a stay at home mom is in many ways, harder.

      2. By the way? I’d love the next blog post to be about being “completely present” – job or no, kids or no. If you can articulate that? I promise you are on the list next year. 🙂

      3. The key to success I think is to live “in the moment”. Forget the past and don’t worry about the future. If you live your life everyday according to your value then the futur will be what you want it to be

        Have a great day

        xx

  8. I have “powerful” friends who are moms and in every case, they think they put their families first. I personally don’t know a woman who puts her family second. I’m sure they’re out there – i don’t know them.

    That might look differently to them than it does to you, but in each case, their kids are fantastic, their bond with them is strong. I also have friends who don’t work who have equally great kids and relationships.

    Every time I see a woman expressing a conflict “out there” with this issue – one side or the other – they have a conflict “in there” – inside them. That’s one thing I know for sure. I’ve been both a working mom and a stay at home one. I feel both sides. But I personally know a lot more women who feel conflicted, disrespected, and angry on the “don’t work” side of the fence. It’s not that my “powerful” friends don’t feel conflict – they just don’t have the defensiveness and the blame.

    1. By the way, i agreed with a poster below that a partner is a huge asset to success, not a detriment. But I’ve found kids are too. They make you stunningly efficient. They make you powerful. They make you willing to say no with authority. The last big, high profile job I had, I took weeks before giving birth, which people thought was nuts. And then I hired a number two? A woman with a child at home, and one on the way. Because no one knows how to get it all done and get out the door like a woman with kids at home.
      Here’s another “sobering reality”. Its far far easier to be a powerhouse, top of your game woman, like the women in the article you mention… with kids…. that is far far easier than being a single working mom or a mom with a “make the ends meet” job. As the CEO I can leave to pick up kids, to go to programs and games. As a woman working in a low level position, not so much. Those women to me are the real heroes.

  9. Great post! I have been reading your blog for awhile now and this one really hit home for me. I struggle with this very issue on a daily basis! Your words about working (or building a business) but never fully being there rings true. My agenda will forever have my 3 little ones ahead of spreadsheets and meetings and being #1 in the office. But I am making them work, mainly due to the help of an extremely supportive husband and extended family. I am fortunate to have my own parents filling in where I am not there with my kids. Don’t know where I’d be without them.

    I’ve added a twist to my already complicated life, which is starting a new business “on the side”. I often feel like I have no business doing this, and I’m scared that this new company will have a harder time because I can’t devote to it what it needs to get it going, as good of an idea as I know it is. But like you, I will keep going, and I will follow my dreams at the pace I have to given all the other priorities in my life.

  10. Erica I was just so compelled to respond to this. It is absolutely the truth for me. I constantly compare myself to these “power” women and what they are accomplishing knowing full well that there is NO way I could do what they are doing. My choice is like yours; to be home as much as possible with my 4 kids. To put them on the bus, attend their pre-school events, volunteer in the classroom and watch their soccer games.
    But in the middle? I am going 100 miles an hour doing “my” thing. Reason? I want to have it all as much as I can. I want to squeeze in my career goals and aspirations as much as possible.
    But the truth? You’re right. I’m NOT in the game. I cannot leave my family (nor do I want to) for days/weeks to pursue a dream of mine. I have limits. Self-imposed limits. And I’m happy with them.

    Thank you for sharing this, I couldn’t be any more in agreement and in a similar place.

  11. Thank u Erica. I read this post during a very difficult week during which I have reached a tipping point with work vs. home. I know there is only one choice right for me and that is family. I think it’s important that the ” have it all” mindset for women, especially mothers is challenged with the sometimes unglamourous truth. Growing up, attending a good girls only school and then starting a business, it came a surprise, to myself most of all, that success is not necessarily defined only in the corporate world. So thanks again for this inspiring blog

  12. I agree with you, Erica. I know a lot of women who feel differently and believe that you can have it all, but I think that while you can have everything you want, there will always be sacrifices to make when you’re a mother. You just cannot be everything to everyone all the time. I know that I can plan a full work day, but all of that changes if I get a call from one of my children’s schools saying they need to be picked up for some reason. It’s important to me that my family understands how important my work is to me, but also important that they understand that THEY really do come first. While this means that I am somewhat limited to what I can accomplish, it’s a choice I made that I will never regret. I don’t feel cheated, but actually LUCKY that I can have “My” version of “It all”.

    p.s. A friend of mine just decided to leave his family to pursue his dream career. He’s always been a wonderful person and this seemed out of character to me, but even HE couldn’t have it all and felt the need to choose. It’s just not a choice I could have ever lived with.

  13. My comment is a little lengthy but I’ll start with this: When your life is over NO ONE on earth thinks “I should have worked more or gotten more clients” They only think of those they love and how they should have spent more time with them.

    I think we CAN have it all 🙂 I guess it depends on one’s definition of all. If by “all” that means live for your career to the detriment of everything else in life, to me that’s a shallow “all.”

    Because we’ve all ben around crazy successful business people and as we hug our loved ones many of them go back to an empty house.

    Personally that’s not a blessing at all to me.

    I’m in the midst of launching a new brand and product, coaching women and business owners, blogging and I work from home so I can be with my 2 1/2 year old daughter.

    Yes that means there are days I’m chasing her around the house with a logo while on a business call to keep the peace, or the days where she will give me no peace so I surrender for a game of “ghost” under the covers with her, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

    I also believe that many times we are looking at a persons life through a super small lens. Only they know if the success we see brings them happiness or not.

    But for me I remember what my Pastor said to me and she is very wise. “Lisa if you were my daughter there is nothing in this world I’d want for you more than Marriage, Children and ministry. And in that order” Now I have all three 🙂 And added some business in the mix.

    It’s not always perfect but I’ve perfected the art of not comparing myself to any other woman because I’ve seen over and over what we think is happening, rarely ever is.

    I believe you made the right choice.

  14. From a husband and a sons perspective: My mom said this years ago and I share it everytime this discussion comes up…”you CAN have it all, just not all at the same time”. She has lived that out and still does today. She went to college after the kids (3 of us) went off to school. She studied and finished quickly (because she wasn’t distracted like we were as 18yr olds) and has gone on to have a very successful 25+ yr career. She’s in her mid 70’s now and still killing it.

    My wife approached it much the same way. Though she went to college first and got married later than average. (Also,in the spirit of full disclosure, we both have had careers where we traveled and worked from home so it provided a lot of flexibility)She was incredibly involved in our daughters life, the community and our church. A nice mix. Now that kids are away at school, she has stepped up her level of involvement outside the family. I think she would say she has (and has had) it all. But that’s her. I’m sure others would look at that and feel differently.

    The key is…don’t use comparison to determine your version of “having it all”. You get to do that (we all do).

  15. Perspective of a working/entrepreneur dad who also puts his family first…to be a great parent (mom or dad) involves great sacrifices. My wife has sacrificed even more – she quit her job to stay home with our kids and homeschools them – but I also sacrifice a lot. I could work 80 hour weeks prior to children; now I limit myself to 45. There is no question that I (and my company) would be further ahead if I worked and traveled more. But career success does not make for a successful life so while it is important to me, it is only one piece of the puzzle. And while my wife is sacrificing more from a career perspective, her fulfillment is even greater than mine. Helping children develop into fully formed adults who are educated/virtuous/wise/happy/giving is about the best work that anyone can be doing. IMHO.

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