When conversation circles around the subject of “having it all,” the core of the discussion tends to revolve around how women can have both a satisfying family life and thriving career.

But the ultimate goal of “having it all” is not something just working moms want. Single women, dads, and all other iterations of today’s overstretched worker are also striving to achieve balance while living up to the demands of their busy lives.

October’s Harvard Business Review features an article entitled “No, You Can’t Have it All,” which highlights how work/life balance is something important to all of us. The article’s author, Eric Sinoway, contends that having everything you want is possible. What is impossible is having it all at the same time.

Sinoway explains:

“You cannot pursue all your goals simultaneously or satisfy all your desires at once. And it’s an emotional drain to think you can. Instead, you must focus on long-term fulfillment rather than short-term success and, at various points in your life, think carefully about your priorities.”

Pick Your Priorities

Life can be broken down into seven different dimensions:

  • Family (parents, children, siblings, etc…)
  • Social and community (friendships and community engagement)
  • Spiritual (religion, philosophy, or emotional outlook)
  • Physical (health and well-being)
  • Material (physical environment and possessions)
  • Avocational (hobbies and other non-professional activities)
  • Career (both short- and long-term perspectives)

Sinoway writes, “For each dimension ask yourself three questions:

  1. Who do I want to be in this part of my life?
  2. How much do I want to experience this dimension?
  3. Given that I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, how important is this dimension relative to the others?”

It is crucial to figure out what is most important to you, and to devote your energies accordingly. What is misguided is to think you can excel in all the dimensions at once, which may result in you unintentionally sacrificing an area of your life that is valuable to you.

Life is Chess, Not Checkers

Most of the senior women I have interviewed for this blog understand and accept that you can’t thrive in all areas of your life simultaneously. Many have had to watch as colleagues won promotions over them because they had young children and, thus, weren’t able to travel or put in the required face time.

When I interviewed Anne Finucane, Bank of America’s Global Strategy and Marketing Chief, she put it perfectly when she said:

“I wanted a good marriage. I wanted to have children. I wanted to be a good mother. And sometimes that meant I couldn’t get on the plane and go to the meeting that would advance my career. However, I would always be thinking, I am in this for more than a year, and I am going to move forward anyway.”

As Sinoway writes, “Consciously staggering your goals may enable you to be equally successful in many dimensions over time.”

Work/Life Balance – Not Just a Women’s Issue

A recent New York Times article, explores how the quest for having it all and work-life balance are not just women’s issues. The article asks:

Who, if anyone, has the work-life balance higher ground: The mother with three children, the son taking care of elderly parents, or the 20-something who is learning Mandarin once a week? And should the reasons even matter and be brought to the table in the first place?

All of us are juggling multiple priorities and demanding lives. As Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in her Atlantic cover story, “A more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all.”

We are living in a time when more men are prioritizing their family life as more women prioritize their career advancement. This sociological shift makes the question of achieving balance even more relevant as more of us try to juggle competing responsibilities.

As Bryce Covert writes in Forbes:

Real societal change can never happen if women and men are still expected to operate in two different worlds and have two separate slates of choices in front of them. All choices – work, family, time off – must be equally available to and expected of both genders.

Thinking long term, and strategically staggering your goals, may help in feeling torn apart by competing demands. You can have everything you want, just not all at once.

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