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Ask Cathy
Can Women Have It All?

Q. Women are taught, by talk-shows and magazines at least, that they can "have it all." Is this possible?

Can you have a successful business career and fulfilling family life? How and what advice would you give?

I think women can "have it all" but they need to define for themselves what exactly "having it all" might mean to them at any given time in their lives.

I believe the best way to determine your own sense of "having it all" is to divide your time into buckets according to your priorities. At certain points in your life, the time division and distribution will change.

For instance, when I was a young professional in my late 20's and early 30's, my time devoted to work advancement was probably 90%, with 10% being committed to my personal life. The sad reality is that the young child rearing years come at exactly the same point in time when young women need to prove themselves in the workplace.

Given this dual demand for your best quality time, "having it all" may seem far off and impossible. Indeed, as a working woman you almost always feel guilty about your lack of time at home.

As I progressed through my career and became more established, however, I was able to change that time allocation in my buckets to 70/30% so that 70% of my professional time was really committed, high-powered, energy time for work, with 30% of my time then being allocated towards family and children.

The balance is never ideal but, if you are career oriented, the reality is that you cannot be seen to be the one who abandons the boardroom, work project or demanding assignment to collect the children from daycare. You have to be devoted to your work and family without feeling compromised anywhere.

One important way for women to feel as if they are getting the balance right is to take those child care and family commitments that can be delegated and do so, even if the cost is financially high. I found that my women colleagues who did not delegate in a serious way were constantly distracted and worried about child care and home life issues; they simply could not really be focused on their work in the same way as a woman who had off-loaded simple tasks for completion by a helper.

So what did that mean? It meant that I had child care on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until my children were 8 and 9 years old. I still have after-school care available to me, which I do use, until I get home from my work responsibilities. I also have a caregiver to cover weekends, professional commitments and travel.

Because I have a competent caregiver on call to help me, I do feel that I am not abandoning my family when I travel or need to work hard and late to progress my career. I may not deploy the care, but I know I can be flexible at work no matter what. But, again, this choice has come with a great financial hardship.

I believe the other issue is just about the home in general. I have had household assistance (even for just a few hours per week) since I started my working life. That, too, has been very painful financially at times, but it means that when I come home the time that I do have for my family is devoted to them and not to doing the laundry and changing towels and sheets.

It will affect your disposable income in such a way that there are other limitations in your life but, for me, "having it all" meant that whether my bucket was 10% for family or 30% for family or 40% for family, when I went home I was able to spend true, quality time. I did not feel so compromised when I could guarantee that my time at home was truly focused on my family.

In summary, I do not believe that 'having it all" is a fixed construct. I believe it is something that you have to define for yourself, individually, in a way that you feel balanced.

This construct will change as you go through your working life. Do not underestimate, though, that how you balance your time, and where you allocate your financial resources, can greatly improve your sense of feeling satisfied with your personal and professional demands. Whatever you choose to do with your time commitments, do everything well, to the very best of your abilities, with help where necessary.

I would strongly recommend that you do not tackle work and family commitments thinking you can go it alone and do it all. Doing it all does not equate to having it all. In fact, "having it all" means doing what matters and asking for help to complete the rest.

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Cathy Horton-Panzica
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