Ever since Anne-Marie Slaughter’s missive in The Atlantic, there’s been a ton of dialogue on the notion of “having it all.” What it means, how to define it, how to achieve it. Seems like every one and their uncle are joining in on the conversation.
Years ago, while working at TELUS Communications, they hosted a morning breakfast with three of the company’s top executive women: Karen Radford, Judy Shuttleworth and Janet Yale. These are all exceptionally successful, driven women and the conversation was refreshingly frank that day. Instead of “you can do it” and the typical pink washing that comes from “leadership light” sessions, these women shared their struggles and the choices that they had to make to get to where they are.
At the time, Karen Radford had young children at home on the west coast, and she was spending a majority of her time in Quebec, leading TELUS Quebec. Janet Yale, who I had seen speak on more than one occasion, openly shared how her children practically shrieked when she walked into her kitchen. Apparently, cooking is not her strong suit.
It was Janet’s comment that resonated most loudly with me that day, when she openly talked about missing hockey games and school performances; “you can’t have it all, not at the same time.” She had made the choice, early on in her life, that being an executive was where she wanted to be. She wasn’t going to be at home, waiting with meals on the table for her children. Her husband was going to be the predominant at-home parent. Janet wanted to lead, engage, and collaborate on a national and a global scale.
At one point, Karen turned to the audience and asked us, “who wants to be us?” Not me. I sat there with my hands in my lap. I didn’t want to be one of those women, forsaking time with my children, working 12-18 hours a day, thinking business 24/7. Not for me. But that’s a change. If you’d asked me back in the early 80s, when I was deeply coveting Diane Keaton’s white winter coat in Baby Boom, I wanted to be that woman. Powerful, corporate, assured, confident. I went so far as to attempt that route when working in advertising in the late 80s. I was naive. I got chewed up, and spit out. Cut-throat, unethical, immoral (advertising was, anyway); it wasn’t the place for me.
Now, the reality is, and was, that I was never going to be that woman. Due to circumstances (thank you Mr. Harris for taking away my grocery money), I wasn’t able to complete my degree at University which limits one’s opportunities, for sure. Yet, along the winding road that has been my career, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to be that woman.
Every year, my husband and I take our children for a couple of weeks of camping at Algonquin Park. I try to get out on the lake for some solitude, just me and my kayak and without fail, each time I reach the half way mark of my outing, I end up stopping, breathing deeply, sitting quietly and just appreciating where I am. When I’m there, in that space, I’m reflective and I look at where I’ve come from and where I am in my life…and I am happy.
I have a wonderful partner who has totally enabled my life, and that supports me and my winding career in every way, including being an amazing Dad that doesn’t “babysit”; he cares for our children when I’m not here and we trade off whenever we can…and we’re in love, still, even more deeply almost 11 years on.
My children are (thankfully) bright, funny, talented and well-rounded. They don’t have to be world scholars (although we keep working in that direction). They can be whomever they are, and I love them, innately and without judgment…and they love me.
My circle of friends are diverse and amazing. They’re creative, intelligent, thought-provoking folk that remind me often that you have to create what you want to be a part of. My acquaintances are equally thought-provoking, and I’m grateful to be in their sphere.
I live in a stunningly, beautiful city, with ambitous, forward-thinking leadership, which also avails me to world-class talent and awe-inspiring personalities.
I also have an amazing job with an organization that I’m incredibly proud of; I’m regarded in my professional network for my skills, my intelligence and my passion for what I do. I’m respected, provided opportunities and known for being frank. I have good relationships with my colleagues and I truly believe that when we all win, we all win. I believe that these traits have garnered me more fans than not.
So, looking around at my life, I have love, support, creative outlets, amazing life experiences and most of all, opportunity. Indeed. I have it all.