A few clever women I know. Women at the top of their game. Women who seemingly have it all, are opting out. Opting out of relentlessly burning their candles at both ends. And they are making decisions.
“You really can have everything… just not at the same time” isn’t my favourite Betty Friedan quote.
My favourite quote of hers is easily “No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.” But the idea that we can have everything, just not at the same time, is something that has recently brought me a lot of peace, and the permission to slow the fuck down.
I’m noticing some fierce women around me making some tough decisions.
Deciding what is important to them and then choosing.
Shamelessly, guiltlessly, wonderfully choosing what they want. And their choice?
It’s almost always family, connection, relationships.
I am taking their lead and making some decisions for myself.
I see women choosing their relationships – their families, children, ageing parents, their loved ones. They are choosing to quit their jobs or scale back at what some would say is the height of their careers.
This is what I’m learning about that choice.
It is just not possible to devote 14 hours a day to your passion career, have great insta filters, chase that elusive rocking bod, fulfil the long-awaited promise that ‘sex is better at 40’, have great hair, practice obligatory self care, have on point accessories, and have deep loving connections with your polite happy children and partner while maintaining your friendships.
The mental load of a fraction of the above is intolerable, yet many of us are busting our chops doing just that. Waking up at 2am in a sweaty, nameless panic.
We’re fuelling ourselves on caffeine and chocolate and bringing ourselves back down on wine, G&Ts and chocolate. Some of us are medicating with antidepressants (no judgement – I’m amongst you), just to tolerate the pace of the life we’ve built for ourselves.
Something has to give, and a few of the cleverest women I know are opting out and I am joining them.
They are calling bullshit on the myth that we can have it all at the same time and choosing what is important to them right now.
See, I think our lives are supposed to be lived in different arenas, but not at the same time.
Child, teen, wild living, thoughtful parenting, explorer, solid career (not necessarily in that order). We start to come a cropper when we try to live them at the same time, and we simply can’t be in six different places at the same time.
For me, I was running three businesses, a charity, caring for a medically complicated daughter and helping my son start high school with some learning challenges on his plate.
I used to call my life a mosaic – a little of this here, a little of that there, squeeze in some parenting there, and at the end of the day I could step back and look at my day and say ‘pretty’.
In reality I had to choose – burn myself out – or do a half-arsed effort at all the jobs, just so I could get them done.
I typically choose a bit from column A and a bit from column B. Neither choice was sustainable for me. I ended up starting a lot, finishing very little and feeling like I wasn’t doing a great job in any arena of my life.
During one of my 2am sweaty, nameless panics I asked myself ‘If you died tomorrow, what would you regret?’
And my answer was probably much like yours may be ‘I would wish I’d spent more time with my children, real time, meaningful time’, ‘I wish I’d connected with my husband, sisters, friends and parents more’.
I think one of our problems with trying to push everything into our 30s and 40s is that we fear, when we hit 50 and 60 we’ll become invisible, and not be able to hit the career goals that seem so within reach in our 40s.
But I am joining those fierce strong women and I am choosing family.
I am scaling back my impossible to do list, enlisting help, hiring extra people, and spending time doing things that are deeply meaningful to me.
I finally feel like there is plenty of time for me to have it all – just not at the same time.
Embracing that idea has removed the feeling of manic urgency I was feeling almost all of the time.
It was exhausting.
The arena that I want to spend the most time right now is laying the foundations of my relationships. With my children, with my husband, with my family, and with my friends, and with myself. I can’t expect that these things will look after themselves while I spend 14 hours a day on work.
I LOVE my jobs with a deep and ferocious passion. I’m not suggesting this was an easy decision. Work is very important to me. But I have a solid 20-30 good working years left in me. I have PLENTY of time to do it all. I intend to rage at the idea of invisibility as my hair begins to glitter more. I intend to insist on my career into my 70s.
The invisibility of older women is an entire other discussion I will have with you later. I think it’s worth mentioning because I genuinely believe that it’s the reason a lot of us strive SO hard to have it all in our 40s.
So… next time you wake up in a 2am sweaty, nameless panic ask yourself the magic question ‘If I died tomorrow, what would I regret?’
I know we don’t all have the freedom to overhaul our lives as wholly as some women are doing. I do think that we all have the capacity to make a few choices to make our lives a little easier.
Say no to more things that will weigh you down, say yes to loving yourself a little more. Stop bearing the load of ALL of the things – share that around a little.
Put a few things aside for another day, another year, another arena.
We can have it all, just don’t knock yourself out trying to have it all at the same time.