Can Women Have it All? Here’s What’s Missing in the Debate

By Beate Chelette

The recent Atlantic cover story on whether or not women can "have it all" has certainly hit a national nerve. The week after the article came out it had received more than 1.1 million online views. Women and men all around the country are registering their objection or approval of author, mother of two and former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter's premise that the 70s feminist mantra of "having it all" is, in reality, not so easy-and maybe not even possible unless women push for changes in society.

Women who juggle career and family know well how tough it can be, I certainly do. I nurtured a baby and a start-up alone, after my divorce, squeezing time to write my business plan in between my day-to-day duties as a single mom. I worked past midnight many nights and on weekends to get everything done-and it was exhausting.

As a long-time entrepreneur and professional career coach, I've trained and worked with hundreds of professional women-and men--who say they feel overwhelmed by trying to "do it all." Reality check - come on, who doesn't feel this way? There is always something that needs pressing attention and hardly enough time in a day to get things done - ever.

But there is a better way than running after your life and trying to catch up 24/7. Let's take a closer look. As women, many of us spend our lives wondering exactly where we are and, in the words of that old Talking Heads song, "Once in a Lifetime" - crying, "How did I get here?" This is not some existential malaise, a sense that the world is too much for us. This is real. It is real because over the last few decades all we did was add more to our workload. From having been focused entirely on home and kids, things are decidedly different.

Women have had 50 years of breakthroughs in society, becoming more the equal, but still not the equal, of men in earning power and opportunities. But, we are the same as far as responsibilities are concerned. Here is the issue though: the majority of us can't outsource having children (albeit I do see a celebrity trend emerging.) And because we continue to find a partner, tie the knot, and set out to start families, we in essence continue to do all we ever did + added all the new exciting stuff like career, money, and feeling good about ourselves.

Because it is so overwhelming and because we have close to no role models that show us how it can be done successfully, we end up and remain self-doubting, self-sabotaging, self-hating, even. Why - because what is on our plate is impossible to manage. When I was going through some of these things myself, I also wanted to figure out why this was. And I wanted to find a solution - one that could help women everywhere. And, I did.

The solution is a concept I named ego-Rhythm. It states in its simplest essence that there is a designated time where you have everything in ONE rhythm at a time. You can have it all, over time, and eventually all at once, but it's a process.

All too often, today's women end up frustrated and angry, not only because they find themselves having to battle the petty rivalries and jealousies with other women at the workplace and playground, but because they're going through a phase in their life that seems to be all-encompassing, draining them of energy with no end in sight. We think it will always be like this forever, with the accompanying thoughts: will I ever (your words here). That thought alone will bring us to our knees and has us flooding psychiatrists offices by the thousands.

There are many changes we can make and we can start right now. There is a difference between gender equality, which we will continue to fight for-getting all the pay, promotion and career parity that men have--and our personal battles about how to balance our family obligations with those of a demanding career. Let's not confuse the two because we should focus on what WE can do as individuals, as managers, moms, colleagues, friends, small business owners and as leaders.

I still maintain that women can have it all-just not all at once. No one phase or rhythm of life, be it motherhood, career, family, health or financial issues, defines or limit us from achieving our goals. Having it all doesn't mean you get everything you want in the world. It's not about greed. It's about women having the same choices as men do in both career and family. As individuals, having it all means knowing what your dream life looks like, and then taking realistic and consistent steps-even if they're small steps-- to achieve them. It might take time and your goals may change. Remember, life is a process and you are a work in progress.

Atlantic author Slaughter did us a big favor by pulling the curtain back on her own life to pierce the illusion that "somehow if you just try hard enough and want it enough and have the right husband you don't have to make choices," she writes. "You do and you should be able to feel good about those choices and not be penalized…by society or the corporate world."

Flexible work hours, longer maternity (and paternity) leave, work-at-home days would certainly help women stay in the game, but don't count on most corporations changing their stripes anytime soon - unless, of course, they adopt The Women's Code corporate training principles. In the meantime, it's up to us-up to you--to identify the things you can do, and the behaviors you can eliminate, to smooth out the rough edges, reduce stress and find work-life balance so you can systematically achieve your goals. But before you can get what you want you should identify what 'it' is. So let's reframe the "having it all" debate and focus instead on how we can all participate in defining what that is for each of us.

What works. These are among the practices that have helped my clients accept life, seize opportunities and thrive:

Get focused. Take an honest look at what the most important thing in your life is right now, and set that as a main focus. Is it work, health, your relationship, your children, maybe family or money? Once you have your priority straight, take a look how that will impact your daily routine. For me, that means not working when my daughter is in town from college-yes, she is grown up now!

Clearly define your goals. Unless you know where you want to go, you can't figure out a way to get there. It's true for all aspects of your life, personal, family and career. Detail is key to your achievement. You need to set clear and achievable goals first before you even start. The more you think about exactly what you want, chances are higher that you'll achieve it because your vision is clear.

Embrace acceptance. Accept that where you are is not all there is. You're in a certain rhythm or phase of your life, and it is temporary. You will undoubtedly learn important lessons from whatever life stage you're in, and then you will move onto the next stage.

Find balance. Yes, work-life balance is possible, but it requires awareness and the willingness to set boundaries-and sticking to them.

Adopt the leadership attributes of successful people. Vince Lombardi famously said: "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will." You cannot give up, you have to believe in yourself, you must possess determination and tenacity, and even when you make a mistake, you must stay the course.

Ask for support. Figure out what you need to stay at your professional level and be the parent and partner you want to be. Maybe you need to leave the office earlier so you can be home in time to have dinner with your family. Maybe your partner needs to take on more responsibilities at home or you need to socialize more with friends.