When I started this blog, I said it would cover things that pique my interest or get my goat. So far, I’ve erred on the side of caution and shied away from controversy. However, I’ve been having a few issues lately, things which have wound me up, but which are seemingly not discussed or acknowledged a huge deal.
What am I on about? Well, that would be ‘having it all’. Or, as I like to think of it:
- having a manageable balance between private and professional life;
- with reasonable recognition of the effort put in and status afforded to both; and
- without guilt when spending time on one that you’re neglecting the other.
I’m of the ‘Thatcher’s child’ generation, a child of the late 70s/80s who grew up with a strong female leader in power. She started out from her father’s grocery shop in Grantham and climbed the echelons of power and industry to the very top, whilst popping out a couple of kids along the way. We were told there’s nothing us girls can’t do – why, of course we can have it all – power suits and top careers by day, Laura Ashley sailor dresses and Delia Smith-inspired family suppers by night.
Growing up, I genuinely believed that I could do anything I wanted in life. Go to university? Yep, first in the family to do so. Get a Law Degree? Yep. Qualify as a solicitor? Yep. Move to Jersey and re-qualify as a Jersey Advocate? Yep, passed first time. Get a job as a lawyer? Work hard and make your way to Partnership of a global law firm? Yep and yep. Ticks all the way. But let’s not forget, I can have it ALL, can’t I? So, whilst doing all that, meet a wonderful man, fall in love and have two kids? Yep. Create a lovely family home with sheep, cat, dog, hens? Yep, it’s a proper ‘Good Life’.
And so why, in my 40s, do I find myself feeling agitated, when I have achieved so much, and when I seemingly ‘have it all’? What could I possibly have to worry or moan about? First-world problems, eh?
Well, that’s the sixty-four million bitcoin question. And it’s something that I’ve spent a long time agonising over. And the worrying thing is (and every feminist bone in my body shudders as I say it) I’m coming to the conclusion that it just might not be possible to have it all. I was sold a lie. Because, whilst I can achieve pretty-much anything I set my mind to, to keep spinning all those plates and juggling all the competing demands on my time, something has to give – be it career, family life, or health. I’ll consider each.
So, work. My career pretty-much fell off a cliff since having kids. Gradually, as the years have gone by, I seem to have become invisible, fallen out of peoples’ consciousness. Indeed, this year, for the first time in a long time, I don’t get a mention in the Legal 500 (the who’s who of lawyers). Why’s that then? Because I no longer have the title ‘Partner’? My expertise hasn’t diminished. My workload hasn’t dropped off. In fact, recently, I’ve done better-quality, more high-profile work than ever before. My clients still speak highly of me. But, no, I get no recognition. How strange. Much as it pains me to say it, I suspect I’m now generally seen as ‘part-time working mum’ – keeping my hand in whilst the kiddy-winks are at school. Pah! If by part-time you mean getting to my desk for 7.30am and working straight through until 2pm and then racing to do the school run, whilst fielding calls and emails through the afternoon and in to the evening, often logging in from home to get that transaction over the line or answer that important query at all hours, then, yeah, I’m SO part-time. Anyway, you get the idea – my official hours may be ‘part-time’, but that doesn’t mean part-effort or part-qualified or part-expert. So why does it seem to mean part-acknowledged?
So let’s turn to home life. I accept I don’t make it easy on myself. I don’t buy ready-meals, I don’t take short-cuts or use ‘life hacks’. I’m traditional in running a household: home-grown, home-cooked, home-made. I enjoy that and take satisfaction from it. Whereas my work persona is (or was, until recently) all high heels and technical talking, my home persona is the absolute opposite: something of a Mrs Beaton on speed (figuratively, not literally!). I try really hard to be there for my kids, to listen to their triumphs and woes and to be present for them. I chose to have them, why would I not want to spend time with them? They seem reasonably well-adjusted, so I guess something’s going to plan!
But here’s the rub. I’m living a split life: part of the day I’m senior professional often working under intense pressure dealing with intellectually challenging issues, and the other part (or, more often contemporaneously) I’m mum to two young kids and home-maker, fighting the endless washing basket, the ‘what’s for tea’ demands and remembering what days the recycle bins need to go out. It’s a bit of a head-warp. Which hat have I got on at any given moment? How quickly can I flip from work hat to mum hat? But, wait, if you have one hat on, you can’t really put the other one away can you? Because invariably, despite having your work hat on, that doesn’t mean home may not also need attention. And when I’ve got mum hat on, those emails still need answering and that document still needs reviewing. Forget work and home hats, maybe a juggler’s costume would be more appropriate! But all this juggling of time and responsibilities leads to the final element, health.
You wanna have it all? You can. Have that career, have that picture-perfect house with those adorable kids in it. But what you won’t have is time. Time to yourself. Time to just sit and let your mind wander. Time to kick back. There’s always something to catch up on or remember or do. And that’s not healthy. Being under constant pressure will ultimately bring health implications, be it heart-attack, high blood pressure, weight-gain or cancer caused by over-drinking or smoking or whatever other vice helps get you through the day. I’m health conscious, I exercise and eat well and, fingers crossed, my physical health is good. But for me, having it all led to a feeling of having nothing at all – still performing at the top level at work and at home (to an outsider, perhaps even excelling) but an emptiness grew inside, a greyness or muffling of the senses, like someone had poured flour over everything, damping it all down, taking the vibrancy and colour away. Each day became ‘functioning’ as opposed to living. A mental flat-line.
This isn’t the right blog to talk about mental health though, that’s for another day (maybe). This is about having it all – challenging career, family life, health. As Princess Diana once said, ‘there are three of us in this marriage’ and maybe that’s the issue – two’s company, but three’s a crowd. Is it EVER possible to have all three and be fulfilled and your efforts acknowledged in each at any one time? And if so, can you do it without guilt?
I don’t know. I’m on that journey, that merry-go-round of juggling the three, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. If I’m honest, I suspect that, without help (a brigade of domestic staff, and/or an incredibly modern-thinking employer and/or a vitamin-drip on tap), you can probably only truly have two of the three at any given time. You want a successful career AND be there for your kids? Bang goes your health. Want to be the mum that attends every ‘book look’ and school trip AND runs 10km beforehand? Don’t work. Want to reach the top of your career AND be a gym-goddess? Get a nanny.
Who knows what the answer is. I’m spending a lot of time analysing it, so if I happen upon the solution, you’ll be the first to know. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way, but how many are prepared to admit that to themselves or, importantly, anyone else? Now THERE’S a challenge…
What I keep in mind though at the end of the day as I flop into bed is trying to live without regrets, and to find a balance which works for me. No one lies on their death-bed and says, “I wish I’d won the instruction for that lease of the £50M office block in town, instead of Mr X.” But a lot of people do lie there saying, ” I wish I’d seen more of my kids growing up” or “I wish I’d run a marathon” or “I wish I’d seen the pyramids.” How refreshing would it be if we were able to do those things AND have a successful career?
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A bit of an anguished rant that George. And well-analysed out (though I would have expected that).
Here’s a short answer, and I’m hoping not to be a smart-ass. You don’t need to have it all. You can’t have it all. Because if you want it all it just ain’t possible. There’s always someone with a better house, a faster car, a better office, a bigger salary. Before you meet your own life-partner someone else always has a more fantastic boyfriend. Somewhere along the line that has to stop or you WILL inevitably feel agitated for ever.
I follow a lot of middle-aged or older bloggers. What they have mostly in common is that they have reached a place where they are content. They have stopped striving to accomplish more, to ‘have it all.’ Gradually they realise that what already they have is priceless. They wish for no more.
In my case I’m happy to have an accounts job in my mid-sixties, a nice little rented apartment, good health and the ability to run (albeit slowly), a love of writing, and the price of a pint.
I think you’re almost there 🙂
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Thanks Roy. It’s funny, I’m not particularly materialistic and so ‘having it all’ doesn’t mean the latest car or gadget to me. I suppose what I’m striving for is balance and equality in the three areas of work, home and health. I’m so pleased you’ve found contentment – you should write a book about how to find it, it’ll be a best-seller!! x
A very thought provoking piece. I have done my “have it all” in separate chunks. After my law degree (during which I married my husband who is still my husband) I had my babies (5 in total but twins is cheating). I couldn’t afford child care and travel from a rural village so was at home bringing up the children , doing voluntary work to ring the changes. When the twins went to school I did my LLM to see if my brain worked, then LPC, training contract and career started age 37. I don’t think I would have got to where I am now much quicker without taking those 15 years out bringing up the Children neither do I think I would be in any more elevated a position if I had worked through. I do have time now, for clients as well as family and me, but only by having it all serially not in tandem!
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That’s really interesting Barbara, thanks! I’ve had quite a few people message me their stories and they’re all quite similar. I find it fascinating that lots of people (and not just women) seem to be battling with these issues, but it’s just not spoken about, especially amongst lawyers.
What a powerful and thought provoking blog.
I also was a growing up circa the Thatcher years, though I think I’ve got a few years on you.
I cant help but feel we are a first generation experiment in action.
No other generation ever has been fooled into thinking that carrying the whole world around with us in our pockets or bags is really helping us.
We are contactable 24/7 work, emails, and then what used to be relaxation time, can be spent looking at some sort of social media, where we subconsciously compare our life happiness with a false front of how everyone else has got this life game down to a tee? (Comparison really is the thief of joy).
I’m not a particularly religious person , but when we abandoned religions (mostly), I feel we threw the baby out with the bath water,, and alas we have very little real silence in our lives. A medative silence, we’ve lost the off switch to our mental chatter. I believe we are all suffering to differing degrees due to this new lifestyle “choice”.
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Hi Gerry. I absolutely agree with you. The pressure of ‘having it all’ and living up to the standards that social media leads us to believe are normal is huge. Your point about religion is interesting too. As someone else said to me, before modern times, we’d all sit round the cave fire or dining table and talk to each other, surrounded by family and actual real-life friends. Religion is the same – each giving a sense of community and closeness to others and a chance to air and work-through any beefs. But nowadays it’s a 24/7 life, seeking to keep up with people we don’t really know but who, on the face of it, seem to be a ‘success’. You’re right – what sort of choice is that?!
Wonderful post. I can completely relate. I spent several years as a physician feeling like this. I came to the conclusion that we can have it all, just not all at once. My health was the one that was getting the short end—the stress was taking its toll. So I transitioned to nonclinical medicine and then started writing. Though there may always be regrets down the line, one of them won’t be not getting enough time with my kids.
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Thanks Carrie. It seems so many people feel the same way! Wouldn’t it be great if it was mandatory to switch the emails off every so often and go for a long walk or play with the kids or, shock horror, just sit down and do nothing?!
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Indeed it would. And in the digital age, that has become all the more tricky to do.
By the way, I spotted this post through Roy McCarthy, who retweeted it. Been following Roy for several years. He’s a great online friend and a wonderful writer too.
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Roy is fantastic. I met him through his running club and we keep in touch, sometimes in real life, more often through social media.
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