Blog post written by The Wisest Women Co-Founder, Dr. Richa Chandra.
I keep finding myself in conversations about the “myth of having it all” with my friends and colleagues. We talk about it at work, during happy hours, and at play dates with the kids. We consistently see this topic in headlines and social media. We find solace in this thought and a camaraderie with other working women. However, I think the fixation on this concept is becoming counterproductive in our society.
One of our previous episode guests, Anamika Saxena, an IT professional with a Masters in Computer Science, shared in WISEcast’s episode Knocked Up or Knocked Out, “something always has to give.” Whether it is your personal life, health and fitness, family time or professional trajectory – it’s hard to be successful in all arenas, all at the same time. I think that’s the critical piece to turning this myth into fact. Perhaps we need to reexamine the idea of being all things at once. We also need to be better at getting to 50/50 in our relationships and domestic partnerships.
Most of the time, I feel like I have it all. With my family, home, career, social life, and my passion project with The Wisest Women. I am there for my kids when they perform in talent shows. I drop or pick them up from school most of the week. I take them to music lessons, help with science projects, pretend to be a dinosaur or airport traffic control on the playroom floor, and help my daughter prep for her weekly spelling test. I try to cook at home several times a week, and manage most of the project management of running my household. I’m not usually a mess about it either. I’m finding this balance by pushing my relationship to 50/50 and by including my children in my professional and personal goals.
Pushing my relationship has been the biggest and most uncomfortable challenge. In the transition from dating to marriage, I found myself just taking on more “at home” responsibilities that were more traditional to old-fashioned gender norms. I was the one who always meal planned, executed in the kitchen, and even cleaned up after. This was comfortable for my husband as he was raised in a traditional Indian household. I happened to be adept at doing all of this because I lived independently for over a decade. Of course, it felt wrong and became a central point of many altercations. I jokingly say that the first year of our marriage was an intense husband boot camp. We started to find more balance with the home chores.
Again, I had to push the line more after I had my daughter. Now part of my “at home” and traditional responsibilities involved the biological duties of nurturing an infant. I made word documents on our family computer titled “What you can do, while I am breastfeeding.” I know it sounds crazy, but it was a necessary strategy for us to re-tool the traditional gender roles into more equitable and efficient strategies to make our home function and our relationship thrive. So, while it hasn’t been pretty, I do not regret making these pushes. Hopefully, the way we raise our children will make the boot camps in domestic partnerships less intense in the future.
Another big part of having it all with the work/life balance involves my two firecrackers. I have a daughter who is almost 8 and who like her mommy wants to grow up to be a scientist and professor. Of course, this will change over time, but I’ve managed to spark her interest in science by bringing her to my campus on several occasions. For example, she skipped school to witness a big science event with the solar eclipse in 2017. She and my son pop into my Zoom classroom on occasion and in research group meetings. My 4 year old son wants to be an engineer with his love of using his hands and understanding how everything works. I intentionally bring my work to my home in a meaningful way. Pre-pandemic, I would host my research team for a family style brunch at our house every year, and I invite my colleagues to birthday celebrations outside the work environment. It’s important for our families and work family to see a holistic picture of who we are in all aspects of life. I know for my daughter, when I tell her I’m heading up to campus to teach a class and can’t pick her up on a given day, she now gets the significance of what I do.
Nothing is as perfect as it seems. My intricate balance came crashing down on me at several junctures. I allowed this sentiment to dominate my mindset. Most often these crashes revolved around major life events like complications with birth, the arduous years of pumping and breastfeeding, deaths, the pandemic, hurricanes, identity theft, mother nature, and all sorts of things that were never in my control. When my world seemingly crumbled like this, I felt like I needed to quit something or that something had to give. During those difficult moments, I, like so many women, contemplated my career track and professional dreams.
In hindsight, I’ve overcome these obstacles and feelings of quitting because of uncontrollable life events by simply persisting, and not giving up. Part of persisting involves conversation and finding your tribe. I surround myself with peers and mentors I trust. I turn to them and openly receive their advice. So, even though I thought about changing my career track and giving up professional dreams, I stayed in the fight. I didn’t change my dreams. I didn’t change the number of responsibilities on my plate. Like I said, it wasn’t pretty – and I had to be ok with “done is better than perfect” during those times.
I recognize, there are more life events and unexpected forces of nature to come at me, but I think I’m getting more resilient and becoming grittier as Angela Duckworth describes successful people do in her aptly titled book Grit. This kind of persistence and productive reflection through conversations within your tribe is something I am finding in common with so many of the women we met through our podcast WISEcast. Dr. Alicia Volmar in Episode 11, Rags to Thesis overcame homelessness to get her Ph.D. Dr. Brittany Baretto continues as a successful entrepreneur after she developed a successful million dollar start-up company Pheramor that due to privacy restrictions with genetic information was terminated.
Hand in hand with resilience and grit also comes forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves for these apparent failures. We should not overly obsess about work/life balance. We should not give the “myth of having it all” too much power. Instead, we should embrace the fact that – you can’t have it all at the same time. But, you can have it all over the course of your personal and professional life. So, my message to empower you when you read this, is to turn the myth into fact, forgive yourself when life gets rough, and enjoy having it all when the timing is right and during the different seasons of life.