The inspiration behind yesterday’s tip-jar sign at Small World was a personal message from me that read, “I loved Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic.” Not only did I love the article, but the sign was also an attempt to publicize her recent “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” to our regulars, some of whom are Princeton University professors or administrators.
There’s been a flurry of reaction to the article, some which make really good points. But for all the criticism, I think people have forgotten that Ms. Slaughter clarifies that she is writing for a specific audience.
What I’d like to do is to use “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” as a springboard for discussion about what you need to think about when you make big life decisions.
In my last interview with a psychotherapist, the advice that she gives to those interested in doing private practice psychotherapy is, “know what you are getting into.” That advice is not only essential for you when you are choosing your career, but also with any big decision you make in life like the decision to get married or have children.
Knowing what you’re getting into allows you to make informed decisions about the life you want to create for yourself. Sure, you can make mistakes, but the more information you have about a career path, the better you will know whether or not it’s right for you.
One of my youngest interviewees, Patrick Shock, is going to the top dentistry program in the country this fall. You know how he decided that he wanted to be a dentist? He shadowed dentists. Not just one, and not just once. And guess what? He originally wanted to be a doctor, but after watching doctors at work and speaking with them, he decided that was not the trajectory he wanted for his life.
The other point I’d like to discuss is the notion of having it all, generally speaking. I’m a firm believer that you can’t have it all. Oh sure, if you are super rich you can. And, of course, there are always those few people that do manage to do it all and seem to do well at it. These people are practically superhuman, and to measure yourself against them is to set yourself up for failure. I, personally, don’t know anyone that has these superhuman powers, but Ms. Slaughter does mention a few names of women who she thinks fit this description.
When I was teaching high school English, I had a student that fell asleep in my honors English class on a few occasions. At the end of the year, his average was 89.44, and I did not bump it up to an A because he was a sleeper. He called me to argue for the A, and reasoned that he fell asleep in my class only because he was so tired from putting a lot of energy into his wrestling season. So I asked him, “Did you have a good season?”
To which he responded, “Yeah, I did.”
And I said, “Well, that’s great. Your dedication to wrestling paid off.”
I let him know that if my class had been the priority, he would have gotten the A. He made a choice where to put his energy, and that is okay. Needless to say, his grade remained a B. He didn’t understand that sometimes you have to make a decision about where you put your effort, and in the back of my mind, I always hope that someday he’ll remember our conversation and understand what I was trying to teach him.
A few years ago, friends of mine were looking for a house to buy. They really wanted to live in Princeton but had a modest budget when it comes to buying a home here. They could have looked at buying in a surrounding area and gotten significantly more for their money, but they made the trade-off of buying less space for being in Princeton because it’s a great town.
Instead of thinking about having it all, we should think about how to create the life we want knowing that doing so often involves choosing one thing over another. It’s all about knowing your priorities and what you value and letting that set your course. You can’t have it all, but you can have a lot.