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Nobody Can Have It All

Last weekend I was listening to the Father’s Day episode of Note to Self, which was actually a replay of an episode that first aired last year, but I was hearing it for the first time (I love podcasts, but what can I say, motherhood + entrepreneurship is not the best recipe for staying current on these things!)

This fascinating episode featured host Manoush Zomorodi interviewing Andrew Moravcsik, who is an accomplished author, a professor at Princeton, and husband to Anne-Marie Slaughter, the woman who wrote the famous/infamous article in The Atlantic that set the feminist world on fire: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” If for any reason you have not read her article, you can find it here. And here’s a link if you want to listen to the podcast.

What struck me the most from their discussion was a comment Andrew made about “having it all.” It’s a topic that I’ve thought about a lot, and frankly, I’ve thought of it more as a women’s concept as society does not spend a lot of time on existential musings about whether men should be working outside the home…it somehow has become the default that they will (the fact that this should not, in my view, be the case is a topic for another day…)

At any rate, I found myself thinking, long after I finished listening, about the part when Manoush is speaking with Andrew about the two entrepreneurs highlighted in the Taking the Lead series who are both working mothers trying to take their business to the next level. One of the women has a husband who is the “lead parent” while the other woman is herself the “lead parent” (a.k.a. the “default parent”) and is, as Manoush puts it: “feeling so torn between wanting to be the mother she always imagined she would be and yet really wanting to…go for the brass ring.”

Andrew became a very famous “lead parent” in the aftermath of Anne-Marie’s article. So I was particularly curious how he would answer when Manoush asks him in response to this whether it just comes down to “you just can’t have it all, all the time?”

The nugget in this episode for me was his response (emphasis added by me):

Nobody can have it all. There are many things we’d like to do and not enough hours in the day to do them. – Andrew Moravcsik

He then continues:

But, we’re much more capable of having many more things in our lives taken as a whole then we think. So, I would say to your person who’s conflicted about grabbing the brass ring: if now is the only time when you can grab the brass ring for this start-up ̶ grab it now! And in 5 or 10 years you’ll have the chance to kick back and spend time with the kids. You can live your life in intervals trading off. So, I wasn’t always the lead parent, and now that the youngest kid is leaving high school I’m planning to get a couple of those books written that I put off. Life is long, we’re living longer, we’re healthier and we live more varied lives and there’s an opportunity if you think of your life in stages to have much more of what you want than ever before.

So, while I know that tomorrows are never guaranteed in life, my takeaway was actually to stop perseverating over the philosophical concept of “having it all” and instead think hard about what I want most in my life right now, and focus on how to maximize the time spent on those things and intentionally choose to reduce other ways that I spend (ahem, waste) my time.

I’ve decided to start a new ritual: every night before I go to sleep, I am writing down three actions I can take the next day that will move the needle in some way on the items that I have set as my priorities. I’m also working on a succinct version of my priorities that I can print onto label-sized stickers and stick that on the back of each card as a daily reminder.

How do you stay focused on what matters most? How do you think about having it all? We’d love to hear from you via the links below or by email at [email protected].

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