I can remember a conversation I had with my husband as a semi-newlywed. I was furious about the notion that I had been lied to for years. That when my teachers, parents, peers, the world, told me that I could “Be Anything” and “Do Anything” in my life, that it was all a lie. To the contrary, having it all was some unachievable unicorn that I would absolutely never reach.
We were having this conversation when we were discussing starting a family and how that decision would affect my current and future work. My expectation up to this point was that I could work full time, climb the ladder of success at work AND have children/be a mom. When I realized how impossible all of this seemed, I was crushed.
I was mad for a long time, disillusioned by this lie and vowed not to repeat it to my own children. I would tell them the truth, the ugly truth, that if you were going to be a parent one day, you better choose a profession that would allow you the flexibility to spend time with your kids while earning a living. The underlying message would be to settle for a good enough job that will afford you time with your family.
Now that I have two children and have come through the fog of new motherhood, I see the world in a new light, and I am eternally grateful for this new perspective.
It wasn’t a lie at all, and I would be doing a disservice to my own children to discourage them from “Being Anything” and “Doing Anything” in their own lives. In hindsight, this notion that was put into my brain at a young, young age was the driving force behind my need to succeed at everything – school, sports, my job, generally being a human.
I have realized now that my ability to have it all in my own life comes with its very own set of parameters. The missing piece that I have come to discover is that my VALUES, finding out what is important to me, defines my success or failure at having it all. And for this reason, my unicorn is different than anyone else’s. My pinnacle of success (and having it all) looks vastly different than both the CEO at a Fortune 500 company AND the stay-at-home mom.
Using my set of core values to define my own idea of success in life made all the difference. To live as our authentic selves in this fast-paced, unforgiving, inauthentic world, everything we do must be true to who we are at the core for us to achieve our own pinnacle of success.
My original (and now ill-advised) advice to my children would have been wholly detrimental to their ability to select a career that aligned with their own strengths and to succeed at almost anything else they tried in life. We should, in fact, dream big. We should all believe we can do or be anything we want to be.
And THAT is the truth, and I’m sticking to it.