How Women Can Have It All

flowers in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday night I came home from a work trip to Elizabethtown College, where I was leading communications and organizational change workshops for United Methodist Women. I hung out with my fam and then flopped on my bed with the latest issue of The Atlantic. I LOVE their cover stories; the issues on single women, obesity, and parenting have given me a lot to blog about. (For example, see Letting My Kids Find Their Own Happiness.)

My first reaction — and I feel bad about this — was sheer jealousy. As the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, admits several times in the article, she is elite. Ms. Slaughter worked for the Obama administration and is now a professor at Princeton College. Sure, I have an advanced degree and a decent job. But as I consider new ventures in the coming months, I don’t get to pick between national policymaking and the Ivy League. (Or do I? Perhaps, it’s true, we women aim too low?)

I feel held back from success, not  just by the age of my kids and the demands of my work, but also by my husband’s chronic illness. As a friend commented on Facebook, “I’d like to have written that article, but I’ve been too busy having it all.” So yes, I was jealous. I wasted time comparing my achievements to Slaughter’s and I came up short. But as the saying goes, Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides.

I found a lot to like in The Atlantic Article on Having It All, including Slaughter’s suggestion that kids’ schooling hours should match parents’ working hours. As an after-school teacher, (yes, I have part time jobs to go with my full time job), I think kids should stay longer at school. And they should do fun stuff, like drama and sports and art. We all need more time to play. Let’s make work and school more playful and creative and then it’s not such a drag.

One missing ingredient in the article is the need for everyone to create a supportive community, not simply have an awesome spouse. I know I get by with a lot of help from my friends and family. You can pursue happiness  –and remember the pursuit is guaranteed, not the attainment — if you have a village behind you. I’ve written about the three things we need for community: hard work, passion, and diversity.

I need to remember the hero’s journey. The hero has to try and fail several times. And the hero has to leave, even if that means going on a business trip to Pennsylvania!

“You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited.” (From Joseph Campbell on The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers)

As I set out on a new journey professionally, I know that I will fail. Like Odysseus, the homeland will be in sight and then the winds will whisk me back to the sea. Yet I will adapt. Each of us must make our own quest. With flexibility, creativity, and community, we can pursue happiness (a.k.a., have it all).

Happiness is not found in professional or material success — though give me that success and I’ll let you know. Honestly, success is found in having good relationships and in creating beauty and in being in nature.

So pursue happiness. When you embark on that pursuit, you become the mythic hero on a quest. You become the hero of your own life story. And you can have (or pursue) it all.

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