Update: If you would like to read Debora's Spar's book that inspired this post and learn more about her and work, check her out here. I still have to remind myself of these facts daily. I may need to need to post these on my mirror.
Why the Woman Who "Has It All" Doesn't Really Exist
by Debora L. Spar
You know that girl who "has it all"—perfect job, relationship, body? No, you don't, because she doesn't exist, argues Barnard College president Debora L. Spar in her explosive new book Wonder Women. Her radical message to you: Stop trying to be so good at everything.
I'm pretty sure I remember the moment I knew I was having it all. On a December day several years ago, I was in the women's bathroom at New York's LaGuardia Airport. I had an hour between flights, so I rushed for the stalls. Cramming my bags against the door and pulling off my blouse, I perched on the seat, took out my little Medela pump, and began feverishly expressing my breast milk. After several minutes of whirring and fumbling, I pulled myself together and stuffed my five- weeks-postpartum belly back into my business suit.
And that's when I realized—wryly, ironically, totally deprived of sleep—that I was experiencing the superwoman dream.
It wasn't supposed to be this hard. Like many women, I grew up believing we were equal to men, that we could have sex whenever we wanted, children whenever we chose, and work wherever we desired. For years, as a professor at Harvard Business School, I was the only woman in a room of alpha men and still I always felt equal. And I was. Then five years ago I was offered the chance to become president of Barnard College. There was barely a man in sight, and the change gave me a front-row view of what women are thinking and feeling now. We have opportunities today—to choose our educations, careers, spouses—that would've stunned our grandmothers. But now we're dazed and confused by all the choices. Feminism was meant to remove a fixed set of expectations; instead, we now interpret it as a route to personal perfection. Because we can do anything, we feel as if we have to do everything.
In other words, women today face towering expectations: a pileup of the roles society's long heaped on us, plus the opportunities feminism created. Every day I meet young women who dazzle me. But I also see the pressure they're under. To be mothers and astrophysicists. Hard-bodied size 2s with perfect 4.0s. To be perfect. And these expectations aren't limited to a few spheres of their lives. They're everywhere.
Remember, Wonder Woman doesn't exist. She is fiction, and you are real. Building a life on fantasy is never a good thing.
Learn from the guys. Men know there's only so much they can do at once. If the budget report's due, the lawn goes unmowed. Women try to keep everything going, all the plates spinning. It's OK to set down a plate. Just choose which one.
Stay close to home. As your life gets more complicated, having family around is a godsend, so live by parents or siblings. Find the right partner. Sheryl Sandberg said it in Lean In, but it bears repeating. Marry someone you love and like; finding a person who doesn't care if you're perfect is a good start.
Banish guilt from your social life. You don't have to accept every invitation. Before you RSVP, ask yourself: (1) Is it required for work? (2) Will it help you professionally or intellectually? (3) Will you enjoy it? If the answer to all three is no, don't go.
Commit to a workout regimen. It feels like one more gotta-be- perfect obligation, but exercise is a stress reliever: If I didn't run, swim, or lift weights, I almost certainly would have killed someone by this point in my life.
Pick a job you love. If your career is satisfying, you're more likely to stick with it after having kids. Women flee consulting and banking in droves; female doctors, though, tend to stay put, perhaps because no one enters medical school on a whim.
The most crucial thing for women to know today? No one does it all. We each, if we're lucky, will have our chance to leave a mark on the world, but we are trying too hard to be perfect. So don't emulate Wonder Woman; think about what's wonderful to you instead. Then boldly, audaciously, joyfully, leave the rest behind.