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In her response to David Bradley’s question about work-life balance (see interview here), PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi made some basic assumptions that I respectfully suggest we consider a little more deeply, before anyone takes as fact her statement that women “can’t have it all”.

1. Somewhere, somebody, actually does “have it all”.

Who has such magical powers that their choices in life do not also, always involve sacrifice? It is a ridiculous expectation for any human being, why single out women as a specific gender incapable of it?  No one can “have it all” – doesn’t matter who they are, what they do for a living, how much money they make or …least of all…whether they are male or female.

2. “Having it all” means the same thing to everyone, or even to the same person throughout a lifetime.   

At 43, I am still figuring out what success means to me. I know a lot more than I used to, though, thanks to a lot of trial and error.  Trial and error is, in fact, the only way to figure out what works for you. Taking someone else’s experiences as fact for yourself may not be the best thing for you, because you are not them. It’s a tragedy if a young person hears from a role model that they can’t “have it all” and therefore opts to limit their life and career experiences before they even know what “having it all” means to them. 

3. Sacrifice is bad.

Sacrifices are just choices, opportunities to move closer to your ideal as you figure it out.

Some men sacrifice career advancement in order to have more time for their hobbies.  Some women find themselves on the “fast track” because they love what they do and work is their passion. Whatever! It’s your life, and at anytime you can make a different choice anyway – so what’s there to be afraid of?  Stop shying away from making contributions to the world because you’re afraid of having to make a sacrifice. In fact, don’t make choices based on what you are afraid of …period.

4.  If your top priority isn’t work, you can’t be successful.

For me –  wanting to be a good partner and mother at home, and a good contributor at work creates a kind of balancing tension that actually makes me better all around. At work, for example, the desire to be home by 5:30 every night is an extremely focusing force. I am much better at knowing what needs to get done and finding the most efficient way to get it done (including mentoring and empowering my team) than I was before parenthood. On the other side, if I am going to be away from my children -it better be for a good cause. This causes me to be more selective in the projects I take on and, in turn, increases the passion and sense of fun I bring to work and to the team.

Further, as you advance in your career, what you are really getting paid “the big bucks” for is being responsible for making good decisions. If you make a bad or wrong decision, people can point the finger at you and there may be consequences – as it should be. Some people in high positions have to put in a lot of hours to be able to fulfill that part of the job, other people do not – it depends on how you process information, the degree of trust you have in your team or your organization, your personal appetite for risk. Do not assume that senior executive positions necessarily require more work hours than less senior positions.

Caveat: It is possible that in some corporate environments you cannot succeed and still have reasonable work/life balance. In that case, there are lots of other companies and environments to choose from without having to give up your passion and you should choose accordingly.

5.    You can’t be a successful at work and be a good parent.

This is the one that struck me so personally, and I should probably tell you why before I continue.

Until just a few months ago, I was embroiled in a difficult child custody battle. The case against me was essentially every successful working mother’s (or possibly father’s) nightmare…

 ..she is a very successful corporate executive, therefore she must only care about her career and she can’t possibly be a good mother.

This is easy for people to believe, especially if they don’t know me. In fact I’d guess that most people think that being a successful woman and a good mom are mutually exclusive titles. Indra Nooyi said as much in her interview.

In my case, there was a highly respected, psychology PhD appointed by the court to study our case and make a recommendation based on 9-months of interviews, testing and observations.

All the guilt carried throughout my entire experience of motherhood  – under investigation – to be validated, or invalidated. The horrible feeling of being “not enough” for the three most precious people in my world because I had to work or worse…because I wanted to work…was now being investigated.

This is why the Ms. Nooyi’s responses got so much under my skin, and why I am sharing something more personal than I would normally share – an excerpt from the court transcript on whether or not I was a “good” mother. Here it is…

(Susan) has been absolutely outstanding in her devotion to the children, in her dedication, in putting them first. She is an amazing example of a very successful career woman who happens to be an outstanding mother. I really think she is an exceptional parent and I have been doing this for 41 years. She has given the children strategies on how to cope. She gives them tips on how to deal, not just with divorce, but when things are problems in their lives. And they get it. The two girls get it. And they use the coping strategies. They use them…. And I, again, in 41 years, those are not things that I hear.

Tears of relief burst upon hearing the above, not just because of the tension in the moment, but for all the times the joint impact of love and guilt had torn my heart into a million pieces throughout my journey of working motherhood. I’m sharing this now in the hope that other working mothers (or ambitious young women who one day hope to also be good mothers) might be at least little bit encouraged.

In summary – we need alternative points of view to be presented – not to debate who or what is right – but to illustrate that there is more than one “right” way to live, to parent, to work and a person can find their way anywhere along the spectrum.  It’s not about “having it all”.  It’s about being open and curious enough to participate, explore and figure out – along the way – what you think is worth having.

Susan O’Neal Gear has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumer’s relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership  – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something! 

And she is also a very happy mother of three really awesome kids. 

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