By Tiffany A. Potter
Five and a half years ago, when my company was a brand new baby to the world (as all businesses created typically become the creator’s child), when I hadn’t a logo or tax identification number to speak of and I was truly learning as I went along, something was said to me that to this day I still think about. At that time, I started with nothing more than a dream of my ideal life, a healthy amount of smarts and confidence in my ability to problem solve, and a more-than-average amount of moxie to settle any nerves. Though I have two college degrees, I hadn’t taken one single business class and I also knew the process of making my mark on the world was going to be long and sometimes tedious (which it was), but I just had to take the leap.
A few months into the process an old friend of mine whom I reconnected with on Facebook (before I broke up with Facebook a few years later) commented on one of my posts. My post referenced the creating of my business as being more of a marathon than a sprint but that I was enjoying every part of the process. A little context: I was finally happy in my life. Past the pain of my divorce, living in America’s Finest City, surrounded by the most incredible friends a girl could ever hope for, and starting my own business. Life was better than good.
Her response to my post? “Just remember, Tiffany, you can’t have it all.”
I was floored. Even now, years later, I’m appalled that anyone would say that to another person. The armchair psychologist in me can pick the statement apart all day long. “She’s not happy with her own life.” “She can’t handle watching someone else living their dreams.” “She was much more comfortable being a friend to someone who was broken from a painful divorce than she could ever be as a friend to a healthy, thriving woman.” The list goes on.
But what’s even more interesting (and distressing) is that in the subsequent years I have heard women saying this publicly to each other in condemnation laden with judgement and criticism. This is hardly a new topic, I know. Helen Gurly-Brown wrote her book Having It All in 1982, and the Washington Post just featured an article about it this past January. There are TED talks on the subject, Cameron Diaz was raked over the coals by other women when she broached the topic five years ago saying that she chose not to have children because she wanted to work, and it seems as though we as a culture can’t get enough of talking about it.
But here’s my point in bringing this up five years after I was personally assaulted with the snarky comment—who declares what “all” consists of ? I know that the argument for women “having it all” is rooted in the family/work-life balance, but who declared it to be so? Who is the authority figure on “having it all” that then affords others the right to pass judgement? I am so sick of women being pitted against women. I am so tired of these issues that can’t support or love other women simply for the amazing job they are doing at holding it all together for the health and well-being of everyone. When my friend chose to enlighten me with her opinion what I should have said in response was “Who says?” Who says that I can’t have it all? And furthermore, who’s “all” are you talking about? Your own personal definition of “all”? Or society’s definition of “all”? At the end of the day, my “all” is not her “all,” or Cameron Diaz’s “all,” or my mom’s “all,” etc.
I have a dear friend whose free time consists of running 100-mile races, swimming miles in open water, completing the John Muir Trail in eight days by hiking 20–33 miles per day, and drinking wine with her girlfriends when given the opportunity. While I can get behind the drinking wine pastime, I cannot, and will not, ever find her other hobbies enjoyable and can happily report that I will never ever think that hiking 20 miles in a day is a fun way to spend a Saturday.
But that’s what is so beautiful about our friendship, and all of the other relationships I have with the women in my tribe. I will never run 100 miles at one time, and she will never devote her life to changing the world for people with disabilities. Neither is better than the other; they’re just different. She might want to have children, and I’m not so sure that I do, but all of our life choices are valid and important.
My job is not to judge her because of my preconceived notions of what her life should look like and my belief on how she should live it. My job is to be her friend and support her in whatever it is that she dreams for her life. If she wants it “all” (whatever that looks like for her), I have absolutely no doubt that she will have it. Will it be easy to do so? Probably not, but none of us are guaranteed an easy life no matter what we choose to create. And the most beautiful part of it is if we choose to view it as such, that my life is exponentially better because she is who she is.
Every single one of my friends is a part of my life because I love and respect them beyond all measure, and I learn something from every single one of them. I will never know what it feels like to train for an Iron Man, or work for the Department of Homeland Security, or become a first-rate florist, but I am intensely grateful that I get to experience all of those things through them. Supporting them in their life’s path makes me a better (and much more interesting) person because of it.
“Having it all” is a very personal thing. And now, five years after I was told that I cannot have it all, I am happy to report that I actually do (and then some). My life reflects all of the hopes and dreams, decisions and choices that I have made along the way to create a life that reflects what I set out to do years ago. And if my husband and I decide to start a family then we’ll have it all with a cherry on top. And then my definition of “all” will change. And, more than likely will change again. We each live our lives in a constant state of flux if we’re doing it right, and “all” will look like something different to every single one of us. We needn’t beat ourselves up because of the pressure of someone else’s “all.” That serves no one.
So let’s stop judging each other, shall we? We can all have it all.
Tiffany is a disability consultant, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and change agent. Find her at www.TiffanysTake.com. Instagram: Tiffanys_Take.