What happened to having it all

I am one of a generation of women who was told I could have it all. If you want it — they said — go and get it. My simple formula for success through school, university and into employment was hard work plus a massive amount of drive plus a modicum of talent,  and I could pretty much have whatever I wanted. And it worked.

It all started to unravel between the years 2000 and 2003 when I had 3 babies in three-and-a-half years, all while trying to maintain my career. I don’t expect any sympathy for this: I should have worked out what  was happening at least after baby number 2.

But hell, I didn’t let that stop me. For 5 years straight my poor body was either pregnant or breastfeeding or both. I was frazzled, exhausted and working like a crazy woman trying to be the best of everything to everyone. Best career girl, best mum, best wife, best home maker … somewhere in there I forgot about being the best version of me.

Something had to give, and it did — big time. It was a Monday morning, and being a supermum as well as generally being a superwoman, I delayed my departure for work so that I could drop my son at school. Other mums do this all the time, right?

So, there I was, in my beautiful black suit, red lipstick, high heels and snot from my shoulder to my knee with a hysterical child clinging to my leg because it was ‘cupcake day’. (I don’t know who comes up with these ideas — it certainly isn’t mums who work.) Clearly, I did not have any cupcakes. I must have missed the memo.

Later, radiating guilt, covered in snot and thinking about the 25 years of cupcake therapy my son would need, I rushed (late) into my first meeting of the day. It took me a few seconds to register that the room was silent (maybe it was the snot). Everyone around the boardroom table looked at me and then looked at their watches, and then they resumed the meeting. And I had the profound realisation that I was the only member of the executive leadership team who didn’t have a full-time wife.

Much of those years is a fog.

In trying to do it all I had lost sight of what was most important to me. I did not set appropriate boundaries and I never lived in the moment either at home or at work — if I was at work, I felt guilty about not being with my kids. If I was with my kids, I spent most of my time checking emails. Regardless of what I was actually supposed to be doing at any given time, my mind was elsewhere or in many places, forever making mental lists. I was constantly available to everyone. I was never available to just myself. I was highly stressed and wracked with guilt.

And so I resigned from the job that I loved, that I was great at, and that gave me an enormous amount of self-worth, because I felt I had no choice. I had backed myself into a corner where I believed I could either be a great mum or I could have a great career — but not both.

What on earth had happened to the promise that I could have it all? I felt cheated, lied to, robbed, exhausted, set up and a complete  failure who, having tried to fly the flag, had in fact dismally let the sisterhood down.

If only I knew then what I know now about time, because I made the wrong choice — I didn’t need to opt out of something I loved. I had fallen into a couple of massive traps, not least of which included superwoman syndrome, imposter syndrome and paralysis by guilt.

Kate Christie is a time management specialist and best selling author. This is an edited excerpt (with permission of the publisher, Wiley) from Me First: The Guilt-free Guide to Prioritising You, by Kate Christie. Copyright (c) 2020 by John Wiley & Sons Australia, LTD. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and ebooks are sold. For more information about Kate Christie go to www.timestylers.com

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