Sarah Lehberger | Portrait Photographer | Fairfield County, CT » Celebrating the Dreamers and the Doers of the World

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Can Women Have It All?

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I have struggled with this question for years. Why? Well, I think that at various stages of my life this question felt more like a dare. I dare you to answer this for all women. I dare you to define this for each and every one of us. It is such a weighted question, right?!

And there were times when I felt like my answer was, no. Other times I felt like the answer was, not all at once. There have also been times when my answer was, yes. Each time was different for me based on the circumstances, timing or the stage I was in. Either I was younger and working full time while trying to have kids, or a new mom who was also juggling a career with no free time on her hands, or at the place that I am now where my kids are all school aged and I have found personal fulfillment in both my career and motherhood.

I recently photographed Kelly, an Independent Consultant for Arbonne, for her professional headshots, and asked if she thought that women could have it all nowadays? She said, “yes, provided each woman takes the time to define what “it” is for them – family, career, faith, friends, wealth, health, abundance, and the list goes on. Just as each woman is truly unique, so is her definition of what it means to have it all.  When we truly accept that (for ourselves and each other), true success will be in reach for us all.”

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I agree with Kelly 100%, and she summed it up better than I have ever been able to. What I realize now, as my kids get older and my priorities have shifted (once again), is that I get to choose. Do you hear that ladies?

There is so much power in that! And it was the times when I was failing at choosing my priorities and setting healthy boundaries for myself,  that I was overwhelmed with life, work and motherhood the most. That’s when I felt like I had no balance. That’s when I was consumed by guilt and I felt like I couldn’t do it all or have it all.

I realized that I had tried to do everything, and in the process I lost sight of what mattered the most.

By saying yes to every social engagement or every volunteer opportunity or every chance to climb the corporate ladder or make more money, we are often times hurting ourselves. Society tells us that we need to have it all and show off our superhuman skills by also doing it all. And that we will be praised for our perfection. So we try to be the perfect mother, professional, spouse or partner, and then we feel like huge failures for not doing it all… well. So we come to the conclusion that we simply can’t have it all… because we have failed.

I want us to stop for a moment and challenge that way of thinking! What if our grandmother’s and mother’s definition of “having it all” is different than ours? What if we have confused the notion of “having it all” in recent years, with saying yes to it all and accepting society’s expectations of us? An article written a few years ago, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, took an interesting stance on this same topic and talked about the “man’s world” that our mothers and mentors warned us about. She made some great points in her article. I also felt that my Generation X perspective was a bit different. I am grateful for the opportunities that we have inherited from the women before us, and at the same time I think it is important that women in their 50′s, 60′s and 70′s try to understand that we (Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials) are working hard to make our own definitions or rules for having it all.

Today, having it all doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wearing a suit jacket, stilettos and perfect hair like the images we were shown years ago of working women. Nowadays, working moms might have a (home) office, (kitchen) conference room and (yoga pants) wardrobe that varies from one person and job to the next. You can see some of the images of working mothers that are slowly creeping into our media and perception, and this is a personal photography project that I want to tackle myself because Millennials and future generations need more role models showing them that it is okay to choose and to align your priorities with what makes you truly happy.

So I ask you this, what if having it all really means that you get to say no to the things that do not serve you or make you happy? What if having it all means that we are liberated to choose the things that bring us joy and fulfillment, whatever they may be? Here are some examples of what I mean. What if having it all means that you don’t reply to emails during dinner time because family time is sacred? What if having it all means that you’ve chosen to wake up at 5am so you can sneak in workouts or meditation (alone time) while everyone sleeps? What if having it all means that you choose one less networking event a month so you can enjoy a date night or moms night out? What if having it all means that instead of being your child’s room mom this year, you choose to mentor a young woman at your office? By taking stock of our lives and our priorities, and by setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, we get to decide what matters most.

It’s time that we start looking at the concept of having it all and accept that for today’s millennial woman, it isn’t about having or doing it all (at the same time).

Instead, it’s about having the freedom to choose what our (professional or personal) lives look like and being able to define what “it” is that will make her happiest. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, unhappy and like a failure who can’t find balance, than I challenge you to take a look at what you’ve chosen as your top priorities. Take a really good look at yourself and ask if you can change anything? Is your current situation really working for you and giving you personal fulfillment? Can you work closer to home or take a different position at a company that gives you more flexibility? Again, what do you need more of…is it time or money? Do you need influence or prosperity at this stage of your life…or is something pulling you in a different direction? Do you want to build meaningful relationships or build your status? Do you need to work that Sunday or can you choose family instead when that next job or lead comes in?

Life is about making choices. The choices might seem like they get harder as you age, and sometimes they do. It’s up to us to choose with intention because no one else can create the life of our dreams and the life that we want to live.

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So for those of you who are still feeling ashamed or torn about the idea of choosing, I urge you to think about this. It doesn’t matter who is disappointed when you say no to that volunteer position, or who takes pity when you leave that high paying job for an at-home direct sales position, or who wants to make you feel guilty for trekking through this new territory… because none of them live your life. You don’t need their permission or approval. You just need to figure out what will make you happiest.

Ladies, we need to start supporting each other in these hard choices and lift each other up because it really does take a village. We need to start accepting that what you need is not the same as what I need, and that is okay. We need to teach our daughters about creating healthy boundaries which was something I was never taught in school, church or at home. We need to empower younger generations to create the jobs that they cannot find, which will allow them the flexibility and commitment to their career and family that they so desire. We need to applaud each other for choosing boldly and for standing firm in our choices. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) shared her thoughts on this topic in a recent article and said, “all of us should be able to offer our experience, offer advice, and try to learn from one another.” I agree whole-heartedly with her.

We don’t have to feel alone, judged or ashamed, if we start working together to empower one another so we can be the best mothers and professionals that we can be! Success or fulfillment looks very different for each and every woman in this day and age, and that signifies our progress. I look forward to the time when this topic is no longer geared towards women only. As we continue to work towards gender equality, I do believe that this conversation will continue to evolve and once again the dynamics will change.

So tell me, where are you in your journey to having it all or defining what “it” is, and how can we support you? Has choosing been hard for you? Have you decided to set some new boundaries by saying no? Let’s keep the conversation going…

Sarah Lehberger is a portrait photographer based in Easton, CT. She has been serving the Fairfield County, Connecticut community since 2005. Sarah specializes in bold storytelling that celebrates the spirited minds, romantic hearts and brave souls of women. They are the dreamers and the doers of the world, and she believes they are unstoppable! Sarah’s mission is to unite, empower and encourage women in their fearless pursuit of their dreams.
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