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Chapter 9 The Myth of Doing It All
HAVING IT ALL.” Perhaps the greatest trap ever set for women was the coining of this phrase. Bandiedabout in speeches, headlines, and articles, these three little words are intended to be aspirational butinstead make all of us feel like we have fallen short. I have never met a woman, or man, who hasstated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful weare for what we have—no one has it all.

Nor can we. The very concept of having it all flies in the face of the basic laws of economics andcommon sense. As Sharon Poczter, professor of economics at Cornell, explains, “The antiquatedrhetoric of ‘having it all’ disregards the basis of every economic relationship: the idea of trade-offs.

All of us are dealing with the constrained optimization that is life, attempting to maximize our utilitybased on parameters like career, kids, relationships, etc., doing our best to allocate the resource oftime. Due to the scarcity of this resource, therefore, none of us can ‘have it all,’ and those who claimto are most likely lying.”

“Having it all” is best regarded as a myth. And like many myths, it can deliver a helpful cautionarymessage. Think of Icarus, who soared to great heights with his man-made wings. His father warnedhim not to fly too near the sun, but Icarus ignored the advice. He soared even higher, his wingsmelted, and he crashed to earth. Pursuing both a professional and personal life is a noble andattainable goal, up to a point. Women should learn from Icarus to aim for the sky, but keep in mindthat we all have real limits.

Instead of pondering the question “Can we have it all?,” we should be asking the more practicalquestion “Can we do it all?” And again, the answer is no. Each of us makes choices constantlybetween work and family, exercising and relaxing, making time for others and taking time forourselves. Being a parent means making adjustments, compromises, and sacrifices every day. Formost people, sacrifices and hardships are not a choice, but a necessity. About 65 percent of married-couple families with children in the United States have two parents in the workforce, with almost allrelying on both incomes to support their household.

Being a single working parent can be even moredifficult. About 30 percent of families with children are led by a single parent, with 85 percent ofthose led by a woman.

Mothers who work outside the home are constantly reminded of these challenges. Tina Fey notedthat when she was promoting the movie Date Night with Steve Carell, a father of two and star of hisown sitcom, reporters would grill Fey on how she balances her life, but never posed that question toher male costar. As she wrote in Bossypants, “What is the rudest question you can ask a woman?

‘How old are you?’ ‘What do you weigh?’ ‘When you and your twin sister are alone with Mr. Hefner,do you have to pretend to be lesbians?’ No, the worst question is ‘How do you juggle itall?’ … People constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes. ‘You’re fucking it all up,aren’t you?’ their eyes say.”

Fey nails it. Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothersalso have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we’re shortchangingboth our jobs and our children. As if we needed reminding. Like me, most of the women I know do agreat job worrying that we don’t measure up. We compare our efforts at work to those of ourcolleagues, usually men, who typically have far fewer responsibilities at home. Then we compare ourefforts at home to those of mothers who dedicate themselves solely to their families. Outside observersreminding us that we must be struggling—and failing—is just bitter icing on an already soggy cake.

Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment.

Perfection is the enemy. Gloria Steinem said it best: “You can’t do it all. No one can have two full-time jobs, have perfect children and cook three meals and be multi-orgasmic ’tildawn … Superwoman is the adversary of the women’s movement.”

Dr. Laurie Glimcher, dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, said the key for her in pursuing hercareer while raising children was learning where to focus her attention. “I had to decide what matteredand what didn’t and I learned to be a perfectionist in only the things that mattered.” In her case, sheconcluded that scientific data had to be perfect, but reviews and other mundane administrative taskscould be considered good enough at 95 percent. Dr. Glimcher also said she made it a priority to gethome at a reasonable hour, adding that when she got there, she refused to worry about whether “thelinens were folded or the closets were tidy. You can’t be obsessive about these things that don’tmatter.”

A few years before I became a mother, I spoke on a women’s panel for a local business group inPalo Alto. One of the other panelists, an executive with two children, was asked the (inevitable)question about how she balances her work and her children. She started her response by saying, “Iprobably shouldn’t admit this publicly …,” and then she confessed that she put her children to sleep intheir school clothes to save fifteen precious minutes every morning. At the time, I thought to myself,Yup, she should not have admitted that publicly.

Now that I’m a parent, I think this woman was a genius. We all face limits of time and patience. Ihave not yet put my children to sleep in their school clothes, but there are mornings when I wish I had.

I also know that all the planning in the world cannot prepare us for the constant challenges ofparenting. In hindsight, I appreciate my fellow panelist’s candor. And in the spirit of that candor, Iprobably shouldn’t admit this publicly either …Last year, I was traveling with my children to a business conference. Several other Silicon Valleyfolks were attending too, and John Donahoe, the CEO of eBay, kindly offered us a ride on the eBayplane. When the flight was delayed for several hours, my main concern was keeping my kids occupiedso they would not disturb the other adult passengers. I made it through the delay by allowing them towatch endless TV and eat endless snacks. Then just as the flight finally took off, my daughter startedscratching her head. “Mommy! My head itches!” she announced loudly, speaking over the headset shewas wearing (as she watched even more TV). I didn’t think anything of it until her itching grew franticand her complaints grew louder. I urged her to lower her voice, then examined her head and noticedsmall white things. I was pretty sure I knew what they were. I was the only person bringing youngchildren on this corporate plane—and now my daughter most likely had lice! I spent the rest of theflight in a complete panic, trying to keep her isolated, her voice down, and her hands out of her hair,while I furiously scanned the web for pictures of lice. When we landed, everyone piled into rental carsto caravan to the conference hotel, but I told them to go ahead without me; I just needed to “picksomething up.” I dashed to the nearest pharmacy, where they confirmed my diagnosis. Fortunately, wehad avoided direct contact with anyone else on the plane, so there was no way for the lice to havespread, which saved me from the fatal embarrassment of having to tell the group to check their ownheads. We grabbed the shampoo that I needed to treat her and, as it turned out, her brother—and spentthe night in a marathon hair-washing session. I missed the opening night dinner, and when asked why,I said my kids were tired. Frankly, I was too. And even though I managed to escape the lice, I couldnot stop scratching my head for several days.

It is impossible to control all the variables when it comes to parenting. For women who haveachieved previous success by planning ahead and pushing themselves hard, this chaos can be difficultto accept. Psychologist Jennifer Stuart studied a group of Yale graduates and concluded that for suchwomen, “the effort to combine career and motherhood may be particularly fraught. The stakes arehigh, as they may expect nothing less than perfection, both at home and in the workplace. When theyfall short of lofty ideals, they may retreat altogether—from workplace to home or vice versa.”

Another one of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, “Done is better thanperfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfectioncauses frustration at best and paralysis at worst. I agree completely with the advice offered by NoraEphron in her 1996 Wellesley commencement speech when she addressed the issue of women havingboth a career and family. Ephron insisted, “It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will becomplicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will belike, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. Iknow: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

I was extremely fortunate that early in my career I was warned about the perils of trying to do it allby someone I deeply admired. Larry Kanarek managed the Washington, D.C., office of McKinsey &Company where I interned in 1994. One day, Larry gathered everyone together for a talk. Heexplained that since he was running the office, employees came to him when they wanted to quit.

Over time, he noticed that people quit for one reason only: they were burnt out, tired of working longhours and traveling. Larry said he could understand the complaint, but what he could not understandwas that all the people who quit—every single one—had unused vacation time. Up until the day theyleft, they did everything McKinsey asked of them before deciding that it was too much.

Larry implored us to exert more control over our careers. He said McKinsey would never stopmaking demands on our time, so it was up to us to decide what we were willing to do. It was ourresponsibility to draw the line. We needed to determine how many hours we were willing to work in aday and how many nights we were willing to travel. If later on, the job did not work out, we wouldknow that we had tried on our own terms. Counterintuitively, long-term success at work often dependson not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and careeris to make choices deliberately—to set limits and stick to them.

During my first four years at Google, I was in the office from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day at aminimum. I ran the global operating teams and thought it was critical that I stay on top of as manydetails as possible. No one ever demanded that I work this schedule; typical of Silicon Valley, Googlewas not the type of place to set hours for anyone. Still, the culture in those early days promotedworking around the clock. When my son arrived, I wanted to take the three months of maternity leaveGoogle offered, but I worried that my job would not be there when I returned. Events leading up to hisbirth did not put my mind at ease. Google was growing quickly and reorganizing frequently. My teamwas one of the largest in the company, and coworkers often suggested ways to restructure, whichusually meant that they would do more and I would do less. In the months before my leave, severalcolleagues, all men, ramped up these efforts, volunteering to “help run things” while I was gone. Someof them even mentioned to my boss that I might not return, so it made sense to start sharing myresponsibilities immediately.

I tried to take Larry Kanarek’s advice and draw my own line. I decided that I wanted to focusentirely on my new role as a mother. I was determined to truly unplug. I even made this decisionpublic—a trick that can help a commitment stick by creating greater accountability. I announced that Iwas going to take the full three months off.

No one believed me. A group of my colleagues bet on how long I would be off e-mail after givingbirth, with not a single person taking “more than one week” as his or her wager. I would have beenoffended, except they knew me better than I knew myself. I was back on e-mail from my hospitalroom the day after giving birth.

Over the next three months, I was unable to unplug much at all. I checked e-mail constantly. Iorganized meetings in my living room, during which I sometimes breast-fed and probably freakedseveral people out. (I tried to set these gatherings for times when my son would be sleeping, but babiesmake their own schedules.) I went into the office for key meetings, baby in tow. And while I had somenice moments with my son, I look back on that maternity leave as a pretty unhappy time. Being a newmother was exhausting, and when my son slept, I worked instead of rested. And the only thing worsethan everyone knowing that I was not sticking to my original commitment was that I knew it too. I wasletting myself down.

Three months later, my non-leave maternity leave ended. I was returning to a job I loved, but as Ipulled the car out of the driveway to head to the office for my first full day back, I felt a tightness inmy chest and tears started to flow down my cheeks. Even though I had worked throughout my “timeoff,” I had done so almost entirely from home with my son right next to me. Going back to the officemeant a dramatic change in the amount of time I would see him. If I returned to my typical twelve-hour days, I would leave the house before he woke up and return after he was asleep. In order to spendany time with him at all, I was going to have to make changes … and stick to them.

I started arriving at work around 9:00 a.m. and leaving at 5:30 p.m. This schedule allowed me tonurse my son before I left and get home in time to nurse again before putting him to sleep. I wasscared that I would lose credibility, or even my entire job, if anyone knew that these were my new in-the-office hours. To compensate, I started checking e-mails around 5:00 a.m. Yup, I was awake beforemy newborn. Then once he was down at night, I would jump back on my computer and continue myworkday. I went to great lengths to hide my new schedule from most people. Camille, my ingeniousexecutive assistant, came up with the idea of holding my first and last meetings of the day in otherbuildings to make it less transparent when I was actually arriving or departing. When I did leavedirectly from my office, I would pause in the lobby and survey the parking lot to find a colleague-freemoment to bolt to my car. (Given my awkwardness, we should all be relieved that I once worked forthe Treasury Department and not the CIA.)Looking back, I realize that my concern over my new hours stemmed from my own insecurity.

Google was hard charging and hypercompetitive, but it also supported combining work andparenthood—an attitude that clearly started at the top. Larry and Sergey came to my baby shower andeach gave me a certificate that entitled me to one hour of babysitting. (I never used the certificates,and if I could find them, I bet I could auction them off for charity, like lunch with Warren Buffett.)Susan Wojcicki, who blazed a trail by having four children while being one of Google’s earliest andmost valuable employees, brought her children to the office when her babysitter was sick. Both myboss, Omid, and David Fischer, the most senior leader on my team, were steadfast supporters and didnot allow others to take over parts of my job.

Slowly, it began to dawn on me that my job did not really require that I spend twelve full hours aday in the office. I became much more efficient—more vigilant about only attending or setting upmeetings that were truly necessary, more determined to maximize my output during every minute Ispent away from home. I also started paying more attention to the working hours of those around me;cutting unnecessary meetings saved time for them as well. I tried to focus on what really mattered.

Long before I saw the poster, I began to adopt the mantra “Done is better than perfect.” Done, whilestill a challenge, turns out to be far more achievable and often a relief. By the time I took my secondmaternity leave, I not only unplugged (mostly), but really enjoyed the time with both my children.

My sister-in-law, Amy, a doctor, experienced almost the exact same evolution in attitude. “When Ihad my first child, I worked twelve-hour days while trying to pump at work,” she told me. “I wantedto feel connected to my baby in the limited hours that I was home, so I made myself her sole caregivermany nights. I believed that others were demanding this of me—my bosses at work and my daughterat home. But in truth, I was torturing myself.” With the birth of her second child, Amy adjusted herbehavior. “I took three months off and handled my return to work in my own way, on my own terms.

And despite what I had previously feared, my reputation and productivity weren’t hurt a bit.”

I deeply understand the fear of appearing to be putting our families above our careers. Mothersdon’t want to be perceived as less dedicated to their jobs than men or women without familyresponsibilities. We overwork to overcompensate. Even in workplaces that offer reduced or flextimearrangements, people fear that reducing their hours will jeopardize their career prospects.

And this isnot just a perception problem. Employees who make use of flexible work policies are often penalizedand seen as less committed than their peers.

And those penalties can be greater for mothers inprofessional jobs.

This all needs to change, especially since new evidence suggests working fromhome might actually be more productive in certain cases.

It is difficult to distinguish between the aspects of a job that are truly necessary and those that arenot. Sometimes the situation is hard to read and the lines are hard to draw. Amy told me about aconference dinner she attended with a group of fellow physicians, including one who had given birthto her first child several weeks earlier. About two hours into the meal, the new mom was lookinguncomfortable, glancing repeatedly at her cell phone. As a mother herself, Amy was sensitive to thesituation. “Do you need to leave and pump?” she whispered to her colleague. The new momsheepishly admitted that she had brought her baby and her mother to the conference. She was lookingat her cell phone because her mother was texting her that the baby needed to be fed. Amy encouragedthe new mom to leave immediately. Once she left, the young mother’s mentor, an older malephysician, admitted that he had no idea that she had brought her baby. If he had known, he would haveencouraged her to leave earlier. She was torturing herself unnecessarily. This is one instance where Iwould have recommended not to sit at the table.

Technology is also changing the emphasis on strict office hours since so much work can beconducted online. While few companies can provide as much flexibility as Google and Facebook,other industries are starting to move in a similar direction. Still, the traditional practice of judgingemployees by face time rather than results unfortunately persists. Because of this, many employeesfocus on hours clocked in the office rather than on achieving their goals as efficiently as possible. Ashift to focusing more on results would benefit individuals and make companies more efficient andcompetitive.

In his latest book, General Colin Powell explains that his vision of leadership rejects “busybastards” who put in long hours at the office without realizing the impact they have on their staff. Heexplains that “in every senior job I’ve had I’ve tried to create an environment of professionalism andthe very highest standards. When it was necessary to get a job done, I expected my subordinates towork around the clock. When that was not necessary, I wanted them to work normal hours, go home ata decent time, play with the kids, enjoy family and friends, read a novel, clear their heads, daydream,and refresh themselves. I wanted them to have a life outside the office. I am paying them for thequality of their work, not for the hours they work. That kind of environment has always produced thebest results for me.”

It is still far too rare to work for someone as wise as General Powell.

A related issue that affects many Americans is the extension of working hours.

In 2009, marriedmiddle-income parents worked about eight and a half hours more per week than in 1979.16This trendhas been particularly pronounced among professionals and managers, especially men.

A survey ofhigh-earning professionals in the corporate world found that 62 percent work more than fifty hours aweek and 10 percent work more than eighty hours per week.

Technology, while liberating us at timesfrom the physical office, has also extended the workday. A 2012 survey of employed adults showedthat 80 percent of the respondents continued to work after leaving the office, 38 percent checked e-mail at the dinner table, and 69 percent can’t go to bed without checking their in-box.

My mother believes that my generation is suffering greatly from this endless work schedule. Duringher childhood and mine, a full-time job meant forty hours a week—Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m.

to 5:00 p.m. She tells me over and over, “There’s too much pressure on you and your peers. It’s notcompatible with a normal life.” But this is the new normal for many of us.

The new normal means that there are just not enough hours in the day. For years, I attempted tosolve this problem by skimping on sleep, a common but often counterproductive approach. I realizedmy mistake partially from observing my children and seeing how a happy child can melt into a puddleof tears when he’s shy a couple hours of sleep. It turns out that adults aren’t much different. Sleepingfour or five hours a night induces mental impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level above thelegal driving limit.

Sleep deprivation makes people anxious, irritable, and confused. (Just ask Dave.)If I could go back and change one thing about how I lived in those early years, I would force myself toget more sleep.

It’s not only working parents who are looking for more hours in the day; people without childrenare also overworked, maybe to an even greater extent. When I was in business school, I attended aWomen in Consulting panel with three speakers: two married women with children and one singlewoman without children. After the married women spoke about how hard it was to balance their lives,the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously.

She felt that her colleagues were always rushing off to be with their families, leaving her to pick upthe slack. She argued, “My coworkers should understand that I need to go to a party tonight—and thisis just as legitimate as their kids’ soccer game—because going to a party is the only way I mightactually meet someone and start a family so I can have a soccer game to go to one day!” I often quotethis story to make sure single employees know that they, too, have every right to a full life.

My own concerns about combining my career and family rose to the forefront again when I wasconsidering leaving Google for Facebook. I had been at Google for six and a half years and had strongleaders in place for each of my teams. By then, Google had more than 20,000 employees and businessprocedures that ran smoothly and allowed me to make it home for dinner with my children almostevery night. Facebook, on the other hand, had only 550 employees and was much more of a start-up.

Late night meetings and all-night hackathons were an accepted part of the culture. I worried thattaking a new job might undermine the balance I had worked hard to achieve. It helped that Dave wasworking as an entrepreneur-in-residence at a venture capital firm, so he had almost complete controlof his schedule. He assured me that he would take on more at home to make this work for our family.

My first six months at Facebook were really hard. I know I’m supposed to say “challenging,” but“really hard” is more like it. A lot of the company followed Mark’s lead and worked night-owlengineering hours. I would schedule a meeting with someone for 9:00 a.m. and the person would notshow up, assuming that I meant 9:00 p.m. I needed to be around when others were and I worried thatleaving too early would make me stand out like a sore—and old—thumb. I missed dinner after dinnerwith my kids. Dave told me that he was home with them and they were fine. But I was not.

I thought about Larry Kanarek’s speech back at McKinsey and realized that if I didn’t take controlof the situation, my new job would prove unsustainable. I would resent not seeing my family and runthe risk of becoming the employee who quit with unused vacation time. I started forcing myself toleave the office at five thirty. Every competitive, type-A fiber of my being was screaming at me tostay, but unless I had a critical meeting, I walked out that door. And once I did it, I learned that Icould. I am not claiming, nor have I ever claimed, that I work a forty-hour week. Facebook isavailable around the world 24/7, and for the most part, so am I. The days when I even think ofunplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone. And unlike my job at Google, which was basedalmost exclusively in California, my Facebook role requires a lot of travel. As a result, I have becomeeven more vigilant about leaving the office to have dinner with my children when I’m not on the road.

I still struggle with the trade-offs between work and home on a daily basis. Every woman I knowdoes, and I know that I’m far luckier than most. I have remarkable resources—a husband who is a realpartner, the ability to hire great people to assist me both in the office and at home, and a good measureof control over my schedule. I also have a wonderful sister who lives close by and is always willing totake care of her niece and nephew, occasionally at a moment’s notice. She’s even a pediatrician, so mykids are not just in loving hands, they’re in medically trained hands. (Not all people are close to theirfamily, either geographically or emotionally. Fortunately, friends can be leaned on to provide this typeof support for each other.)If there is a new normal for the workplace, there is a new normal for the home too. Just asexpectations for how many hours people will work have risen dramatically, so have expectations forhow many hours mothers will spend focused on their children. In 1975, stay-at-home mothers spent anaverage of about eleven hours per week on primary child care (defined as routine caregiving andactivities that foster a child’s well-being, such as reading and fully focused play). Mothers employedoutside the home in 1975 spent six hours doing these activities. Today, stay-at-home mothers spendabout seventeen hours per week on primary child care, on average, while mothers who work outsidethe home spend about eleven hours. This means that an employed mother today spends about the sameamount of time on primary child care activities as a nonemployed mother did in 1975.21My memory of being a kid is that my mother was available but rarely hovering or directing myactivities. My siblings and I did not have organized playdates. We rode our bikes around theneighborhood without adult supervision. Our parents might have checked on our homework once in awhile, but they rarely sat with us while we completed it. Today, a “good mother” is always around andalways devoted to the needs of her children. Sociologists call this relatively new phenomenon“intensive mothering,” and it has culturally elevated the importance of women spending large amountsof time with their children.

Being judged against the current all-consuming standard means motherswho work outside the home feel as if we are failing, even if we are spending the same number ofhours with our kids as our mothers did.

When I drop my kids off at school and see the mothers who are staying to volunteer, I worry thatmy children are worse off because I’m not with them full-time. This is where my trust in hard data andresearch has helped me the most. Study after study suggests that the pressure society places on womento stay home and do “what’s best for the child” is based on emotion, not evidence.

In 1991, the Early Child Care Research Network, under the auspices of the National Institute ofChild Health and Human Development, initiated the most ambitious and comprehensive study to dateon the relationship between child care and child development, and in particular on the effect ofexclusive maternal care versus child care. The Research Network, which comprised more than thirtychild development experts from leading universities across the country, spent eighteen monthsdesigning the study. They tracked more than one thousand children over the course of fifteen years,repeatedly assessing the children’s cognitive skills, language abilities, and social behaviors. Dozens ofpapers have been published about what they found.

In 2006, the researchers released a reportsummarizing their findings, which concluded that “children who were cared for exclusively by theirmothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others.”

They found nogap in cognitive skills, language competence, social competence, ability to build and maintainrelationships, or in the quality of the mother-child bond.

Parental behavioral factors—includingfathers who are responsive and positive, mothers who favor “self-directed child behavior,” and parentswith emotional intimacy in their marriages—influence a child’s development two to three times morethan any form of child care.

One of the findings is worth reading slowly, maybe even twice:

“Exclusive maternal care was not related to better or worse outcomes for children. There is, thus, noreason for mothers to feel as though they are harming their children if they decide to work.”

Children absolutely need parental involvement, love, care, time, and attention. But parents whowork outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood. Somedata even suggest that having two parents working outside the home can be advantageous to a child’sdevelopment, particularly for girls.

Although I know the data and understand intellectually that my career is not harming my children,there are times when I still feel anxious about my choices. A friend of mine felt the same way, so shediscussed it with her therapist and, later, shared this insight: “My therapist told me that when I wasworrying about how much I was leaving my girls, that separation anxiety is actually more about themom than the kids. We talk about it as though it is a problem for children, but actually it can be moreof an issue for the mom.”

I always want to do more for my children. Because of work obligations, I’ve missed doctor’sappointments and parent-teacher conferences and have had to travel when my kids were sick. I haven’tmissed a dance recital yet, but it probably will happen. I have also missed a level of detail about theirlives. I once asked a mother at our school if she knew any of the other kids in the first-grade class,hoping for a familiar name or two. She spent twenty minutes reciting from memory the name of everychild, detailing their parents, siblings, which class they had been in the year before, and their interests.

How could she possibly know all this? Was I a bad mother for not knowing any of this? And whyshould it even bother me?

I knew the answer to that last question. It bothered me because like most people who have choices, Iam not completely comfortable with mine. Later that same year, I dropped my son off at school on St.

Patrick’s Day. As he got out of the car wearing his favorite blue T-shirt, the same mother pointed out,“He’s supposed to be wearing green today.” I simultaneously thought, Oh, who the hell can rememberthat it’s St. Patrick’s Day? and I’m a bad mom.

Guilt management can be just as important as time management for mothers. When I went back tomy job after giving birth, other working mothers told me to prepare for the day that my son would cryfor his nanny. Sure enough, when he was about eleven months old, he was crawling on the floor of hisroom and put his knee down on a toy. He looked up for help, crying, and reached for her instead ofme. It pierced my heart, but Dave thought it was a good sign. He reasoned that we were the centralfigures in our son’s life, but forming an attachment to a caregiver was good for his development. Iunderstood his logic, especially in retrospect, but at the time, it hurt like hell.

To this day, I count the hours away from my kids and feel sad when I miss a dinner or a night withthem. Did I have to take this trip? Was this speech really critical for Facebook? Was this meeting trulynecessary? Far from worrying about nights he misses, Dave thinks we are heroes for getting home fordinner as often as we do. Our different viewpoints seem inextricably gender based. Compared to hispeers, Dave is an exceptionally devoted dad. Compared to many of my peers, I spend a lot more timeaway from my children. A study that conducted in-depth interviews with mothers and fathers in dual-earner families uncovered similar reactions. The mothers were riddled with guilt about what their jobswere doing to their families. The fathers were not.

As Marie Wilson, founder of the White HouseProject, has noted, “Show me a woman without guilt and I’ll show you a man.”

I know that I can easily spend time focusing on what I’m not doing; like many, I excel at self-flagellation. And even with my vast support system, there are times when I feel pulled in too manydirections. But when I dwell less on the conflicts and compromises, and more on being fully engagedwith the task at hand, the center holds and I feel content. I love my job and the brilliant and fascinatingpeople I work with. I also love my time with my kids. A great day is when I rush home from thecraziness of the office to have dinner with my family and then sit in the rocking chair in the corner ofmy daughter’s room with both of my kids on my lap. We rock and read together, just a quiet (okay,not always quiet), joyful moment at the end of their day. They drift off to sleep and I drift (okay, run)back to my laptop.

It’s also fun when my two worlds collide. For a period of time, Mark hosted Monday-night strategysessions at his house. Because I wouldn’t be making it home for dinner, my kids came into the office.

Facebook is incredibly family friendly, and my children were in heaven, entranced by pizza, endlesscandy, and the huge pile of Legos that the engineers kindly share with young visitors. It made mehappy that my kids got to know my colleagues and my colleagues got to know them. Mark had beenteaching my son how to fence, so they would sometimes practice with pretend foils, which wasadorable. Mark also taught both my kids various office pranks, which was slightly less adorable.

I would never claim to be able to find serenity or total focus in every moment. I am so far from that.

But when I remember that no one can do it all and identify my real priorities at home and at work, Ifeel better, and I am more productive in the office and probably a better mother as well. Stanfordprofessor Jennifer Aaker’s work shows that setting obtainable goals is key to happiness.

Instead ofperfection, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. The right question is not “Can I do it all?” but“Can I do what’s most important for me and my family?” The aim is to have children who are happyand thriving. Wearing green T-shirts on St. Patrick’s Day is purely optional.

If I had to embrace a definition of success, it would be that success is making the best choices wecan … and accepting them. Journalist Mary Curtis suggested in The Washington Post that the bestadvice anyone can offer “is for women and men to drop the guilt trip, even as the minutes tick away.

The secret is there is no secret—just doing the best you can with what you’ve got.”

In December 2010, I was standing with Pat Mitchell, waiting to go onstage to give my TEDTalk.

The day before, I had dropped my daughter off at preschool and told her I was flying to the East Coastso I wouldn’t see her that night. She clung to my leg and begged me not to leave. I couldn’t shake thatimage and, at the last minute, asked Pat if I should add it to my speech. “Absolutely tell that story,”

said Pat. “Other women go through this, and you’ll help them by being honest that this is hard for youtoo.”

I took a deep breath and stepped onstage. I tried to be authentic and shared my truth. I announced tothe room—and basically everyone on the internet—that I fall very short of doing it all. And Pat wasright. It felt really good not just to admit this to myself, but to share it with others.


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