“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”–Gloria Steinem


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A friend recently shared an Atlantic article from summer 2012: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” An oldie but a goodie.

As is usually the case, the universe was speaking to me. I had been struggling with a career decision and I needed to make a decision within a day or two. I had been offered a promotion. The obvious perk of more money is nice, but money is not a driving factor in my life (some days it’s clear that’s a major flaw–especially on the days I’m jonesing for new shoes). The job itself was appealing, challenging, important. And a nice step up. A recognition of all my hard work and a culmination of my career goals. I have always been driven by career–it has been a huge part of my identity from birth.

As life happens, I took on other parts of my identity through the years. I’m a single mother of two. And I make sure to take time to do things that nurture me, not only as a mother or a professional. But carving out time for my interests and things that feed my soul. So I’m busy, but through the years I’ve managed to create a nice cadence to our chaotic lives. No one’s ever perfectly groomed, but we’re fairly well-mannered and well-fed. Usually no one is bleeding, or at least there are no gaping head wounds. It’s a good life.

And then I had the good fortune to be considered for a promotion. Can’t go wrong here, right? Well, after much soul searching, I realized I had to listen to my gut–the voice screeching “NO!”

I had been trying to ignore it. Because I’m good at ignoring my gut. Because I’ve worked so hard in my education and career that of course I had to take this opportunity. Because I’d be a fool to pass this up. Because I WANTED this job. But then I had to stop and look around. At who I am today and what my life looks like. Today. Not ten years ago, not 20 years in the future. But today. And today, I can’t have it all. I have mentored young women, telling them the notion of balancing our lives is a mistake, as it implies holding it all at once without dropping anything. But instead, it’s a juggling act–that we throw some balls into the air for a time while holding others, and the priorities rotate and take turns through our lives.

Just because I tell people that doesn’t mean I accept it easily. I realized where my life is right now, taking this job would not be a good idea. Not for my sanity and not for my kids’ well-being. I am grieving over letting go of the notion that I could have it all. That societal expectations (that if I’m ambitious and smart and driven, I should take this job) collide with real life. That I’m not helping the feminist movement progress any further by turning the promotion down. But my kids need me, and I need them.

So I’m really sad right now. I’m building up the courage to turn the promotion down. I know it’s the right thing to do, but I’m sick to my stomach right now. Plus my pants are too tight from too much holiday eating, but that’s neither here nor there. I need to be brave enough to not force myself into the mold of societal expectations. I need to refuse to feel like a failure or a slacker if I choose my kids and my quality of life over the job. I need to remember I am still ambitious and smart and driven. And I’m courageous. And really, really sad.

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18 Responses to “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”–Gloria Steinem

  1. Anonymous says:

    Susanna: You rock. And I’m breathing with you in your sadness. Pete


  2. ♡eM says:

    This is such a big post. You know that your time is limited, you prioritize what takes your time and fills your life, and you remember to listen to your intuition. I’m inclined to think that your decision is a sound one, and that you’re wise beyond any of the words (thanks, reasons, etc.) you will say when you decline this offer. I happen to admire the priorities you’ve written about in this post. I sometimes wonder why people have made decisions, taken paths, while unaware, even ignorant of that screeching “No!” you’ve heard (loud and clear) and are listening to. I think I’m a little sad, too, that it takes courage to say “no” in our culture, when we want and need to, even when we add on a heartfelt “thanks”.


    • Thank you always, always for your support, for your thoughtful commentary. Always means so much and makes me think further. Yes, I was famous for ignoring the gut screaming at me, waving red flags. I plowed through everything, I can make ANYTHING work. Shift in priorities has me now asking, “But do I WANT to?” This event was not so much about the job but about my new behaviors, insights, priorities, boundaries–which I’m proud of. But the part about the job–sad. And Yes, part of the sadness is exactly what you describe–that it’s not easier or more accepted to maintain firm boundaries and say no…Hopefully with each of us voicing these issues, airing out what is wrong, will help shift the culture.


  3. Anonymous says:

    YES. You are ambitious, smart, driven AND courageous! I am with you.


  4. Pokey10 says:

    I swear you must be the me that I lost somewhere in my life. I was recently asked by my boss how he can help me get to my next promotion. At another time in my life, I would have told him 10 things I can do that no one else. Instead, I gave him some words that showed my appreciation, while inside I was shrinking as I thought about the other priorities in my life that I have not been paying attention to….you know, the kids, my parents and alas I have no hobbies or outside interests. My self esteem is so tied to my job that I felt less than (<) because I did not feel that ambition, that drive…. Haven't quite reconciled myself to that and I too share your sadness that we can't have it all. Wish there was a "pause" button so I can get off the ride, then "play" again when it's time. But life just doesn't work that way.
    I support you and I will you will continue to be strong and brave and the opportunity will come again, when you're ready. Cosmic forces work that way. We just get in the way of things….I remember a good friend (wink wink) telling me that!


    • I hope you are finding her, as you didn’t lose her, she just wandered off the path a bit and is easily guided back 🙂 I would venture to say I am proud of you for not tackling the 10 things for a promotion, but it doesn’t sound like you’re satisfied with your response?

      Alas, no pause button. But what is great about life is the Mulligan button–we can always re-do or un-do something (short of death).

      And you have a wise friend 🙂 We do often get in our own way. I am grateful I have learned to listen to my gut at this ripe old age of mine to finally step aside to get out of my own way…


  5. SBB says:

    You are so amazing, and such an inspiration. Contrary to your fear, you have, in fact, helped the feminist movement progress by giving voice to an experience that so many of us have. You ARE courageous. And it’s OK to be sad…


  6. Devin says:

    And there it is… evidence that seminary was worth the [pause, and] effort. (And all because of sharing an article?!)

    You wrote, “But my kids need me, and I need them.”

    THERE is the first if many things I’m thankful for this new year. You go, Booth Gurl.


    • Hear me roar 🙂 Yes, the article was the tipping point. So yes, the fact that I will never make enough money or move up in my career is ALL YOUR FAULT. 😉 I knew my gut had been screaming for weeks. I rationalized it, I planned around it, I did more research, I meditated, I drank…Many of the issues of the article I have thought as well in the past, but there was something about it last night that gave me permission to admit to myself I didn’t WANT the promotion and ensuing lifestyle changes. And that I didn’t have to want it. That permission was so freeing to me and everything else fell into place with my decision. It was still sad though, but all this support has made all the difference, THANK YOU.


  7. Alice says:

    Oh sweetie you are incredible, ambitious and you forgot to say- a role model for your kids. The article you shared yesterday was so provocatively titled- but after I read it, slowly page by page (vs speed read my normal leisure reading pace!) I wasn’t sure how to respond. Because I think somewhere along the way I had already learned very young what a hard working mother that meant well and had beautiful intentions but little time and an even worse partner looked like. So when I became a mom I think that screeching “no!!” was very loud. Your post was ten times more helpful and relevant to me. Because I know there is a price anyone (male or female) has to pay, and you have already realized it ain’t worth it! All the chaos and stress, we 100% love our lives – current day. It is wise of you to know what would tip that balance, that cadence as you call it. And as the article said, our trajectories may change as our kids grow up too fast. Trust the universe and in yourself!


    • Thank you so much for your very kind, very supportive words. They have really helped ease the sadness. Thank you. I’m continuing to work on trusting the universe and trusting myself, I’m proud of myself for listening to my gut and making a major decision that felt right when on the surface all signs pointed otherwise. But recent world events and spending time with the kids over the holidays–really drove home the importance of quality of life. And how quickly their little feet used to fit in the palm of my hand, and now one of their’s is almost as big as my feet. They still clamor for cuddles and kisses and hugs. I want to give and receive those now before they resent and loathe me 🙂


  8. mikafry says:

    Great, thought-provoking post. Like you, I’ve always (okay–often) been career driven and am now also a mom. And I’m a mom who shares your recognition that we need to create time to nurture ourselves beyond who we are at work and who we are at home. Much easier said than done, of course. I’ve also reached a point where (and yes, some grieving was/is necessary) that I have to realize that what I once thought I wanted (promotion? yes! ambition? yes!) “suddenly” isn’t right for me right now. In some ways, it feels like I’m settling and accepting average instead of constantly wanting to better myself career-wise. Perhaps we’re just further recognizing the importance of bettering ourselves in other ways, too.


    • First, I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your thoughtful comment! Not sure how this slipped by me. I agree, it’s a struggle to NOT feel like you’re settling. I think we need to remind ourselves we are in a different place in life than before, and that priorities and desires change, and that’s OK. And perhaps later we’ll revisit the old definition of ambition and success. It was this struggle of being OK with this shift in attitude and desires that I struggled most with I think. I think also the societal pressures for “success” are so hard to buck which is why it’s so important to talk about these things–to discuss the tensions and issues and ambivalence. The more we normalize these struggles as a reality, the less the old societal pressures have a hold on us. Methinks at least. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful comment! Wishing you continued good wishes on your journey!


  9. Don’t be sad, be glad you had he courage to take care of what is important in your life. In the end you will not remember the promotions and the money and the power and the fame, you will remember who you loved and who loved you back, the times you were whole and serene, and the great times when you made the right choices. it’s not about the pursuit of happiness its about aiming at and sustaining a balanced life.


    • Thank you for the support!! Yes, I agree–especially with the goals of being whole and serene. It’s really a shifting of the definition and benchmarks of success. Not too long ago, feeling frazzled and hectic was the norm, something to strive for. Now, I’d like to breathe 🙂 Since this was posted, I look at the pace of that position and I am grateful I had the courage to decline it.


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