Women Can't Have It All

It's Time to Change the Conversation About Giving It All Up "For a Man"

Moving for a man? Feminist

"I always vowed I would never move anywhere 'for a man,'" Ashley, a 28-year-old New Yorker, said. "Yet, here I am taking two months to move to Virginia to be closer to my boyfriend."

In an age when women are encouraged to "lean in" with all of our might, the idea of putting careers or vibrant lifestyles on hold and moving for a romantic partner seems like a relic of the past. Women today are outpacing men in college enrollment, out-earning men at work and marrying at the record-late age of 27

With that independence should come the ability to make whatever life choices we want. But a modern woman can get the creeping feeling that making concessions for love — especially ones that involve leaving a job and changing zip codes — is one choice that runs counter to her proud, independent feminist beliefs. 

But guilt or judgment over choosing "love" or "a man" may miss the point. As women like Sheryl Sandberg prove, prioritizing love and relationships is actually one of the most empowering decisions any woman — even the most career-driven among us — can make.

Booking a guilty trip: After two and a half years of long-distance dating with a military man stationed in Virginia, Ashley knew that in order for her relationship to last, she was going to have to take the next step. He had another four years left in his service; for things to work, she'd have to move.

But, as the founder and CEO of her own communications company, Ashley is as ambitious as they come, and moving required giving up the high-energy professional environment she thrives in. Running through a nervous checklist in her mind, Ashley wondered, "If I give up something for another person, am I being weak?"

"I debated for months about whether or not the move was right for me," she said. "I sought counsel from business advisers and other similar women entrepreneurs who had moved for their significant others — turns out, there are more than I thought."

Slate tackled the guilty internal debate had by such women in a series called Best Laid Plans. "Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion about why women aren't achieving as much in their careers as their male counterparts," the site wrote in the series introduction, one explanation being "husbands' careers taking precedence." 

"When Michel went on the job market, we had been together for a year. I made a big deal out of feeling like I couldn't move somewhere with him ... I felt like I was too old to say I moved somewhere for my boyfriend," one woman named Leah told Slate. "I worry that [following him to D.C., where they now live] is anti-feminist, but I think about how I'm glad." 

That worry reflects a human reality, and not just a female one: We are, as Bad Feminist writer Roxane Gay called it, a "mess of contradictions." For women, that mess includes wanting to be independent while also wanting to be taken care of, or wanting a growing career while also wanting love and family. Submitting to the latter needs, Gaysays, can make one feel like a "bad feminist."

But, as she writes in her book by the same title, submitting to the "bad" choice is human — and in fact, sometimes it's not only the happiest choice, but the smartest one. As author Ayelet Waldman argued in her 2005 New York Times essaybeing a "bad mother" by loving her husband more than her kids was in fact the best thing for the family: It makes her a happy, fulfilled human who needn't pin all her desires and passions on her children, which only made her a better mother.

Prioritizing the "bad" choice over the "good" one was the best decision she could make for both.

Giving up to gain something more: Jennifer*, 25 and a lifelong New Yorker, faced the dilemma when she found out her long-term boyfriend was accepted to Yale Law School. "We had a series of very real conversations about what kind of life we wanted to have, if it included each other, and the sacrifices we were willing to make for each other," Jennifer said. The pair got engaged and Jennifer pivoted her career plans, joining her now-husband in New Haven, Connecticut.

"Some of my friends think I made a very traditional decision to follow my husband to school," she said. "However, I would argue it takes a bold, powerful, strong woman with a sense of self to take the risk of moving to a new place where her partner would be busy studying and in school all the time." Next year, she'll follow him to New Orleans, where he landed a clerkship for a federal judge.

Melinda*, 27, had a similar challenge when her boyfriend's job transferred him from the east coast to San Diego. Her friends warned her of making the jump on his terms and "not relying on the boyfriend emotionally," she toldMic. But the truth was, she was excited at the prospect of living in California. Ultimately, she said, the decision was for herself and her own happiness — not his. 

As for Ashley? "I gave up my dream apartment in the swanky East Village with my best friends, my fast-paced lifestyle and packed social calendar, and limitless opportunities for ordering Thai food from Seamless," she said. Being the best ambitious, determined and fulfilled professional she can be ultimately relies on a strong foundation of personal satisfaction and support. 

More importantly, she said, the career will eventually fade and what really matters will come to the fore.

"As I imagined looking back over my life," said, "I knew that my relationships would be the most meaningful." 

There's nothing anti-feminist about that.

* Name has been changed to allow subject to speak freely on private matters.

(I was interviewed for this article on Mic.

6 Ways Top Women CEOs Balance Work and Life

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Work-life balance has been a topic of angst for years. From Anne-Marie Slaughter's article, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," to Max Schireson's recent abdication of his executive role to spend more time with his family, to recently published books like The Path Redefined, women -- and men -- are still trying to understand what a full, integrated life looks like.

The fact is, women have more personal and professional choices available than ever before. But with those new options for personal and professional life comes confusion. What does balance look like... really?

I turned to the pros who mastered the fine art of juggling it all, only to find that "work-life balance" may require rethinking. Read on to learn six top ways women CEOs are changing the definition of work-life balance.

1. Integrate.

"I believe in the idea of integration over the idea of balance. Your work should be something that you are passionate about, and your loves should be the things you prioritize, whatever or whoever they may be. When you do so with ruthless focus (which involves saying no to everything else), all of the noise falls to the sidelines and all of that time that gets robbed from you returns like a breath of fresh air." -- Caroline Ghosn, CEO of Levo League

2. Don't be perfect.

"I strive for excellence, never perfection. My first priority is to my husband and our relationship, next my daughter and finally my relationships with work. If my daughter is crying and I'm on a conference call, I excuse myself from the call and say, "I'll have to call you back." I know that affects how I am as a boss, but I am an excellent boss, not perfect. And when it comes to self-care, I want to look fashionable, but leave room for messiness." -- Athelia Woolley LeSueur, CEO of Shabby Apple

3. Keep perspective.

"My number one principle is to keep everything in perspective. Having spent a large part of my work life covering actual disasters (Katrina, tsunamis, earthquakes..) I'm pretty aware that most of the crazy events in MY life are not disasters. Ergo, I freak out very rarely, perceive most things and manageable, and most problems tend to roll off my shoulders. I've seen real disasters, up close, so I don't create catastrophes around things that are just unfortunate challenges to overcome." -- Soledad O'Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group

4. Conquer self-doubt with self-love.

"Before we can 'lean in' or 'have it all,' we have to prioritize self-care through self-love. Focusing on self-love through positive self-talk and counteracting the negativity and doubt that we commonly fall into as women will remove the roadblocks that hold us back from living optimally. I focus on being my best friend first before any professional achievement or leadership endeavor I may pursue. That opens my consciousness to be in the right headspace for success." -- Claudia Chan, Founder and CEO of ClaudiaChan.com and SHE Summit

5. Prioritize choices.

"There is no such thing as balance. It is a myth that lives where Unicorns live. It's important to prioritize choices. I have a couple of non-negotiables: including working out, meditation, and family time. I start my day at 5:00 a.m.. After about half an hour on meditation and reading, I go to the gym. I'm home by 7:00 a.m. and helping get the kids, husband and house going for the day. I try to be home by 6:00 p.m. and then it's technology free until the kids go to bed. I only get a couple of dedicated hours to them each day, so I try to do it without distraction. Some days I do great and others I fail miserably!" -- Susan Peterson, CEO of Freshly Picked

6. Make time to recharge.

"Take one day at a time. Make time to recharge, whatever that looks like for you. If I do not invest that time, the hours I spend working won't be as productive. I usually give myself Saturday mornings to relax (usually with a good magazine in hand). More importantly, I get energy from being around others, so I surround myself with friends and family -- whether it's an early morning walk with friends or a dinner with my husband." -- Alexa von Tobel, Founder and CEO of LearnVest.com and New York Times-Bestselling Author of Financially Fearless

(This article first appeared on Huffington Post by yours truly.)