It"s All in Your Definition ... or Is It Really Time

Can women have it all?  Can Marissa Mayer be a "successful" mom and turn Yahoo! around?  How can you determine if you are a "happy employee?" These are questions that have generated some serious conversation in the past several weeks. Although I find the discussions very interesting, my response always comes back to the same place: it depends on your definitions of "having it all," "successful mom," or "happy employee." Just in my own circle of colleagues and friends, I hear very different definitions.

Shifting Focus

One of my friends was an accomplished and very well-respected social worker in a healthcare setting. She prided herself on staying current on the latest research while meeting the emotional needs of her patients and their families. That was her definition of "success"... until her son was born. She became a stay-at-home mom with a new definition of success that includes volunteering at school, managing a well-rounded household, and having a healthy, thriving family.

Staying the Course

Contrast my friend's definition of success with what has been written about Marissa Mayer. Rather than leaving the workforce when her child is born, she intends to take only a few weeks' time off and work during her family leave. Therefore, one has to surmise that Ms. Mayer has a different definition of success. Her definition of success may look more like having no or little impact on her work as a result of having a baby. (I must admit that if she can pull it off, I'll be in awe. My definition of success after the birth of my daughter was getting three hours of sleep in a row and remembering to shower some time during the day.)

Charting Your Own Course

On the other hand, I know a woman who has a very responsible position and is well-respected in her field but that is not what defines success for her. Her definition changes over time but usually centers around her latest personal goal - whether that is becoming a private pilot (which she did) or getting her candidate into office (we'll see how that turns out in November).  Success for this family member is directly connected to having the time to do what is important to her.

Key Factors for Any Path

Time. Perhaps that is the consistent variable among all of these women. Time to spend with your new son, time to put your energy into your new role as CEO, time to climb the corporate ladder, or time to learn to fly or to campaign. If you have the time to pursue what is most important to you at that particular time in your life, I imagine you would feel "successful".

Opportunity. I think this must also be the other consistent variable. We can probably all think of people who had plenty of time but no opportunity to pursue their passions or had a variety of opportunities if they could only find the time to pursue them. So, time and opportunity go hand in hand.

Although your definition of success over time may change, if you have the time and opportunity to pursue that definition - whatever it is - you have a pretty good chance of feeling like you're "successful" or "happy" or "having it all". Perhaps we just need to give each other the space and support to define and redefine our own success measures.  Could one woman's "dismal failure" be another woman's definition of "having it all?". Has your definition changed over time? What changes have you made in life or work to accommodate your current definition of success?  

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.