I’ve always struggled to define what “having it all” means to me. In college, I am thrust into situations that either fortify or shatter this optimistic desire as a young woman with professional aspirations and who also adores wearing makeup and developing an outward style. My tiger parents have made it easy for me to envision my 40-year-old self as a prominent career woman, subtle fashionista, grounded wife and mother, dutiful servant of God, and loyal friend to all. However, as inspirational as it is to imagine a limitless future, unforgiving deadlines and our culture that demands urgency of thought and action always wake me up from this daydream. And I am always left slightly exasperated with what feels to be little progress to show for the overwhelming fatigue. I never feel as though I have achieved balance.
Over time, I am understanding more and more that perfect balance at any given moment is nearly unattainable. The professional dialogue surrounding work-life balance drives me crazy because no one seems to have mastered this ideal harmonious state. Instead, I challenge both women and men to strive toward being whole as human beings across our lifetimes. While it is very important for men to wear many hats, it is especially critical for young women to realize that we have time: minutes to make yourself feel pretty in the morning, months to study and prepare to enter the workforce, and years to nurture personal relationships (if these things are important to you). There’s coveted protected time meant just for ourselves. There’s time we must devote to overcoming unforeseen hardship. And in this quest to “manage time,” we must sometimes replace perfection with being good enough. We must determine multiple avenues to realizing our bigger goals. We must cherish each other and the beauty of uncertainty that really is the only stabilizing force in our world.
I write as somewhat of a hypocrite, because if you’ve gotten to know me, you must have been able to easily disregard the California girl façade and recognize the Type A control freak that too often characterizes how I function from day to day. Sometimes I am naturally naive and clumsy, and I confess that these characteristics can serve as a crutch for me as well as many other women to get ahead. However, I am often persistent and demanding when in pursuit of my academic endeavors, and these traits generally do not aid women in the workplace and have had mixed results for me. Career coaches often encourage you to develop your own personal brand, yet I consistently fail to streamline all of the dimensions of my identity into a marketable persona. Various people in my life have pushed me toward assuming one role more than others, but doing so would fail to fully appreciate my worth. I now work toward embracing my idiosyncrasies with less self-doubt and considering myself worthy of love, so that I may in turn affirm others of their same worth.
I thought I would be writing about my experiences at the Women in Surgery International Conference I attended this spring break in Orlando. Although meeting and hearing from women who have significantly advanced in the field gave me courage and hope that this dream of nearly “having it all” isn’t as elusive as I had previously thought, I more importantly come away from the week with gratitude. Thankfulness for the privilege of a challenging education and future training to help others regain health and spirit. And a sense of obligation not to delay in serving others at every step of my journey. “Having it all” is out of my hands, but if all that matters are people, I succeed if they walk away better for having met me.