Can women have it all?

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2003-02-03T18:43:00Z
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Good evening and thank you for inviting me to
participate in tonight’s discussion.  I
am delighted to be here.

Four years ago, I left my 6-figure
salary, my office with a view, and my prospects for partnership behind in order
to embrace a new life that is focused on my family. 

But even though I gave up all of
those things, I can tell you that I am living the most satisfying life that I
could ever have imagined.

How does that work?  How can a woman possibly be satisfied with
her life if she’s not juggling 14 hour days handling Fortune 500 clients with
dirty diapers, doctors visits and school
schedules? 

Well, I think it’s because I don’t ask myself
simply whether I have it all.  I ask
“what does it mean to live a good life?”

 

“What’s the difference?”

 

Well, that’s what I’m going to explain.

 

Americans spend a lot of time trying to figure
out what it means to have it all.  What is
the proper balance between work and family?
Is the Ford Expedition big enough, or do I really need the
Suburban?  We think that having it all is
the hallmark of a successful person.

 

But what does it mean to say that a successful
person is one who has it all?  What is
says to me is that we are really confused about what it means to be a person  - successful
or otherwise. 

 

We are confused for a couple of
simple reasons: 

First, because we have
pushed the concept of freedom to its outermost limits, we have reduced freedom
to being able to do or have whatever we want whenever we want it.  We see freedom as the absence of restraints
other than those we choose to accept.
Thus, since we are meant to be free, we are meant to have whatever we
want whenever we want it.

Second, as a people, we are
extremely affluent.  Most of us in this
room believe that — over time — there is very little that we won’t be able to
afford, whether we actually need it or not.
As a result, we are very distracted by the quest for things, and we
typically view any form of deprivation as a resource problem – not a problem
that pertains to our very humanity.

When we live this way, the quality
of our lives is determined by our happiness.
If we are happy, then our lives are meaningful.  If not, then it’s time for a change.

 

In our search for happiness, we
make lists of the things we think we need.
We need food, clothing, shelter, but not just any food, clothing and
shelter.  We don’t want just PLAIN pizza,
we want TOPPINGS!  We also need love,
understanding, respect, and fun.  The
list goes on and on.

One
difficulty with this approach to life is that the biggest question we ever wind
up asking ourselves is — “how do I keep it all going.”  We don’t ask whether this is the right
way to live? 

Another
difficulty in living this way is that you can’t account for things that don’t
go your way.  When you don’t get the
right job, get the next promotion, find the man of your dreams and live happily
ever after, you are stuck with the bitter realization that for all of your
planning, managing, and running around, you still don’t have it all.

And here’s the real kicker — even
if you do accomplish all the things you set out to accomplish, or get
all the things you set out to have, there is a really good chance that you will
discover that you are still missing something.

As
I prepared for this roundtable, I took stock of the last 4 years of my life
having left my career behind.  I asked
myself the usual questions
Do
I have what I think I should have?  What am I missing?  Am I happy?

I
was shocked to discover that – even though I no longer have a career, and my
husband and I don’t have it all — I am more satisfied with my life than I
could ever have imagined and I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Wow.  How can that be?  

Well,
the best way I can think of to express it is that my struggles, and the
struggles I share with my husband, have tremendous meaning because we are
building something that is bigger than we are.
We are creating something that is absolutely critical for the welfare of
people other than us – individually and as a couple.   And, in building this, we see that, at any
given time, our wants and desires tell only part of the story – and
usually not even the most important.  

 

We
really do regularly have to give up what we want for ourselves in order to have
something better for our family.  I’ve
given up my career for the benefit of our family, but my career, while it was
good, was not as good as my family is. 
Ado gives up his entire
salary, week after week, for the benefit of our family.  He could have remained single, or insisted
that we hire a nanny or limit the number of children we had.   Other men do that.  But, this is better. 

 

Neither one of us has held anything back – and because we are doing
this together, we can experience genuine satisfaction, confidence, and joy in
the worthiness of our sacrifices. 

 

But how do you live a good
life?

For thousands of years,
philosophers have tried to answer this question for us.  Our generation has embraced a very
materialistic approach to living a good life – a good life is one where you
have what you want and are free to enjoy it in the way that you choose. 

This vision of a good life is
fundamentally unsatisfying, however, for anyone who is really honest.  A good life is about more than what we have
or what we do – it is about how we live.

A
GOOD LIFE IS A LIFE LIVED IN THE ACTIVE PURSUIT OF HUMAN EXCELLENCE. 

We — as a people — are really
challenged in the human excellence department.
Why?  Because we think of
ourselves as pretty nice people, and because we work pretty hard, we believe
that we already have achieved human excellence, and we’re satisfied.   Since we are lacking a more authentic vision
of human excellence, we don’t even see that we actually embrace mediocrity and
call it excellence. 

According
to Aristotle, you cannot live a good life without virtue, because the
foundation of human excellence is virtue.

Unfortunately for us, though, since
we take a subjective approach to defining virtue, we are easily confused when
we are presented with a variety of goods to pursue. 

We have difficulty properly
ordering our lives because we simply don’t know what should come
first.   How important are my interests,
my needs and my desires relative to the interests, needs and desires of
others?  What is the standard by which I
can judge?

A subjective approach to virtue is
fundamentally wrong because virtue and goodness are objective realities that
cannot be limited by our vision of them.

GOODNESS DEFINES US; WE DO NOT
DEFINE GOODNESS.
 

There are some things that
are absolutely better than others, even if both are good.   It is absolutely better for a woman to raise
her own children than it is for a nanny or daycare provider to do so.  This may require a woman to give up something
that she holds dear.  But that is the
price of living a good life.  The
question is not really what choice a woman should make, but rather, is
she willing to make it?

 

With
respect to this evening’s questions, I am going to suggest something radical.

STOP WORRYING ABOUT TRYING TO
HAVE IT ALL
.  FOCUS INSTEAD ON DOING
WHAT IS RIGHT
. 

Ladies, I suggest that the proper
goal for your life is living a good life – not having it all.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t push
yourself to your limits – reach for high places, or expect great things.  Just the opposite.  What this means is that you should always keep
human excellence as your target — you cannot aim any higher than that. 

You may have to give something up,
or live with something you’d rather be rid of.
But therein lies the rub – learning to
sacrifice that which you want in order to achieve something that is
authentically good is the ultimate challenge of human excellence. 


It
seems to me that the biggest obstacle to human excellence that women face today
is a self-serving dishonesty that prevents them from seeing things the way they
really are.   We tell ourselves all kinds
of pretty lies that make us feel better about ourselves and our decisions. 

 

            We
are commemorating today the 30th anniversary of one of the  ugliest lies ever
told – the lie that an unborn child is not a person with an inalienable right
to life.   In the
United States alone, approximately 40
million women have embraced this lie.
They have treated having an abortion like having an abscessed tooth
pulled – they have told themselves that the child is not a child at all, but
rather a little blob of unhealthy cells that needs to be removed.  

 

            The
damage that the lie does only begins with the abortion itself,
though.  Years later, when the woman, for
whatever reason, is forced to confront the lie, she discovers the true cost for
her dishonesty. 

 

The
child she aborted really was a child – maybe it was the only child she would
ever be able to conceive.  And now,
rather than suffering through an unwanted pregnancy, she has to live with the
knowledge that she killed her unborn child.
In the end, the lie that this woman told herself does not set her free –
it enslaves her to unending regret, sadness, and anger. 

The demands of your dignity and of
the dignity of the people in your life cannot be shoved aside just because you
think that they ask too much of you.
Your happiness is important, but it cannot be purchased at the expense
of the truth.  You cannot be a person of
excellence, truly free, truly good or truly happy unless you live in accordance
with the truth.

For
the men here tonight, I issue a different challenge.  Step up and assume the responsibilities that
are properly yours .
You are called by nature above all things to be men of good character,
men of excellence.  Be those men.

With respect to women, behave now
to the women in your life as you would want your daughter’s prospective
husbands to behave – keep their best interests at heart, regardless of the cost
to you.

When you marry, marry a woman who
is your equal – someone who will challenge you in all the right ways.  Provide for her the love and support that she
needs in order to grow as a woman- really.
Take account of her gifts, and talents, and encourage her.  But help her to overcome her shortcomings
too. 

If the challenge of human
excellence seems daunting, do not be afraid.
Our lives are meant to be difficult.
We are meant to struggle.  We are meant
to climb high mountains, to right grievous wrongs, and to love people that we
don’t even like.  It is in doing these
things that we embrace excellence and live a good life.  And, it is in living this way that we embrace
the full potential and dignity of our humanity and empower ourselves to endure
any form of deprivation.

This is the only place to start in
determining whether it is possible to have it all.  And I sincerely believe that when you
look your duty in the face, you will find that it is a friend, as I did.

Thank you.

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