38, R&D innovation manager
divorced, twins (age 6)
What does “having it all” mean to you? "Having it all" means I am successfully able to balance and juggle all the roles I play, bringing value in each one of these roles. I am not so sure as I wear my many hats that I do so with balance, but I definitely try to bring value. Some days, I am a great mother and some days, I am a not so good mother. Some days I am a better friend and some days, I just can’t be the type of friend I want to be or that my friends need me to be. The same can be said about all my roles in life.
"Having it all" also means that I am living on purpose and operating knowing that purpose will create opportunities for its accomplishment. When I am fulfilling what I was created to be and do, everything seems easy to do. Having It All is so easy. However, when I am operating off purpose, I struggle to complete and do everything. I’m not at my best because I am not doing what I was predestined to do.
What have been the greatest challenges and rewards of Black woman with a phD? I always say that the PhD is a blessing and a curse. Earning the distinction as the fourth black person in the oldest materials science and engineering department in the country is noteworthy in itself. In 2004, I was trailblazing to get the terminal degree at the age of 26. But while the PhD as a terminal degree should open doors, this is not always the case for a black woman with a PhD. There are so many stereotypes and biases about Black women that have to be dealt with on a consistent basis that it becomes necessary to make others feel comfortable with who I am, probably more than others have to with similar degrees and training. Sometimes this requires me to bring less of my authentic self to make others feel comfortable which is quite an energy drain.
Where do you get your energy from? My kids inspire me. They didn’t ask to be here. So when I feel tired, I remember that I do what I do for them to have what I had as a child and more. My Mom inspires me. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor who is living with congestive heart failure and type-2 diabetes. So when I want to complain, I look at her as a shining example of perseverance and strength. My role models, mentors, and accountability partners inspire me. They all have accomplished such great things in their own way. They serve as constant reminders to me that there is not one route to accomplishing greatness. Each of us will define our own path toward our definition of success.
Three words that describe me:
Passionate. Confident. Strong.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
51, founder of sustainable textiles and apparel company
single, two daughters (age 12, 15)
What does it mean for you to have it all? It means that for the most part I am happy. This seems only to be attained through risk-taking and experimentation in work; life adventures and love shared, gained, lost, spoiled and remembered. It means having the bravado to believe that you can actually make a difference in this world—motherhood, art, design and an ecologically-sound, rich and diverse community and life.
What has been the most rewarding about motherhood? There are too many rewards, with no gauge for how to qualify them. From the amazing intimate physical connection with my girls as babies, to all our bonding throughout their lives, especially as a single mom. Observing, role-modeling and letting them discover, fail and develop into prosperous young citizens. This motherhood experience has forever changed me for the better.
How does your work feed you personally? To be creative and productive—making goods that not only appeal to people, but benefit their well-being and the planet as an ethically- and ecologically-beneficial business. This is food for my soul. I know that if I continue to grow my small company with love and dedication to its ethos, I can support more clean jobs and healthy agriculture. I love the people-connections with all its rich lives and stories and lessons. I never stop learning through my work. And, my daughters seem genuinely proud of their mom’s work—which is the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
52, floral designer/product developer
married, two kids (age 7, 14)
What does “having it all” mean to you? "Having it all" used to be about being recognized in my career and looking like I was really on-pointe. "Having it all" now is much more holistic than it used to be. It’s about finding new things that keep me curious and engaged.
Previously, I never had space for being creative. Now I have found one thing I love—floral design—but I think there’s lots more out there. I’ve stifled my creativity as I’ve grown my career and being in the midst of motherhood. I just want to see what I can do. The difference is that now I am not afraid to find those things and worry about too much change. Change is what’s going to keep me alive and well. If it’s something that’s not working well, I can change it. We all have that power to change.
What are you current goals? They’ve changed a ton. My whole journey has been about exploring—trying to figure out what I want as I get older. What do I want my relationship with my husband to be? How are we going to have the next half of our lives be fun, committed and together? Now that our kids are getting older, how do we make our time together worthwhile for our personal satisfaction and for our relationship too? I lost my parents recently, and seeing the circle of life has created an new awareness for me.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
40, assistant professor/architectural historian
married, two kids (age 4, 7)
What does "having it all" mean to you? Having it all means being able to do scholarly, domestic and political work in a way that is fulfilling to me and benefits others—whether it is my students, people who read my writing, the wider world or my family. I often think of Anne-Marie Slaughter's reference to the idea that "You can have it all; you just can't have it all at once." As a temporary salve, this credo is helpful when I feel impatient or frustrated that demands in one sphere of life are preventing me from being fully attentive to another.
But ultimately, I think "having it all" isn't just a personal matter but a political one. At a broader level, having it all would mean implementing workplace and government policies, as well as working towards changes in cultural attitudes, to support equality between men and women, and people of different races and sexual orientations. It's not just about instituting "flexibility" or "family-friendly" policies, though paid parental leave and subsidized child care would help. Too often such policies simply affirm the lifestyle and productivity of a single, childless male, seeing anything that deviates from this "norm" as deficient and needing of "accommodation." For that and a host of other reasons, I'm very interested in the idea of "wages for housework," as Silvia Federici has written, as well as in historical precedents in collectivizing and reorganizing domestic work.
What is it like to be married to someone who does the same type of work as you? We used to run a design practice together before we had kids, but now we work more independently, which means there is more explicit negotiation about whose job will take priority at any given time. My husband shares many domestic duties, and we definitely co-parent, but we also joke (and sometimes don't joke) about how there is asymmetry in every parenting relationship we know, even the most progressive, including ours. I have hired every babysitter we have ever used, and manage the childcare schedule, and I think this is true in 95% of families I know.
Going back to the idea of not "having it all" all the time, the particular fluctuations in flexibility and intensity of an academic career mean that at some points, my husband is the primary parent and domestic worker (for example, the summer when I finished my dissertation). At other points, I am.
Still, I often joke, that I wish I had a wife—the person that is thanked in the acknowledgements of old academic books for having "typed my manuscript"—someone who would take care of all the dishwashing and cleaning so that I could focus on reading, writing, teaching and spending quality time with my family.
What do you want your children to learn from you about your balance of work and family? Devotion to family, high standards in both work and family life, personal perseverance, but also attentiveness to social structural inequalities—for instance, the solution isn't just "leaning in." That is baloney.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
38, urban planner/attorney
married, 7 year-old daughter
What does “having it all” mean to you? I think there is no such thing as having it all. Being human means confronting hardship and not getting everything and we set ourselves up for disappointment if we think we will have it all.
If I think about what I would want the phrase to mean or how it could be used in a positive way, I think about balance. It is not possible to do everything well, and be present, so you have to let some things go. Being a parent makes you more who you are. When your capacity is limited the essential things that are most important to you become really clear.
I want to live in a community where racism doesn't exist and am tempted to spend a ton of time and energy looking for a school that has a perfectly diverse student and faculty population with a good socioeconomic mix. But the truth is that my daughter will grow up in a racist world. So I try to assess which choices are worth agonizing over and which activities I want to be engaged in.
I know that I love my work, friends and family and I also like to be alone. Balancing those things, staying engaged in the world and letting go has been my process toward having the life I want to live.
What about your work changed when you became a mom? Everything. I think that parenting in a society that is anti-child and woman means that unless you are insanely wealthy, you face ongoing trade-offs. I think the reason so many women I know freelance or consult is because there is very little institutional support for working mothers in this society. After my daughter was born I went back to grad school, which was a fabulous way to spend time with her, work some and create a path to another career. However, it was a very expensive way to find balance as a new mom. After spending a year in Spain, I wish we had more options for parents to balance life and work in the country.
What makes you complete? Books. Every book contains an entire universe. I am a compulsive reader. I no longer let myself read at night because I will stay up as long as necessary to finish something if it grabs me.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
40, clinical social worker
married, three kids (ages 5, 7, and 9)
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this idea changed over the years for you? I’m very relationship-driven so basic human needs aside, having it all to me means having genuine connection with family, friends, work, community, and self with the very important caveat of not expecting to have it all at one time.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve started to realize and accept that the scales are never balanced for long, if at all, and to be okay with that. Realizing limitations and honoring efforts. That’s the goal for me at least. I’d be lying if I said I was always Zen about having it all, but I try.
What’s the hardest thing you had to change about yourself when you became a mom? The hardest thing I had to change about myself when I became a mother was learning how to not lose my sense of self. I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. But, in this role it’s easy to forget about yourself and when you do remember it can sometimes feel selfish or wrong to prioritize your needs above those of your children or partner.
It’s such a cliché, but I have to put the oxygen mask on first so I can be a more patient mother, be more present in my marriage, be a more effective social worker, be a better friend – and last but not least, stay sane.
Where does work/career fit in your life? From the time I first started out in social service until I had my own children, the youth that I served sometimes felt like my children. They were top of mind for me after work and on weekends. They came from the most desperate of situations. They were high risk and I worried a lot about them. Would they stay safe that night or would they self-harm? What is CPS going to do about that referral and what does it mean for that child, that family? This work can really consume you if you don’t find ways to take care of yourself. After having my own children, I had to learn how to tuck away my work at the end of the day for the sake of self-preservation, so I can continue to do what I love and what I feel is important in this world.
Three words that describe me: Shy. Sensitive. Stubborn.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
42, fashion retail consultant
separated, son (age 10)
What does “having it all” mean to you? It’s when me and my son are succeeding. A partner isn’t important to me these days. It’s just not in my head. It’s about me and succeeding at being independent.
What are your current life and professional goals? My goal right now is finding stability. Finding a a job that I can be happy in. It’s not just the money—it’s working around people who are understanding of my situation as a mom and can relate. You have to be a mom to understand. We all go through the same challenges and struggles.
What’s your favorite mom moment that you would recreate everyday if you could? The commute to school. It’s quality time together, just relaxed and talking. It’s downtime, just me and him. After the rush of the morning, we get in the taxi or train and then walk. This time is precious.
Portrait by Etienne Fang
single, daughter (age 7)
What does it mean for you to "have it all?" People go through life seemingly fragmented into pieces of themselves that are divided into past, present and future. This disuniting of experience seems to blend organically in my 40's keeping me in an inhabitance that ultimately leads to a more grounded sense of self – my core becoming the epicenter in which everything easily gravitates to.
Why was it important to you to have a child? Love. I wanted to love like I never had, I wanted to experience this innate love. I wanted to strip away myself for the sake of another. And this love, this sacrifice is only met through the experience of a child. I wanted to be naked, selfless, determined, instinctually passionate. I knew I had something to learn from that of a first born being. And she is my greatest teacher.
What's the hardest thing about being a single mom? Having to do it all. I tell people that at the end of the day if I could just pay someone a one hundred dollars to brush my daughter's teeth I would!
How does your work feed your life? And vice versa? Imagination. I was born with a predisposition to share what tales I see in my mind. Visions of everyday words flashing through my consciousness turned stories. To get lost in a world that only belongs to me, a birth of thought to share is what feeds my life, and to have others make a connection to themselves through a vision I create.
What makes you complete? Images that I create, stories I tell. Overall my tiny child, because she is ultimately and wholly my muse.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
married, two kids (age 10, 13)
What does "having it all" mean to you? I think it’s all about feeding the different parts of myself, and having (as much as possible) it to be perfectly balanced. Which means that I like to do a little bit of everything every day; but there’s a luxury to that and I don’t take that for granted. I always talk about that idea of wakudoki and that completely holds true. Having it all as both a designer and a mom means how do you get up excited every day and do the things that make your heart beat. So that means having a plan to do sometimes amazing (and sometimes very ordinary) things alone, with friends and with my kids and family, but then allowing for the possibility of surprises and those moments of wonder that take you elsewhere and ultimately inspire you.
Talk about what motivated you to start your salon dinner gatherings? I’ve always liked bringing people together, but not just casually. There’s something about creating a spark and the alchemy about intuition you have if two different friends or colleagues meet, that i find intriguing and rewarding. But what really motivated me is I had done an apprenticeship at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and I wanted to both practice some of the things I learned and I don’t think my husband really thought I could cook for 10+ guests. So really, that was the initial real impetus -- to show him I could. And then as soon as I start on something, I want to perfect it as much as possible. But not so much perfect it, as see where a basic idea of gathering can actually go. How do you make it special, give it your own signature? It’s just like making collections of clothes, only the ingredients are different.
What makes you complete? I think I simultaneously feel absolutely complete, because I really do get to do everything I want to do. But complete? Unfortunately or fortunately, I always want to be more do more. Remember Dead Poet’s Society? "That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” I have many; have contributed many verses, but still have many more to discover and write.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
43, design strategist, married
What does "having it all" mean to you? It's a perspective and aspiration that sounds to me as one rooted in privilege. It's not a sentiment that I am striving for. For me, it is about becoming aware of and creating moments of happiness, and being present in those.
What are your goals at the moment? I would like to be able to clearly speak to my passion. I am always curious to learn new things and what's possible, but at times I find that I may hear others louder than what my inner voice is trying to let me know.
I find myself at times on paths that don't feel right and would like to be able to recognize those moments sooner, have a clear understanding of why it doesn't feel right and then be able to make it a conscious choice of whether to continue along or how to course-correct.
I would like to continue to connect the things I do more closely to what's at the core for me. I also want to remember that I often have choices that I can create and make. That is something I'd like to appreciate more.
Portrait by David Gifford
37, partner at a global investment management firm
married, 2 kids (age 3, 7)
What does it mean for you to "have it all?"
To me, having it all means doing my best to balancing my family, my job and my charity work. It is recognizing that time is a zero sum game and sacrifices will need to be made. It is accepting that I will never be able to fully devote enough time to all three causes. It is making thoughtful choices and being at peace with the decisions I’ve made. I’d be lying if I say juggling everything is easy because it is unexpectedly difficult.
The scarcity of time is my biggest challenge. In an attempt to manage competing demands, I focus on the task at hand and make the most strategic use of my time.
First and foremost, I’m a mom and a wife. I am fortunate to have two happy, healthy and mischievous boys, and a husband who has always gone above and beyond to support my ambitions. They are the core of my being. They give meaning to my life. They take priority.
Professionally, I have over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry. I am fortunate to have a successful and rewarding career. My job is demanding – long hours with extensive travel, but I have a fair amount of flexibility over my schedule. While I spend a disproportionate amount of time at work or on the road, I’m with my kids when I need to be and can still get my work done remotely.
Outside of that, I contribute to many local charities with children’s and educational causes being the dearest to me. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to give back and make a difference. Selfishly, when I give my time and energy to others, I just feel good — about myself and my community.
What is the hardest thing you learned about yourself when you became a mom?
Maternal guilt is real, pervasive and persistent. I never feel like I’m a good enough at anything. I struggle with family vs. work proprieties. I constantly doubt my decisions. I feel like I never measure up to anyone’s expectation. While this inordinate amount of guilt is with me always, I’ve learned to better manage it. I’ve learned that only I can define what the best version of my life looks like. I learned that I can’t be everything to everybody. I learned to be brutally honest with my strength and shortcomings. I learned that when it comes to work-life balance, there’s no such thing as perfection. I learned to be extremely grateful for what I have.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
39, interior organizer/stylist
married, two kids (age 5, 7)
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this idea changed over the years for you? I believe that "having it all" is equal parts wanting what you have and being clear on what you need in order to live a full life. I do my best to actively reflect on how fortunate I am, and also to define my core values and priorities in a meaningful way. As I've gotten older, I've realized I have both the opportunity, and responsibility, to design the life I want, and that I need to take ownership over how I invest my time, energy, and resources.
How does your work feed your personal life — and vice versa? I have created my own career path by founding a creative business which merges my interests in motherhood, minimalism, organization, and style. I feel extremely fortunate that my business feeds so many of my core values and provides the opportunity to engage, create, and connect with other women and mothers.
I used to feel quite guilty about wanting to work or recharge instead of being exclusively home with my girls, but now I see it as an opportunity to demonstrate what's possible - I want them to know that they can achieve anything they put their minds to - build their own businesses, create something from scratch, design their own schedules, support themselves financially. Also, because my work energizes me, I come home genuinely recharged and excited to spend time with my kids.
What gives you energy and inspiration? Even with the constraints of social obligations, work and kids, I believe it is possible to carve out some time and space for the things that light you up. I am constantly inspired and energized by connecting with my amazing and talented friends, many of whom are juggling motherhood and creative careers. I also get energy from challenging myself, venturing out of my comfort zone and exploring new things. As my kids get older and more independent I feel an increasing amount freedom to dive into these things both with and without them.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
40, strategic communications strategist
married, daughter (almost 1)
What does it mean to you to "have it all?" Having it all—I think about it now way more than ever. I didn’t know what people even meant by it before. I used to think it was feminism gone awry. But now I really do think about it in my own way. It means being able to maintain my identity as Naomi, not just as my daughter’s mother. It’s about maintaining that identity via the pursuit of all the things that interest me. But I donI't aspire to have it all, I just don’t want to be compartmentalized. I want all of these things about who I am to work together and make sense.
Talk about your long journey to motherhood. My husband and I have been together since 1999. We both wanted kids, so we went to see a geneticist about thirteen years ago and discussed options for natural or IVF. All this was very new at the time and it sounded like a miracle that we could have a healthy baby. That was just the start. We are both high achievers and wanted to have everything in line before having a child. We ended up having her a lot later than we’d wanted.
What did you expect being a mom to be like? A lot of what I know has been intensified. Anything superlative that I was told before I had a child, I was not buying into it. These sweet moments defy expectations. The love is out of this world and it keeps growing....I'm like "oh shit, this is so big."
Portrait by Etienne Fang
40, artist/waitress, single
What does "having it all" mean to you? The truth is, is that I don't feel like I have it all. But my focus has shifted in the last few years. I don't feel like having it all is what will bring me happiness. What has made me feel content lately is being grateful for what I do have and finding balance. And I don't have it all. I have some. And I love it.
I love where I live, not my own house but a big house in Berkeley that is the hub of a very large and dynamic community of people with a constantly revolving set of activities. I do have a studio where I can make art and I am so grateful for that. I sell and show my art work on a regular basis which allows me to feel a measure of success in my profession as an artist.
I don't have kids, but I never really wanted them. This is a point of some insecurity with me because our society teaches women that to fulfill your life as a woman you must have children. I never subscribed to that. I knew from the earliest age that I was artist and that is what I wanted to manifest in life.
And I'm doing it. Am I rich? Far from it. But I've arranged my life so that I have the resources and time to feed my creativity and express it. This is where I channel my energy. And I suppose that is a form of riches.
Portrait by Anneli Nygards
44, communications stylist
married, twins (age 7)
What does “having it all” mean to you? I don’t really think about whether I have it all, so that question is tough for me. Rather, I do check in with myself and assess if an area of my life needs a little more nourishing. I have enjoyed great careers as an author, communications expert, PR maven, UNICEF staffer and teacher; I have travelled extensively and explored most wine regions across the globe. You don’t have to subscribe to just one way of living for your entire life. Everything changes, and you can create that change.
What was the hardest thing you learned about yourself when you became a mom? That I look at the world differently and my children are at the center of all my decision-making.
What drives your passion and excitement for work and life? In life, new adventures both far away and in my own neighborhood, inspiring individuals, long walks and trying something new regularly.
In work, I am a big believer in showing up your best self and having an internal check-in on what that means every morning. Sounds a little "self-help" but this keeps me in check.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
40, founder of lifestyle management service
partnered, son (age 7 months)
Interviewed the day before the birth of her son
How are you feeling right now? In less than 12 hours I’m having a baby. I am nervous and excited and a little elated. I am terrified because I am 39 years-old, and used to having autonomy. Will I be able to keeping him alive? It’s a lot of responsibility. But I feel as prepared as I can be.
What does “having it all” mean? For me, “having it all” is synonymous with a balance between contentment and accomplishment. Tomorrow is going to be the happiest day of my life—meeting the person I am happiest to meet. It will be on terms that are unprecedented. This might be the final piece of having it all.
How you did you decide to have a baby right now? The decision came purely from realizing my age. It’s something that I wanted to do, and the time for putting it off has come to the end. If I want to have a baby, I should just get on it, rather letting the decision be made for me. In tandem with my partner, we agreed that while we weren’t sure it’s the ideal time, we’ve been waiting for the ideal time for a long time. We’re not married, but it doesn’t mean we’ll never be. At this moment, getting married would be too much—eventually we’ll get to that. We don’t have a concrete plan, and I’m ok with that.
How do you think having a baby will change your life? I already feel he’s going to be amazing. It think it’s going to be exciting to take on responsibility – taking on someone’s entire life. To create the space for him to be the best possible him. This is just the biggest project I have taken on. It’s really frightening because I've never done this before, but I’m trusting it’s going to be good. This sense of confidence might disapper the minute he’s in my arms. He’s going to tell me what he needs.
Portrait by Naomi Abraham
Married, 5 year-old daughter
What does “having it all” mean to you? "Having it all" means feeling like my whole self is present. This is constantly changing for me since the birth of my daughter. My hope is that I can aware of the parts of me that are unfulfilled and try to keep them somewhat filled during this period of life that is so full.
What about your work changed when you became a mom? My financial responsibilities have changed significantly since the birth of our daughter and this has greatly impacted my work. I feel that I must prioritize paid work over artistic endeavors with the limited amount of time that I have. I also feel pulled to finding work that is during the day so that I can maximize the amount of time that I have with daughter – this means fewer evening rehearsals or performances. I have not had the time or energy to push forward big projects the way I did in the past.
How has the juggle of your priorities changed over the years? I'm not sure that my priorities have changed, but more that I have less time. The time I spend now with my family used to be spent writing music. They are both things I love, so in some ways it feels alright, but I do feel that I am missing a part of me when I am not composing.
Three words that describe me: Adventurous. Curious. Playful.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
43, photographer/graphic designer
married, three kids (ages 6, 12, 14)
What does “having it all” mean to you? "Having it all" means to really be in the things you are, and not to feel that you are missing out. It's better to do fewer things well—and whatever you choose put your passion in it. It has been hard to realise that I can’t do it all, but I’m getting there.
What do you think American women can learn from Swedish women about the notion of “having it all?” The Swedes are privileged to have a full year of parental leave. Most parents divide that length of time, which creates a sense of equality from the beginning. By sharing childcare responsibilities, it is also easier for women to maintain their careers. Being a parent is a lifelong project, and everything has its time. You can always make a career, but your kids are only small once. And this goes for both parents. I wish that the US could offer a longer parental leave for everyone.
What do you hope to capture by carrying your camera with you all the time? I almost feel empty when I don’t have my camera. I want to document memories for myself and other people. Photos are my diary. All these images help me remember. Mostly I want to photograph faces—all kinds of faces, young, old, faces I know and I don’t know.
Portrait by Anneli Nygårds
41, profession in progress, married
What does “having it all” mean to you? For me, having it all means the freedom to say "no". For most of human history, women did not have this choice. Our lives were very proscribed. Now we can choose to marry for love, have kids and be a corporate titan—or not. It's just one of many choices and life trajectories we have.
What’s the best thing about not having kids? My husband and I currently don't have kids. Life might be very different if we did, but it's all very hypothetical. For right now, I'm cherishing the relationship and community we've been able to nurture.
What makes you complete? Complete sounds so final. What happens when you reach completion? Where do you go from there? I am amazed at how life becomes ever richer. A few years ago my husband and I started gardening. Sometimes when we're both there, attending to the plants in tranquil silence, I think life could not get any more perfect. But maybe next year it will be birdwatching! There is always more to discover and to share.
30, yoga teacher/holistic health practitioner, married
What does “having it all” mean to you? "Having it all is" is the lie motivated women tell ourselves so we do not have to sacrifice any of our dreams. This lie keeps us hopeful, passionate, distracted, caffeinated—pushing our adrenal and nervous systems to the edge. And having it all is what I want.
I love my work, and I work for every penny I have. So I am fighting hard, we are fighting hard, to make enough, to smile enough, to be fit enough, to love enough, to be present enough, to contort ourselves into believing we are thriving when most of the time we are barely surviving. And we, the ones who want it all, the driven, the successful are often losing by burning ourselves out.
As women and mothers, we are asked to make many sacrifices with our time and bodies that men are not asked to make. Part of the desire to "have it all" feels like an ill-fated attempt to fight patriarchy, biological aging and re-write history of the domestication of women. It is ill-fated because we often pay the price in our personal health and happiness. And the backlash of the feminist movement is the expectation that women will have careers, financial independence, and break through glass ceilings. Yet we continue to disproportionally shoulder child-rearing and domestic responsibilities.
Three words that describe me: (A) fiercely compassionate mess.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
35, historian/PhD, engaged
What does “having it all” mean? Being able to make a living and find fulfillment doing whatever it is that I take pleasure in in my professional life. I think of the concept of "having it all" is such a problematic term and idea. Men don’t have to think about this problem. This “it" is not easily attainable unless you’re at a particular socioecomonic level.
What are the particular challenges for women in academia? In academia the climate is really unfavorable for women, especially for women who want to have children. You just have to pick. I have been advised, 'Do you want career or kids?' Like in any career, the most crucial time in your career is when you are having kids. For a lot of women, that’s when you should be having kids. If you have kids during the tenure track, you still only have three years on job. The system is staked for men to achieve it all—to have a family and a successful careers. I find myself wondering what this all means. Do I want to have a good career? Or do I want to be happy?
How do you think getting married will change things? I met my fiancé when I was 19 and we’ve been together ever since. We’ve been engaged for a really long time. I am kind of apprehensive about marriage. Part of me rejects that the state needs to recognize my personal life. Now as we are getting older, I am still a little resistant. I think that marriage makes sense from a tax perspective, for when we have kids, for health insurance—for really practical reasons. Deep down I am just a pragmatist.
in a relationship, daughter (age 6)
What does "having it all" mean to you? In my world, having it all means freedom—to explore the world and fill myself with all of its goodness. What that looks like as a professional is working from SF, NY, New Orleans, Bali, or wherever. Coffeeshops and poolside in tropical places are my favorite. It also means really satisfying my curiosity—as a lifelong learner, I am voracious. Right now, I am studying embroidery and augmented reality while writing 3 books, starting 1 company, participating in another, and founding a social investment fund.
As a mom, having it all means inviting my daughter to participate in my world--taking her to panels I'm on, traveling with her. Japan is our next adventure. It also means having and making time to be there for her summer camp xylophone performance.
Talk about the thrills and challenges of co-parenting.
Co-parenting comes with no challenges. My daughter's father (and now his girlfriend) are amazing. We spent the pregnancy working out a 16-page legal and, as importantly, philosophical agreement about how we were going to raise her as co-parents. It includes how we treat each other, how we educate her, her gap year after high school—as well as outlining how we split time. It's truly 50/50. We have a fabulous parenting relationship. And a lot of it owes to that document, as well as the intention and work that went into it. We've both lived into and lived up to what we created. He gets the credit for the idea. Best one ever.
What feeds your soul?
Music. Street art. Juicy fruit. Sunshine. Sparkly things. Long walks. Alone time. Fresh flowers. Silly puns. Big hugs. Bright colors. Great high heels. Learning. And love. I'm a romantic in all ways.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
36, women's lifestyle site editor
married, 3 kids (ages 3 months, 2, 8)
What does “having it all” mean to you? Before I had kids I think it meant travel, good relationships, business success, and financial security. After having kids though, I think I've started to give myself a break—especially after having my third child three months ago. I think right now it boils down to keeping my family happy and myself happy. If I can do those two things, it means I'm doing something right. Anything more than that is just a bonus.
How does your work feed your personal life? I create a lot of content for my site that's very personal like photos of our family outings or favorite family recipes. It's still work of course, but I like that my work pushes me to document interesting things, about think about capturing daily moments in a creative way.
What is the best thing you learned about yourself since becoming a mom? I remember looking at moms that had several kids and thinking that I wouldn't do well in chaotic situations like that. That having more than one or two children wasn't for me, despite growing up in a family with five other siblings. But since having another child and being thrown head-first into a chaotic family life, I've surprised myself with how little it stresses me out. I certainly have my moments—but two kids running around a post office with a third playing video games in the middle of the dirty floor doesn't really phase me anymore. I've definitely surprised myself with how I've been able to roll with it.
Portraits by Tara Rudolph
44, interior designer
married, twins (age 8)
What does it mean for you to have it all? For me, “having it all” means being able to do more than one thing with passion and feel satisfaction with the outcome—to balance parenting, work, love and friendship.
Where do you get your energy and inspiration from? My mother is an amazing source of inspiration. She lives in Antigua, Guatemala and together we have lived in many places all over the world. She taught me to embrace where you are, to engage in the culture and people and to always give back—something she does so beautifully. Energy comes from giving to others.
What was the hardest thing you had to change about yourself when you became a mom? Time—sharing it, giving it away, making more for everyone's needs. I shifted my life to care for my children when they were young. As my children have gotten older, I’ve refocused on work and personal passions.
Three words that describe me: Hopeful. Graceful. Creative.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
32, stay at home parent/book shop owner
married, two sons (age 2, 4)
What does "having it all” mean to you? "Having it all" has typically meant being a person that checks off every conceivable box. But, absolutely no one can have all of that—no one. Having "it all" by definition, is impossible. So, knowing that, I really feel more and more that "having it all' might actually come down to not having it all, and being okay with that.
This isn't to say I want to stop working towards the things I want in my life. But I want to work even harder to enjoy each day and be grateful for what I do have at this moment in my life, because it won't last forever.
Life is so short. And in the end, all that really matters is trying my best to be a good person. I know that if I put all of my efforts into chasing the unobtainable, all that I will be left with is frustration and exhaustion. If I can focus instead on trying each day to be better, kinder, more open, more grateful, I will end up having it all.
What is the best thing that motherhood has taught you? Motherhood continues to teach me many things, but one thing that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the sense of perspective it has given me. When my four year-old is lying on the ground crying his eyes out over not getting a second piece of candy to him, it is the absolute end of the world. I know that it isn't, but he can't see that because he doesn't have the perspective that I do.
I feel like this motherhood perspective has helped me to have more compassion towards friends and family with problems that might, to me, seem trivial. Even if I feel like I have a greater perspective than them, and know that what they are going through won't have any lasting consequence, I can still show them the same patience and understanding that I try to show my son; because to them, it is a real trial, and they deserve the same love that all of us desire.
How do you maintain your sense of self amidst the family?Maintaining a sense of self is very difficult when you are surrounded by your children all day. It is a task to find any free headspace at all in the day-to-day chaos. Having some kind of creative outlet is so important to my sanity and is also something I want my kids to see me cultivating.
Being a reader has proven to be especially helpful in maintaining my sense of self. It pulls me back towards an inner life and to real contemplation like nothing else can. It brings me back to the person I was as a child, as a younger adult, to the person I am now.
Portrait by Erik Heywood
40, filmmaker, single
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this idea changed over the years for you? Growing up, the idea of “having it all” was a feminist ideal whereby women could have kids and a career. I don't have kids, so maybe I'm not “having it all,” but I feel grateful that I can pursue my career as a filmmaker, and choose when or if to have kids. As a Buddhist, the idea of “having it all” is funny to me. If we're all one, we all have it all already.
How does your work feed your personal life? And vice versa? I have a video production company which funds my passion projects as a filmmaker. These films draw on stories from my personal life and help me find meaning in my life. My work as a filmmaker has influenced many choices from where I live to who I hang out with to what I do for fun. So for me, work and personal life are intrinsically intertwined.
What makes you complete? A balance of work, creative projects, friends and family, meditation, exercise, travel, art, nature, and self-exploration.
Portrait by Penda Diakite
48, hairstylist/salon owner
divorced, two kids (age 10,13)
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this changed as over the years? In the past it was having material items and lifestyle conveniences: beautiful homes, nanny, home chef, housekeepers, landscapers, decorators, luxury vehicles and vacation homes. Those things all seemed essential to having it all while I was married with small children. Leaving that lifestyle and entering into a simple and minimalist way of life freed me on every level. I was able to focus on my feelings and on my children without the distraction of so many people. All of these people in our lives prevented me from enjoying the life I wanted. Instead of simply enjoying my children, cooking, gardening, picking out the fruits and vegetables I wanted from the store, playing fetch with our dog—I had to spend hours delegating and negotiating with these various people in my life. It often included what was on the weekly menu, where the children should to go, when the dog should be walked, how the yard should be maintained, what events I would do with either child—you name it. I was constantly being told to go relax, but all I wanted to do were the very things they were hired to do for me.
Years later I got rid of everyone and moved into a smaller house taking only the nanny. At the time I thought that was pretty close to heaven. However, the husband was still there—needy like a hungry puppy, but less cute. Soon after I got rid of him too and I once again left everything of “value,” the car, the house, the nanny—I said, “see ya” to all of it. I moved into a small studio apartment where the children and I laughed, talked, and cared for each other. We were free to spend our days going to the beach and just being together, without all the external stress and chaos. Three years later I made one more move into the lovely home that I now own. In this home my children and I have everything we need and we live simply. I have structured a life that only has people and things in it that are supportive and life giving. There is no more nanny, chef, landscaper, housecleaner, or husband. It is heaven.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work as a hairstylist? Hair is very much like everything else I do. Much like with my children, it is the process of setting myself aside, being attuned into the needs of the other, and finding a way to support that need. People share their life with me and in return I try to give them something that is meaningful and makes them feel powerful. It is the part of them that seeks to achieve and thrive in this world that deserves the care I give.
I believe a well-supported woman can achieve anything. They say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Well it also takes a village in times of need to support women in thriving. I know this first hand in my own life. The women I have come to know inspire me and I am privileged to be part of their village of support. I often leave the salon feeling like I have been to an empowerment retreat. We owe it to ourselves to help one another grow—it’s wonderful.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
40, visual thinker/creative, partnered
What does "having it all" mean to you? Leading an intentionally beautiful life that’s not perfect. Having as much delight, pleasure and magic as possible. To always strive, since all you have is this one chance at living.
Had my family not left Vietnam, I wouldn’t have had a chance to live in a life that I can chose. Maybe I already have it all—all the rest are just extras. I remind myself to be extremely grateful. We are so lucky in our first world living. We already have it all and we just go for more.
What makes you complete? The feeling of adventure. Being a fish out of water in a foreign place is exciting to me. I’d love to have more travel incorporated into my work and life.
49, artist/art advisor
separated, 8-year old son
What does it mean to you to “have it all?” Happiness and love with my son, a dear small group of friends and family. Independence.
What is the best thing that motherhood has taught you? Endless boundless love. Patience not just with my son but with myself, and how I've matured from the experience.
How does your work feed your personal life? Painting and drawing feeds my soul—absolutely. But there is much more to it than that. Art creates challenges to push myself creatively and analytically. It offers time for historical understanding, cultural contexts for time, periods and places. And it is a catalyst for travel and true understanding of various movements that have occurred creatively—be it a political statement, scientific break, reaction to something that came before. It is my life.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson
41, writer/musician/model, single
What does "having it all" mean to you? At this point since it’s changed over the years, “having it all” is finding the balance to sustain myself physically and emotionally, while feeling a sense of creative fulfillment. I figured out a long time ago that I am a sensitive and creative person. I don’t belong in worlds in which creativity does not thrive. I get frustrated and anxious. Any kind of creative career is frustrating. But I realize the hand I’ve been dealt in this life is a great one.
What do being a writer, model and musician have in common? My creative fulfillment comes back to writing, my first love. I love the tangible quality of writing. A performance is a transition—it’s there and it’s gone. You never get that exchange of energy, it just becomes a memory. When I write, I’ve created something with a life of it’s own. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and worth. Being a musician and model have the same highs and lows. They are both presentation careers, a lot of appearance versus what they actually are.
What are your current goals? I’m not shying away from my age now. Moving into my forties has been a balance of my childlike wonder with adult responsibilities. I need to strike a better balance so I don’t lose myself in the mundanity of adulthood, but get better at 'adulting.' I don’t feel like my life has changed much in the twenty years since college. I am still single. I’ve never been forced to strike a work-life balance. I’ve never had a 9-5pm job. I’m terrified of the day I try to impose a structure. On one hand is a huge relief but it leaves me floundering. All of my purpose has to be self-motivated, self-manufactured. It’s both frightening and freeing.
36 stay at home parent
Married, four kids (ages 3, 5, 7, 9)
What does it mean to have it all?
To know who you are and love yourself for the things you do well—for your scars, and the suffering you have gone through. To love yourself, to have joy, to be grateful for your blessings. I am most happy when I am filled with love and surrounded by love. Focused on other people and people that edify me and care for me.
To have gratitude and contentment of self—recognizing we are these amazing beings filled with potential. And that it’s beautiful. There’s an intentional reason for diversity, differences and strengths.
What are your current goals? I am with my kids all day. I am trying to enjoy these little beings I get to be around right now—getting to know them, savoring this time that I know will go by so fast.
In the past year, I’ve been more religious. Being in tune with who I am. Recognizing the parts of me that are divine. Being with people and in places that make me feel closer to God. Love, warmth, a spark, and idea in my head my brain is ignited and curious. Studying religious things right now has ignited that I am a small being. I am one of six billion. And feeling that connection with other people, as well as my path forward, have re-invigorated me. I feel more purpose now in my life than ever before.
Portrait by Marielle Hayes
42, design thinker/innovation strategist
engaged, 3 step kids (age 6, 9, 11)
What does “having it all” mean to you? I thought I had it all, at least most of it. I was single, had a killer job, and I was living in London, feeling like a tourist in my own life. But life changes and we change with it. Seven years later, I’m a step-mom of three living in Chicago. Home outweighs the adventure of travel at the moment. So I’m not sure you can have it all, at least not at once—I miss elements of my life before, but they’re not compatible with life today.
So here’s my theory: I believe life is a bit like a raft in a river. As long as we’re solidly anchored by a few of the major things that make life valuable, we can have a rich life and don’t risk getting swept away by currents we can’t control. But we each have to do the work required to find the right combination of anchors that will keep us afloat and inspired at any given time. They don’t stay the same over time, I’m convinced. Or at least they haven’t for me.
What are the benefits and challenges to being the new stepmother of three boys? Going from single to a stepmom of three little boys was certainly an adjustment. But my fiancé has made it incredibly easy on me and the kids themselves have been wonderful and accepting since the first day I met them. I’m very grateful for that. They make me laugh, they surprise me, they are exhausting and they are charming. They were raised well in a big family full of various adults who guide them, so it was fairly easy to slip into the role of a bonus adult in their lives. I try my best to help them explore new ways to grow into the cool, smart, creative kids they are. And I try to wrangle electronics away in favor of books as much as I can.
What makes you complete? Today my main anchor is my funny, caring and all-around Superman of a fiancé. Everything in our lives is more fun and interesting with him, even if it is mostly endless runs to Home Depot for our never-ending house renovation.
The NY Times published a column a while back about things people realize when they’re in their 40s. My favorite part was this: “There are no grown-ups.... Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.” Everyone keeps learning and growing. And that’s awesome. I hope to stay porous and incomplete, always.
What does “having it all” mean to you? Throughout my twenties and thirties "having it all" meant having money, more fame and more senior titles. But in the past ten years, “having it all” has meant knowing when I have had enough. This means knowing the extent of what I can handle and what effects my life and my emotional wellbeing.
Why did you chose to not have a child? I chose not to have a child because I saw how much my mom worried about me and how much money she spent on my education. I also like to sleep. So the benefit of being married without kids is that I can sleep as late as I like on weekends. Also, I can quit my job to travel overseas when we want to. I can have more freedom to pursue our personal interests and be less concerned about our family's future.
What gives you energy? When you understand your own mind, you understand your own behavior, which helps you understand other people's behavior. Therefore, you will spend less energy figuring out people's problems. When you have more more energy, inspiration will come easily.
40, education administrator/consultant
married, 3 kids (3 months, 8, 12)
What does “having it all” mean to you? Instead of ‘having it all,’ I say more and more often that I have an incredibly full life. When my husband and I first embarked upon creating our new family, with me bringing my son, who was 7 at the time, and he bringing his daughter, then 3, we called our endeavor, ‘project: family,’ as it really felt like constant work—but beautiful work, our own family passion project.
Having our baby together less than a year after our wedding has shifted our ‘project: family’ into one that feels even more stable, still with lots of feelings and constant attention to dynamics; but also with deep, tangible love and stronger connections, especially with the kids. Our wedding last year was an apex of sorts and a beautiful circle, especially because I got to marry my homie from back in the day (we’ve known each other since high school), which feels magical, as if I had always been traveling to this place.
The fullness of my life is reflected also in my work. My job is a high profile position, which, fortunately allows for family flexibility. I also work outside of my job as an independent consultant. I am committed to work—even if very small contributions—that can support social justice and social change, which is important to me and also for my kids to see.
What did being a single mom teach you about yourself? How is it different now being married? Being a single mama gave me a huge sense of pride in what I can accomplish because of my resourcefulness, hard work and joyful devotion to my son. I finished grad school while working full time, was able to access resources and make big changes to better his education at several different points (which is no joke in NYC) and also made some smart real estate moves.
Having a baby with such a supportive, fully hands-on partner at 40 has allowed me to look back with wonder and appreciation at how I parented my older son for much of his early childhood all on my own. I’ve always had great support; but it was always just me with him as a baby at home, me doing all parenting work. Finding other single mama friends helped, especially when it felt extra lonely in the beginning.
As a single mom, I know that my son and I were just as much a family as any other. I reject the term and the idea of a ‘broken family,’ as well as the looks or words of apology or pity I received when folks discovered it was just him and me. I saw how little media and society reflected the depth and breadth and diverse realities of families, especially with over half of families being headed by single moms. I craved the stories, tools and resources, especially geared for families like mine. This is super important work that needs to be done: expanding the narrative of family, especially for families with single moms.
39, designer/founder/creative director of jewelry and art brand
married, two kids (age 4, 8)
What does "having it all" mean to you? “Having it all” to me means being able to live my life doing what I love and being surrounded by the people that I love. It is finding the right balance between my passion in work and my family. As a designer, it means being able to constantly create and make things that matter and have a purpose. As a mother, it’s about being present and in the moment with my kids, nurturing them, growing with them, and teaching them the importance of family, values, and traditions.
How does designing for yourself versus designing for clients fulfill you in different ways? Designing for my jewelry and art brand is one of the most gratifying things that I can ever do. My products celebrate my passion for the arts and design. It is a true form of expression and my creative outlet. However, it is also one of the hardest things that I have ever done. When you work for yourself, you never really stop working, so finding that balance of being an entrepreneur and a mom is very important. And keeping to it is no easy task. But, the love that I have for what I do definitely keeps me going.
It is also really important to me to continue working with others. I love having the balance between designing for my clients and for myself. I think it’s healthy to be able to shift my mindset from one project to another. I am a designer at heart, so being able to problem solve for multiple brands is a dream. It is most fulfilling when I know that I have helped a client bring their vision to life successfully.
What do you want your children to learn from you about your balance of work and family? Family is everything and so is following your dreams. I feel most content when I am able to balance the two. I want my children to grow up learning the importance of being close to family, having that everlasting bond, keeping our family values, and continuing our traditions. I hope that they can see the passion I put towards my work and that they will grow up doing what they love and believe in. I always tell them to follow their heart and that the possibilities are endless.
Portrait by Ashley Batz
39, artist/landscape designer, single
What does “having it all” mean to you? Having the freedom to be who you want to be.
How has this sense of "having it all" changed as over time? By experiencing a deep sense of self satisfaction slowly over the years.
How do your work and personal life feed each other? They feed each other by their organic evolving nature.
39, English professor/writer
married, 2 kids (age 2, 6)
What does “having it all” mean to you? How has this idea changed over the years for you? Having it all is something that I was convinced was possible for a long time--until I actually had children—often seen as a large part of "it all”. And then I understood something I wish I'd known before: you're given many things in life you never asked for, or even, never wanted. But most of the time, you choose what you keep. And that, in the end, is having it all.
What’s the hardest thing you learned about yourself when you became a mom?The hardest and most important lesson I've learned about myself as a mother is that I'm the most important person in the family. It's something that became clear in pregnancy—if I wasn't there, none of this would be happening. My life was literally determining someone else's. And it was hard to come to the fact that I'm important, because I feel I'm almost always working on someone else's behalf.
I've had to accept that I need to be an imperfect mom in order to stay a functional mom—I have to yell sometimes, I have to take breaks from my kids where I sit in a dark closet, I have to drink wine when it's wine time and I have to leave them for several days at a time to recharge and to work on my own happiness. When I leave them I might be doing something that many mothers feel is a failing, but what it means to me is that I'm able to have enough, and to be enough, especially for myself. My health and well-being is also theirs. This is a lesson I learn everyday.
How do you maintain your sense of self amidst the family? When you have children, you have to put pieces of yourself on a shelf. Some of those things will get really dusty before they come off that shelf. But others, I've realized, are important enough to make space for in my life. I can't have all the things on my shelf all the time, but I can have them all. Reminding myself that the items on the shelf are there waiting, and taking the time to look at and take those pieces of myself and of my life down off the shelf keeps me sane. The shelf reminds me who I want to be, and it reminds me that I have more than I often think I do. And that's a gift motherhood's given me.
Portrait by Vivian Johnson