Part of the series “Accessing the Most Powerful Version of You”
Over the past decade, there has been a great deal of discussion and debate over the question, “Can women have it all?” I’ve read hundreds of responses to this question, and I’ve also explored it with my coaching clients and course members, and in the media. I remember being riveted by Anne Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic on Why Women Still Can’t Have It All that went hugely viral. I loved her take and for thousands of women, it offered messages that were welcomed and refreshingly honest. Slaughter later shared that her article shifted her life in ways she never expected.
After my 18 years in corporate life and not coming close to “having it all,” and then shifting to running my own coaching and training firm, I honed my take on this question, which is this: Pursuing “having it all” tends to end up in the wrong direction of what we truly want because we’ve defined it in a way that is unobtainable and unsustainable. Our “perfectionistic overfunctioning” often gets in the way of creating what we really want.
What we need to do instead is focus on what matters most, and that’s not everything in the world. Instead, we want to grow our self-authority and empowerment to make the right choices that will allow us to prioritize what is meaningful and fulfilling, to attend to what will bring our lives and careers the greatest joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, meaning, and success. We want to pursue these priorities openly and honestly, and live in an authentic way where we can be true to ourselves, without shame, guilt or fear. And we want to be able to get to the end of our lives without the deep regret and remorse that comes from living someone else’s life, not our own. (Here’s more about the top 5 regrets of the dying and how to live without regret.)
To explore this question anew, I was excited to catch up with Romi Neustadt, a former corporate lawyer then PR executive who traded in the billable hour to become a successful entrepreneur. She’s passionate about helping other women experience success on their own terms, and her first book, Get Over Your Damn Self: The No-BS Blueprint to Building a Life-Changing Business, earned a Gold Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. Her latest book, You Can Have It All, Just Not at the Same Damn Time, shares Neustadt’s insights and strategies around how to stop trying to do it all so you can finally build a life filled with what you really want.
Here’s what Neustadt shares:
Kathy Caprino: You say that women aren’t achieving their dreams because they confuse having it all with doing it all. What do you mean by that?
Romi Neustadt: Women are suffering from unrealistic expectations—who we’re supposed to be, how much we’re supposed to accomplish and how we’re supposed to look while we’re doing it. We’re trying to be all things to all people, and our to-do lists keep growing as we add things that we think we should do. This should-ing all over the place is making us stressed and exhausted and feeling like a failure, so we’re not getting to the things we really want to do. But the great news is there’s a fix. If we want to have it all, we have to stop doing it all.
Caprino: You stopped doing it all and say that you now have a life filled with all you want and coach other women to do the same. What approach to success have you engaged in that eludes many other women?
Neustadt: It took me having a minor breakdown to admit that my life was running me (instead of the other way around), and I needed to fix it so I could actually fill my life with what was really important to me and enjoy my precious time on earth. So I gave myself the gift of a couple days of “me time” in a hotel room, and it turned out to be a life-changing gift. Armed with some books, my laptop and a journal, I started searching. I stumbled upon the concept of picking “one word”—this was long before it was popular—and I loved the idea of adopting a mantra to guide me through the upcoming year. And while it was an empowering starting point, I realized declaring a word wouldn’t be enough by itself to have a transformative impact on my life.
I kept reading and searching, and then it dawned on me. Throughout my entire goal-oriented life, I never once figured out what my priorities were. I thought all the goals I’d been setting all these years were priorities. It was in that hotel room that I established my “One Word Process” that I take myself through every year, along with my sales organization and readers of my blog. It’s been life-changing because it forces you to figure out what you really want your life to look like—and what you’re willing to do to make it happen.
Caprino: So how does your process work exactly and why do you find it so effective?
Neustadt: First, you establish three priorities that serve your one word—the things that are important and non-negotiable in your life right now. I don’t think it’s possible to have more than three at any one time. And then you set goals that serve your priorities—not ones that you think you should be going after, but what you want to accomplish. And our goals must align with our priorities or we feel scattered and unfulfilled, and that’s because we’re living inauthentic lives. This process offers a road map of where to focus your time, attention, and energy. And it gives you permission to let go of everything else.
This enabled me to start to build a life filled with my all.
Caprino: So once women determine what they want, how can they find or create more time for those things?
Neustadt: I suggest doing what I call “relentlessly editing your life.” You make a list of everything you do in a week and how long you spend doing it. And then you label each activity.
- Mark “P” for everything that serves one or more of your priorities.
- Mark “G” for everything that’s helping you get closer to achieving one or more of your goals.
- Mark “M” for everything—and I mean everything—you think you must do. This includes going to the bathroom, personal hygiene, sleep.
- Mark “H” for everything you hate doing.
- Mark “S” for everything you think you should do.
It’s in the list of things marked H and S that you find what you should be delegating or deleting—which frees up your time and energy to focus on the things that serve your priorities and goals. I personally revisit this invaluable exercise once a quarter or any time that I start to feel overwhelmed or scattered. I go back to my priorities and goals and make sure every single thing I’m doing serves them.
Caprino: In my work with professional women, I’ve seen that one of the hardest parts of staying focused for women can be setting boundaries. How can they do that more effectively
Neustadt: Women need to get really good at saying “No,” and saying it often in an authentic and gracious way. “No” keeps you from committing to things you really don’t want to do.
Here are a couple of examples.
- “No, I can’t be class mom because my plate is completely full, and I won’t be able to give it the time and attention it deserves. But thank you for thinking of me.”
- “No, I can’t attend the fundraiser because I’ve been running at warp speed, and Friday night will be the one night this week I get to go to bed early. I hope it’s a huge success.”
It’s doable, and you get to say it without apology and without guilt. And the more you say it, the easier it gets.
Caprino: You speak and coach a great deal around authenticity. What does authenticity mean to you and how do you make living an authentic life non-negotiable?
Neustadt: To me, authenticity is showing up as the real you in all parts of your life, every single day. Not the you that you think you’re supposed to be or who others expect you to be. When you do that, you’re able to be honest with yourself about what you really want, what your “all” is. Every woman has their own all—yours likely looks different from mine. The point is to figure out what you want and then make it happen. And if each of us were living our truth, there would be a lot less judging each other and playing the comparison game, and a lot more supporting and inspiring each other.
Caprino: You say that fear is the core reason women aren’t living the lives they really want. Among the women you’ve met, what are their most common fears and how can they overcome them?
Neustadt: I’ve mentored tens of thousands of women, and like me, they have a lot of fears. We’re afraid of failure, afraid of success, afraid to be judged, afraid we’re not enough, and afraid we’re going to live our lives and not get to the things we really want. And all these fears can paralyze us and annihilate our focus. I coach three steps to deal with fear that I use myself nearly every day.
The three steps are:
#1: Acknowledge when fear is rearing its ugly head and name it. You’ve got to confront fear to move past it.
#2: Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could really happen? Not a hypothetical, but what are the facts that you know to be true? Most of the time, the reality is much less dire than we imagine it to be.
#3: Finally, adopt a mantra to tell yourself to declare that you’re not going to let fear win, that you’re going to act in spite of it. Try F-FEAR. For you the F might mean Fight. For me it means something saltier. This is more than a clever hashtag to use on Instagram. It’s a battle cry that says you have the power.
This can be a powerful tool for our kids too. I’ve walked our kids through this process to deal with the various fears they face in their tween and teenage lives. I especially love it when they declare F-FEAR to do what scares them.
I want women to understand that it is possible to have it all, if they give themselves the permission to define what their unique “all” looks like and to unapologetically let go of everything else. It’s the only way to live a fulfilled and authentic life, which is what we all deserve.