“How do you do it all?”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked this question

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You know it’s funny what comes across your Twitter feed. Today I saw the caption, “How many times have you been asked – How do you do it all?” I had to stop and listen.

http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_so_we_leaned_in_now_what

In a follow-up to her original Ted Talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders), Sheryl Sandberg asks both women and men this question. How do you do it all?

I myself have been asked this question at least 100 times, maybe more. I bet my husband has never been asked this question (I just asked- indeed it was 0 times!). All the while I was in graduate school and throughout my work life, whether or not I worked part-time or full-time, I have been asked this question.

Why is it that we think nothing of asking this of women but not of men?

Many in my age-range and SES, worked until their children were born then opted for either part-time work or chose not to work outside the home all together. Many women felt like it was an either or choice. Personally, I was never happy working full-time or staying home 100% of the time. I worked to find a balance. At times I am sure I was more successful than other times.

Younger women seem to feel (or at least I hope they do), that they have all sorts of options. But recently when a young woman I know applied to graduate school, she was still told by several people close to the program not to let people know she was pregnant. I can relate, because when I was in graduate school, I was told not to talk about my children. It was hard to feel different from other students who did not have children and were not concerned about nursing or carving out study time in between 2 am and 4 AM feedings. They did not have to think about rushing to the day care center. I felt alone much of the time.

At this point in my career, I seem to have found a role as mentor to young women. They usually come to me looking to build their skills. They work for CES, usually briefly and then go on to either full-time jobs or to grad school.

I always recommend Sandberg’s book Lean In. I know she caught a lot of grief because she could afford a lot of support many women cannot, but she offers great advice. I wish I could go back and give my younger self some of her guidance. But for now, I try and share some of her wisdom with my mentees:

  1. Ask for what you need;
  2. Speak up, lean in, sit at the big-boy table; and
  3. Negotiate with your partner before you get married for an equitable distribution of household/childcare tasks.

One of her points that will challenge me every single day of my life is –“What would you do if you were not afraid?” There are lots of things that make me afraid- like starting my own business among many, many other things. But shrinking violets do not change the world. And God knows, this world needs changing.

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Joshua was 3 years old when I started grad school, Aaron was 3 months old. Zach was my dissertation gift.

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