Dear Indra Nooyi: 'Having It All' Is An Outdated Concept For This Generation

by Taji Mortazavi

Like most people my age, I cruise Facebook to kill time. So when I saw an article about PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi discussing women "having it all," I was intrigued.

At a glance, Nooyi’s response appears progressive and refreshing. For a minute, I identified with her answers, so much so that I insisted my mother read the article.

But as I sat down to eat dinner later that night, I had more than just food to digest. Nooyi’s spin on an age-old question is definitely engaging; it's a truth we all know, yet can’t admit.

This led me to another inquiry: Is Nooyi’s answer something we should disregard? More so, is there perhaps something wrong with the question she was asked?

The problem with having it all isn’t the acquisition of "it" (whatever that means), but whether or not this question is still relevant in today's workforce.

The role of women in the workforce and the work-home balance has moved beyond whether or not it’s attainable, but rather, if it’s the appropriate primary goal for women and the best personal decision for many of them.

Do Women Want It All?

On the whole, today’s generation assumes a majority of women will not only achieve a successful and financially independent career, but that they will also marry, bear children and raise these children to be acceptable members of society.

Of course, there are outliers and exceptions to this model, but for the most part, women assume they’re going to work and raise a family. But is this really the correct assumption?

The first question we should ask instead of "Can women have it all?" is "Do women want it all?" Does a woman want to spend every waking moment thinking about her career and putting her family second? Or would she rather opt out of having a family and focus solely on her work? Does that make her a bad woman? An unnatural woman?

Let’s spin this another way: Does a woman want to wipe runny noses and pack lunches and carpool to soccer practice? Does she want to be there for every recital and every game, and bake for every bake sale?

If she doesn’t really want to work, does that make her an antiquated woman who doesn’t believe in feminism?

I would hope that having "it" would involve some degree of happiness and satisfaction with one’s life. But who is to say that happiness can only be achieved with a husband, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence and running a Fortune 500 company?

To think having it all means having a perfect career and home life is a reductionist interpretation. It leaves no wiggle room or possibility for alternatives. It leaves no space for the stay-at-home mom by day, but naughty lingerie designer by night.

"Having it all" seems like a liberating and independent idea, but in reality, it’s a rigid and outdated model of happiness that many women are conditioned to believe and make enormous sacrifices to uphold.

Do Women Need It All?

The second question we should ask instead is, "Do women need it all?"

Do women truly need both a successful career and a successful home life to feel satisfied? Sure, it’d be nice to run a giant corporation and then come home to the perfect house and family, but do we really need this model to be content?

Some women do want both a career and a great home life. Let me clear things up when I say there’s nothing wrong with that, and if that makes you happy, I completely encourage it.

Some women can be genuinely happy doing one or the other, and this doesn’t make them any less or more of a woman. There’s a big difference between wanting something and needing it. Just because I’d like a brownie and there’s a freshly baked batch in the kitchen, doesn’t mean I need to eat one.

Does Anyone Have It All?

The last problem I have with the have-it-all mentality is how this question completely eclipses men from the argument.

It’s not that I think men have it harder than women, but if you asked men if they have it all, chances are they’d say no. Having it all isn’t a conundrum specific to women; we’re all struggling between the little league game and dinner with an important client.

Men struggle with this predicament just as much as women; they just aren't as vocal about it. By opening men to the equation, we have a much more illuminating interpretation of American work culture in the 21st century.

Ultimately, having it all is an outdated inquiry that belongs in the 80s where it first originated. Having it all is really about creating your own "it," whatever that may be.

It’s important to offer women the opportunity for a rewarding and successful career, the option to stay home and focus on family and the option to balance both. Feminism isn’t about working women or women staying at home; it’s about giving them the ability to choose.

When you’re truly living a life you love and that satisfies you, it won’t matter if you’re the CEO of PepsiCo or making tuna fish sandwiches for a field trip. To me, that's the true definition of having it all.

Photo credit: WENN