8 marca 2010
We're sorry, you can't have it all

OK, now I admit it, sometimes you can't have it all. At least that's what I was told by one of the UK's most respected universities when I applied there to write my PhD thesis. Though I met all the criteria and was otherwise a suitable candidate, my professional goals after the PhD could not include consulting work (no, not even part-time, and no, not even related to the PhD I wanted to write). Even when I declared my full dedication and willingness to work full-time for the school, I still was considered a very suspicious individual who probably wanted to get the PhD just to dangle the hallowed letters after my name. Well, obviously you cannot do your research well if you also want to work a few hours a week in your spare time with business people to remain in touch with what you, in fact, research ...

Silly me. I thought that when you write recipes, it doesn't hurt to do some cooking yourself. Or, for that matter, having some previous experience in the culinary arts could also help. But now it's clear - mixing it up is a big no-no. I accepted it the way you accept the fact that you grow old and your face wrinkles - but then this troublesome thought kept coming back. Why do we think that one cannot effectively multitask and really, truly love and care for more than one thing in life? We are, after all, given the intellectual abilities to organise ourselves effectively, to choose, to be in control of our actions, and to prioritise on a daily basis. Why not benefit from all that?

When we look at successful individuals, including the most distinguished scientists, politicians, business people and TV personalities, we find that they are all excellent multi-taskers. They pride themselves on being involved in many projects and initiatives at the same time. They cross-reference their experience and knowledge, and this is what makes them even more effective at what they do. And research supports this attitude. It has been proved that we are more effective when we have more to do.

We are surrounded by efficient multi-talented individuals. We all know them - Barack and Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates, Meryl Streep, Richard Branson, Madonna, Tom Ford, Bono of U2, Queen Rania of Jordan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carla Bruni, to name a few. One way or another, they all set their hearts on having it all and they all are living proof it can be done. Whatever shape the ‘all' takes-whether in the form of rearing three children, combining a career and a child, or acting and having seven children and being an international charity activist, or being a president, happily married with two daughters, or even a terminator and a governor-whatever we feel is our ‘all', we should go for it. They all proved we can. I admit there are some sacrifices one has to make to fit it all into 24 hours, but still it is achievable-and very fulfilling.

I personally happen to have a lot and am very grateful for it: a lovely husband and a gorgeous daughter, a fulfilling job running my own consulting business, charity work and writing columns from time to time. I do have a lot. But why can't I have more if I am willing to put the hours and effort into it?

Why do we hold on to the stereotype that you can do only one thing well at the time, that it is somehow noble to have your heart set on one thing only? When you have a child, do you stop loving and caring for your partner because you can only focus on one thing (not to mention having more children)? Why, then, would I be less effective or less dedicated than a person who is willing or able to focus on one thing only?

So, coming back to my doomed academic career - well, it's taken me aback a bit, but I'm working on having it all!

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