"Having it all" is having another cultural moment, with the media suddenly awash in the controversy over a new book on women and leadership from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, just weeks after the furor over Yahoo CEO's Marissa Mayer calling telecommuting employees back into the office -- and presumably pulling women that much further from their work-life balance plan.
But plenty of women have pondered the question long before this.
CNN.com's Opinion section asked a group of women to describe when they realized they could -- or could not -- have it all.
Sen. Patty Murray: Flexibility to put family first
Whenever the topic of women in the workplace and work-life balance appears in our nation's dialogue, I always think back to when I started in the Senate over 20 years ago. It was 1992, after an unprecedented number of women had been elected to Congress. It was a typical, hectic day in the Senate, with several votes scheduled.
My office received a phone call from the school where my young son was attending, with the news he had a nosebleed. Without thinking, I grabbed my coat and headed towards the exit. On my way out, I was stopped by one of my male colleagues who asked, "Where are you going?" I explained the situation to which he quickly replied with disbelief, "Wow! You've gotta be kidding." I simply brushed it off and told him my family takes precedence. Well, a few weeks later that same senator approached me and confessed I was the first person he had seen in the Senate that didn't think twice about putting their family first. But for me, it was a no-brainer.
There will always be a need to make sacrifices when it comes to our jobs and our families. However, our workplaces and our country will thrive when employees are given flexibility on what matters most
Patty Murray, a Democrat, is the senior United States senator from Washington
Ana Navarro: 'Having it all' debate is silly
I've been asked to answer the question: "When did I realize that I could or could not have it all." The answer is, I don't know. I never really ask myself that question. I just live life, seize opportunities, try to be content, and try to make sure those I love know it. That's about it. I was born missing the "let's stare at our navel and ponder the meaning of life" chromosome. I often think the biggest obstacle to enjoying life is over-thinking.
The question strikes me as rather silly. First of all, I've never heard a man get asked if he "can have it all." It seems to be a question reserved for women. I also don't know what the question means. Who defines "all," society? Ourselves? Our family? I don't know what "all" means. At the risk of channeling Bill Clinton at his worst moment, the answer depends on what your definition of "all" is.
Hell, this question is too complicated. And it perpetuates the pressure on women to chase the nebulous "all." I'd like to think that if you have it all, you know it. And if you don't have it all, you also know it. In the latter case, please seek professional help. Sorry I could not be more more insightful and provide words of wisdom. Maybe next week, I'll try to find the cure for cancer.
Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, was national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008 and national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman's 2012 campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro.
Lauren Wolfe: It's not about having what men have
I was around 5 when I knew that I would one day be an adult. That meant that one day, like my father, I would wear a suit, carry a leather briefcase, and return home each day to my daughter.
It's taken more than 30 years for me to accept that I don't resemble the man in the suit with the briefcase, or a man really at all, and that maybe being such an adult didn't actually mean "having it all." That maybe being an adult meant being a woman, in all its complexity, and "having it all" meant figuring out how to be the journalist I want to be, loving my family and friends, and understanding how to exist fully in the world. I'm not sure now that my father had those things.
Being a man in his generation meant providing comforts for his family. It meant striving for wealth and decision-making power. At this point in my life, I am trying to comprehend how to be a woman in a world that does not always permit us to achieve success in that way. More and more, though, I'm not convinced that I ever actually wanted the template.
Lauren Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and the director of Women Under Siege, a Women's Media Center initiative on sexualized violence in conflict. She is the former senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and blogs at laurenmwolfe.com. Follow her on Twitter, @Wolfe321.
Donna Brazile: Reach out to give and receive help
My mother believed she had it all. When she passed away, she gifted "having it all" to me. Only, it took me awhile to figure out what that would mean for me. After all, my mom, Jean, worked several jobs to make ends meet, raised nine kids, and had some flexibility in her schedule at the end of the week to spend time with friends. That wasn't quite my idea of having it all.
For starters, I wasn't ready for the responsibility of motherhood or helping to raise my younger siblings or my niece, whom my parents had adopted. Having to shoulder new responsibility, while maintaining my own "single ladies" lifestyle, meant finding people to lean on. For women to have it all, we need to reach out for help, accept it when it's offered, and be ready to offer it to others. In my case, starting with getting a babysitter for times I worked late and needed someone to be there for my niece when she arrived home. Of course, I had to find my way around the kitchen, though that part took no time.
That "responsibility shift" has lasted a lifetime and helped define me: I learned to take care of others, while enabling others to succeed. Being a mother and big sister is the lens through which I view "having it all." Successfully having it all in this way is the most difficult thing to do, but also the only thing to do. We can have it all and help others to get there too if we enable or empower one another.
Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.
Jennifer Baskerville: Company flexibility makes it possible
I am lucky to say I got my all -- thanks in large part to being able to telecommute. I am a communications strategist living in San Diego and my company is 2,400 miles across the country and three time zones away in Washington, D.C. I work from home 75% of the time and travel to Washington once a month for client meetings. Two years ago, I told my employer I was getting married and moving across the country to San Diego. He said, "We value you and want you to stay with us. Why don't you telecommute and travel as needed for client meetings?"