I read something yesterday. It was an article in the Huffington Post, forwarded to me by a coworker. The title? Sheryl Sandberg: ‘There’s No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance.’
For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t until yesterday), Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook — and she used to be an executive at Google. The article cites several passages from a recent interview with this smart, popular COO, one that is getting high praise from working moms everywhere for many reasons, including the following passage:
Sandberg noted that for years she’s left work at 5:30 PM so she could be home for dinner with her children, but has only recently started saying so publicly. Her hope, she said, is that discussing it openly will encourage others to feel comfortable doing the same.
I read this and thought Bravo, Sandberg! It’s not rocket science, but it’s encouraging to see parents setting visible parameters around their work in order to focus on their family. Otherwise, I read the rest of the article without much thought.
Until I got to a particular sentence.
I couldn’t figure out yesterday what compelled me to re-read it — and then re-read it again. And it wasn’t until I was reflecting more today that I realized why the simple string of words (used mostly as a transition point) caused me to pause. The sentence reads:
Helping women to reach their full potential requires the world to become more accepting of powerful and successful women, Sandberg argued, adding that women face a tradeoff between success and likability that men do not.
Full potential. It echoed in my head for a moment and I read the sentence again. “Helping women to reach their full potential requires the world to become more accepting of powerful and successful women…”
What defines “full potential” in this scenario? And what defines being powerful and successful? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being overly critical. I do think Sandberg is speaking more to creating family-friendly work places (and I applaud her for that), rather than making some philosophical statement about a woman’s worth. But it does point to a bigger idea that I’ve pondered lately.
At what point, do we differentiate full potential and life purpose?
It may seem like semantics, but the subtle nuance is this: when I think about my potential, I’m thinking of what I can do — whereas purpose lies in what I should do.
So for me, success has very little to do with how well I balance work ambitions with family responsibilities. Instead, it’s about being exactly who I was made to be. So for some women, maybe that’s working full-time, part-time or not at all. Maybe that’s having no children or 10 children. Maybe that’s running a Fortune 500 company or pursuing an artistic hobby. But if our priorities lie in finding and living our purpose — rather than meeting some worldly expectation of “potential” — then perhaps balance is closer than we think.
“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – St. Teresa of Avila