Women, Work, and the Pressure to Have it All


I have always known that women were a force - to be reckoned with, revered, and respected. I’ve known it since I was ten years old, witnessing my then 37-year old mother cope with the sudden and tragic loss of my father, who died in a car accident. I saw her find the courage to move on and raise myself and my two younger sisters on her own. She eventually went into business for herself. This gave me a front seat to watch her grow as an entrepreneur during my formative years. Needless to say, that left an indelible impression on me. 

A reminder of women’s strength

I was reminded of this same strength and tenacity of women when I traveled to Kenya. While on safari, I had the opportunity to learn about the lives and traditions of the Maasai people. The Maasai are a semi-nomadic tribe which inhabits much of South-Central Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Their society measures wealth by the amount of cattle a man owns. Therefore, his primarily role is to herd cattle, and to protect his village, known as a manyatta, which is built entirely by women

The Maasai women gather twice their weight in wooden branches and small logs. They then walk miles back to their villages to build their families’ semi-permanent homes. Women are also responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and for creating the ornate fabrics and beaded jewelry that is emblematic of the Maasai people.

As I learned all this, I thought to myself, “That’s a lot of work! And, all the men do all day is go on a long walk with the cattle?!” I remember feeling entirely at awe of these beautiful women. And, if I’m honest, I felt incompetent, and even a little embarrassed in their presence. Here I was, a married, childless woman in my twenties, living in all the glory of my North American privilege. When I don’t “feel like cooking”, I can whip out my smartphone, and within minutes a meal appears at my doorstep. Suddenly, complaining about subway delays, useless meetings, and slow wifi felt childish and silly. 

As I compared my worth against these women, naturally, I felt inadequate. But, as I thought deeper about the critical roles these women played in their society, I realized, we weren’t all that different after all. In fact, I became emboldened in the idea that we were really quite similar. 

A delicate and dangerous juggling act

As an entrepreneur, I’m busy navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Simultaneously, I’m doing my best to maintain personal relationships, eat healthy, work out, and get the occasional, much-needed pedicure. Life can feel like a crazy, delicate juggling act, regardless of the specifics of your to-do list or calendar. 

According to multiple personality tests, apparently, I’m built for this. Yet, I still frequently doubt myself, worrying that I’m not doing enough, being enough, and that everything I’m building will come crashing down. Apparently, I’m not alone in feeling this way. Statistics Canada found that 48.9% of women aged 25 to 54 in Canada reported that, at the end of the day, they often felt that they had not accomplished what they set out to do. And, 46.3% of women reported feeling constantly under stress trying to accomplish more than they could handle, compared with 39.8% of men1.

I’ve often heard the question asked of women, “how does she do it all?”. I’ve seen how women recoil when they’re asked it, wondering whether their male counterparts are questioned in the same way. I’m guilty of this. It’s the same question I was asking when observing the Maasai women. It’s a question that’s been asked of me, too. So, why is this question posed primarily, if not exclusively, to women

Are women uniquely built to multi-task? 

It’s no secret that there are clear gender gaps when it comes to the division of labour. Particularly, within the home. According to research by Statistics Canada in 2015, more than 60.8% of women did unpaid work (household chores, errands, and emotional labour) as a simultaneous activity, compared with 40.2% of men. As more women are occupying management and executive positions in the workforce, many of them are still effectively taking on the “second shift” when they walk through the door at home. 

For entrepreneurs, there is the added pressure of developing and growing your business, ensuring that your staff is appropriately resourced, and maintaining the operations of the company. You’re constantly “on the clock”, and in most cases, you’re the hardest driving boss you’ve ever worked for. Yet, despite its unique pressures, women all over the country are opting into entrepreneurship and thriving. Women-owned enterprises experienced the fastest growth between 2005 and 2013. They were also the least affected by the 2008 recession. 

Is it even possible to have and balance it all? 

The choices I’ve made in my personal life and my career are just that - my choices. When shit hits the fan, I have to reframe my language from “I have to do this” to, “I get to do this”. I have to remind myself that having freedom, autonomy, and options available to me isn’t a burden, it’s a blessing. The Maasai women in rural Kenya may be well equipped to multi-task and manage the daily affairs of their village. But the economic opportunities available to them are few, if any. In spite of all of this self-motivation, balancing competing responsibilities and the day-to-day grind of it all doesn’t necessarily feel any easier. I, like so many other women, still struggle with everything on our plates. 

Which leads me to the new question, not of “How does she do it all?”, but, “Should she do it all?”

You are enough.

As I take inventory of the meetings filling up my calendar, and the tasks on my to-do list, I realize that not everything on there is essential. Not everything on there is leading me towards more meaningful impact. Is everything on your plate something that should be there? Or, is it time to ask yourself some tough questions, and re-prioritize what really matters to your life and your work

As women, we often take on the roles and responsibilities that we were never meant to carry. We’re striving for more because we’re afraid that who we are, what we have, and the work we do isn’t enough. And, as hard as it may be to believe, you don’t have to do and have it all to prove to yourself or to the world that you are enough. You are enough.


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