Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Can You Really Have It All?

DEAR NATALIE: I'm starting to gain momentum in my career, and my husband and I are trying to get pregnant. I'm worried if it will negatively impact my professional trajectory. How do you maintain momentum in your career while simultaneously growing a family at home -- Having It All

DEAR HAVING IT ALL: The idea of "having it all" really frustrates me. It sets us up for disappointment and feelings of failure. While I do believe that you can have everything that you want in life, I don't believe you can have it all at once. The truth is that our society is not structured to support working women. There is no universal health care, no affordable child care, no paid maternity leave, no equal pay - the list goes on and on. When men want a family, they can do that and work because nothing physically changes for them. But, when women decide to do this, their whole world changes. It has to. We, as a society, don't honor that time, we don't provide flexibility for that. But, you can do two things to help remedy this - both on the macro and micro levels. You can vote - in every single election. Vote for the people who have your interests in mind. In your personal world, think about your 10-year plan and how your career and family will fit into that. What is more important to you in this moment? (And it is OK if your career is a higher priority right now). Talk to your husband about these fears and worries you have. Discuss how you would share child care, how you would share the housework, etc. The first few years are going to be difficult because babies physically need their mothers more. But, beyond that, how are you distributing the work at home? What can he do to alleviate stress so that you can find some sort of "balance" in life and work? Have these conversations now before you get pregnant. Also, think about your current job situation. Are you in a more progressive company that will provide you flexibility? If so, great. If not, then what? You may have to decide again what is your priority. These questions are not easy to answer, and I can't answer them for you, but use this as a mental jumping-off point to begin to think about the ways in which your life will be affected and what you are willing to sacrifice - and what you aren't.

DEAR NATALIE: How can I remove toxic people in my life without doing so in a negative way? I need to prioritize my own health and happiness, but I don't want to hurt the people in my life. -- Letting Go

DEAR LETTING GO: I applaud you for recognizing that your health and happiness are important priorities. We can get so caught up in pleasing others and worrying about their needs that we neglect our own. But, if we aren't in a good place, both mentally and physically, then how can we help anyone we love? It can be incredibly difficult to shift gears in relationships that aren't working without hurting feelings. Don't avoid them or give them any reason to think you are icing them out. This is an immature thing to do, especially if this person has been in your life a long time. Instead, let them know that you are working on yourself right now and need some space from them. They may be hurt, but explain to them in an honest but gentle way that right now you need to focus on your own health and happiness. This means taking some time for yourself. If they care about you, they will understand. If they throw a fit, then recognize even more so that this energy is not something you need in your life and take that as a sign that you are doing the right thing in backing away.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: A great question to ask when you are networking is: "What can I do to help you?" Don't think of networking in terms of how to help just yourself. By offering your assistance to another, you are building rapport, building trust and are setting the stage for having that help reciprocated later on.

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)