Sarah Palin’s 168 Hours

Like the rest of humanity, I watched Sarah Palin’s appearance on Oprah on Monday. (I have a personal interest in her book… I had wanted to ghost write it. I wasn’t chosen, alas).

Palin is, of course, a politician, refusing in as slippery words as possible to declare whether she would run in 2012. But she came across as a far better, straighter shooter than she did in the dismal Katie Couric interviews of 2008. Her excuse for that hatchet job? She thought she and Couric would be doing a light interview about balancing work and motherhood. Then (in my opinion) Couric elected to actually do some version of her job and—rather than ask light questions about balancing work and motherhood— grilled Palin, who hadn’t prepared to do her job of deftly getting across her message no matter how shrill the interviewer sounded.

But anyway, for our purposes, the question of balancing work and motherhood actually is relevant. Oprah asked Palin how she had intended to handle the pressures of the vice presidency as the mom of five kids. She almost apologized for asking it, noting that no one ever asks men these things. Palin gave a rather refreshing answer: it had never occurred to her that she couldn’t handle it. As she said, she has so much “equality” in her marriage. This is a word she kept using over and over. I took it to mean that she knew, if she needed to step up her career, that Todd Palin would step up his duties at home, just as she had done during his stints on the North Slope. Plus, as she mentioned, she has a slew of grannies and aunties and such around. All enabled her to have five kids and a real Career with a capital C.

This last point is, I think, most important for the question of how to “have it all.” You need a lot of help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We’re all OK with having what I call a “work team.” Unless you’re a sole proprietor intent on survivalist living, you probably have help in your professional life in order to do your job. Maybe you have an assistant, but even if you don’t, you probably don’t cook up lunch at your office cafeteria. You don’t monitor whether the light bulbs are replaced, the halls are vacuumed or the bathrooms have toilet paper. Unless you’re in the accounting department, you probably don’t do your employer’s taxes or follow up on the bills. You may not make your own travel arrangements or plan your own conferences. Other people with core competencies in these areas do these things so you can focus on what you do best.

Likewise, parents with outside careers have to focus on what they do best at home: nurturing their children (and their marriages) and nurturing themselves. Palin could rely on family to help with other things. If you don’t have family around, you’ll probably have to pay for the help. But if you do have all that support, miraculous things start to happen. Imagine having the mindset that it would never occur to you that you might not be able to deal with the vice presidency and a special needs infant! That’s powerful stuff.

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