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my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History.I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled.And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived.One of the first was from a young woman who began by thanking me for “not giving just one more fatuous ‘You can have it all’ talk.” Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way.

Both were demanding jobs, but I had the ability to set my own schedule most of the time.At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I’d agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about “work-family balance.” I ended up speaking to a group of about 40 men and women in their mid-20s.What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington).I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved.But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.

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