(WOMENSENEWS)— Over the years, I’ve met many extraordinary women.

None of them is a superstar, cultural icon or leader of public opinion. They come from different backgrounds and have different aspirations. They are all strong, determined and capable women. In many ways, we were very different from each other, but we also had at least one thing in common. We all shared guilt.

Some women feel guilty for choosing not to have a career. Others blame themselves for choosing a family over their career or not having a family, regardless of their career. Many of my girlfriends have felt guilty at one point or another for not spending enough time with their children or spending too much time with their children.

They have felt guilty for not having enough energy left to take care of themselves, or they felt guilty for not doing enough to prove themselves. Many of my professional colleagues and I felt we were not making significant enough of a contribution to enable women to be truly equal with men around the world.

I was a young mother and had a successful career as a senior systems analyst at one of the largest telecommunication firms in Tel Aviv when my husband was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity; a surgical fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The implications of the fellowship were well defined: After two years, we’d have to leave the U.S. and I’d not be allowed to work during our stay.

I had three choices: ask him to give up his career, break up our family or pause my career with untold consequences. Each alternative came with a price. My husband’s career had a better financial prospect in the long run, one that the entire family would enjoy. Giving up his fellowship would have meant losing this wonderful opportunity, which might not be available in the future, and it would have entailed limited prospects of a promotion in the future.

Breaking up our family would have allowed us to pursue our individual careers, but we would have lost the strength and support that family offers.

The last option involved giving up my career for my family, which is the choice I made.

Second Thoughts

Instead of being happy with my decision, I was tormented by second thoughts and experienced feelings of worthlessness, disappointment, self-doubt. I felt guilt for not appreciating what generations of women before me had accomplished. What example would I set for my daughter? How would I explain to my friends and colleagues that I, an independent, competent, thriving career woman, had walked away from everything I’d accomplished to follow her man?

Some of this bombardment was certainly reaching me through the media, where women in power send out serious warnings about sacrificing your career. Fulfillment and satisfaction, we hear, come from climbing the corporate, political, academic ladder and shattering glass ceilings everywhere.

Instead of empowering women, this message can often be overpowering. It revokes our intuitive choice and trust in our innate characteristics.

Let’s face it: women’s capability to pursue a career is still different from men’s, not because we are in any way inferior, but because of the compromises we are still required to make.

A hundred thousand years of evolution cannot be written off in 60 years.

In most households, women are still responsible for many aspects of life, including their job.

Conversely, many women know exactly what is needed to climb the ladder, but they choose not to climb it at all, or climb it on their own terms, or in their own time.

To achieve real change for women, both men and women must support women’s choices; whatever they are. That means helping them become successful in anything they choose to do whether it is a high-powered career or staying at home to raise children.

Modern feminists should promote individual choices as the ultimate goal, not a one-size-fits-all idea of every woman’s dream life.

Life is a plan subject to change, and partnership and family can and should influence our decisions. I call this "outsmarting feminism," but really, to me it means outsmarting an outdated idea of feminism.

These days, we need to champion the idea that women are entitled to an infinite number of routes to self-realization. Let’s embrace them all.