Ladies, it’s time to get off the treadmill. You don’t need to run yourself ragged trying to keep up the picture-perfect life in all arenas. Because guess what?
It’s impossible to have it all.
This is not a new message. Many before me have effectively demonstrated why this is a ridiculous standard.
Yet, despite knowing that “having it all” is unrealistic and impossible, many women are still out there fighting to achieve it.
These women fighting for perfection are my friends.
This pretty notion that women can have it all has been pumped into the heads of girls and women for decades. Ever since we started to make the transition from working exclusively in the home to participating in the external workforce, we were told it was an opportunity not to make a trade-off, but to have more. To have it all.
And let’s be honest, the sentiment is appealing.
It’s the idea that women are so strong, powerful, intelligent and productive that we can have fulfilling, successful careers and provide a loving and well-kept home for our family all while staying fit, beautiful, and happy.
Yes, it’s a nice idea in theory.
In practice? It’s hurting us.
What Does it Mean to “Have It All?”
What is “it all?”
A romantic relationship?
A nice body?
A big house?
A fancy car?
A fat paycheck?
The concept of “having it all” was first gaining steam in the early 1980’s with the publication of a book by Joyce Gabriel and Bettye Baldwin titled, “Having It All: A Practical Guide to Managing a Home and a Career.”
The central premise was that women could balance a career and motherhood. The book provided tips on how to achieve this blissful lifestyle.
It was followed by another book by Helen Gurley Brown titled, “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing.”
Brown wanted women to know they could have more of anything (love, success, sex) if they were willing to work for it. Her message was that even if you come from nothing, you can be successful.
According to this 2015 New York Times article, Brown was totally against the title. She hated it but this is what her editors decided to go with. (Apparently getting the title she wanted wasn’t part of the “all.”)
So this is where the concept of “having it all” originated from.
Today, this notion has transformed and has become something that conjures up feelings of annoyance, unattainability and even depression for many women.
The women who has it all is calm, cool, collected. She’s impeccably dressed, extremely successful and has a loving, dedicated, equally perfect partner. Her children are models of good behavior, only eat organic foods that she prepares herself, and ideally speak at least two languages. She bakes from scratch, is an excellent cook, a sexual dynamo and is always happy.
Ahhhh, even writing this list is exhausting!
What makes the concept of having it all even more unrealistic is that every woman likely has a different version of what “it all” means.
Not every woman wants a family, an exploding career or the ability to bake from scratch. And the encouragement to chase it all takes away from our ability to have enough. Which is the center of happiness and fulfillment?
Why Don’t Men Have to Have It All?
Men, do you want it all? Have you ever been told you don’t?
Or is the male definition of having it all just very different?
Are men nicer to themselves? Do they have lower expectations? Do they not even think about having it all? Or is it just that society has yet to stuff this overwhelming idea into their consciousness?
Or, maybe, it’s that men have had the ability to have it all for most of history. Men had the opportunity to work outside the home, have a doting wife to tend to the kids, do the cooking, and organize their home, and political and financial power.
Managing a home has never been held up as an ideal for men, so maybe it’s not something they feel the need to balance.
I’m not a man so I can’t answer this glaring question. But guys, I’m truly curious to know.
Reasons Why You Can’t Have It All
For any women out there reading this thinking, “Okay, having it all is impossible for most women. But I’m not most women,” let’s break it down a bit.
Effective Multitasking is a Myth
Humans are not good at multitasking.
There is a common perception that women are better multitaskers than men, and antidotally, I tend to agree with this.
However, the research is actually pretty mixed with no obvious winner.
Although multitasking is a regular part of virtually everyone’s daily lives it doesn’t lead to greater productivity.
In fact, the opposite is true.
It’s difficult for humans to switch from one task to another. It slows us down and our performance in situations where we multitask is generally worse.
So, how can you have it all when your attention and focus is spread so thin?
When you try to do too many things at once you generally don’t do any of them well.
Time is Finite
There are 24 hours in a day. We’re advised to spend 8 of those sleeping. (Not that many of us do that…) That leaves us with 16 hours.
Subtract another 8 for the standard work day and that leaves us with 8 hours.
Eight hours to get ready for your day, commute to work, cook and eat meals, clean, pay bills, see friends, get ready for bed, etc… And repeat.
We have to make decisions about how we spend our time.
Do you want to work out, binge-watch Netflix, hang with friends, go to the bar, play with your kids, prepare a gourmet meal, work on your side hustle or take night classes?
The choice is yours but there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to do it all. Not without burnout.
You Have Finite Energy
You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long.
The woman who has it all can be seen staying up until midnight to bake for their son’s school fundraiser or finish their daughter’s sixth-grade science project.
Then, she wakes up at 5 AM to make lunches and prepare for her 7 AM business meeting.
Over her lunch hour she heads to the gym because hey, you’ve got to maintain that hot bod if you are going to “have it all.”
And after an eight hour day, she feels obligated to stay late to perfect a powerpoint presentation. I mean, you have to put in the time if you want that promotion.
But she also feels a deep pang of guilt for missing her son’s soccer practice. Maybe if she can finish up fast enough she can catch the tail end.
On the drive home, she contemplates what culinary masterpiece to serve for dinner and then stops at Whole Foods to pick up some organic ingredients.
She’d love to pick up a pizza and call it a day but what kind of mother and wife would she be if she can’t put a healthy, freshly prepared dinner on the table?
After dinner and clean up she tucks her kids into bed, showers, picks out her clothes and then musters just enough energy to be intimate with her husband.
Ummmm… this sounds miserable and exhausting. Certainly not sustainable. More a real recipe for a freaking breakdown.
And why does she expend every ounce of energy on a daily basis? Well, so other women can look at her and say, “My-my, she really has it all.”
So, Instead of Trying to Have It All…
Determine What You Value
Life is about choices. Before you spread yourself too thin trying to have “it all” take some time to reflect on what you really want. What do you value?
Remember that what you value most at any given time can change. In some seasons of your life, maybe it’s your kids. In others, it’s building your dream business or career. That doesn’t make you less of a superhero.
Value What You Do
Once you have put time and effort into determining what you really value, don’t second guess yourself. Give yourself permission to let go of guilt.
Time is a limited and non-refundable resource. Do what makes you feel happy and satisfied.
Try to Be Present
This is one I struggle with. While I’m at work I have a hard time tuning out things that I need to do for my family. During a Skype meeting, I’ll zone out in order to write up a quick grocery list or go online to pay bills.
Remember, task switching is not one of our strong points so try to focus on one thing at a time.
Support the Decisions of the Women Around You
I think we’re all sick of women hurting women. Of seeing comments from women criticizing each other for being a working mom, or for “only” being a stay at home mom, or for traveling for work during the PTA fundraiser.
It’s none of our business what other mamas choose for themselves. We all hold different values, different opinions and most importantly, different circumstances.
Remember the age-old saying, “don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes.”
So, stop judging other women for making a different decision and valuing different things. Stay in your lane and only offer support in whatever brings our sisters joy.
If you don’t have anything nice to say? Stuff it.
Maybe There is One Way for Women to Have It All
Peel away the expectations. The advertised version of the perfect supermom. Reject the notion that our time and energy are infinite.
Instead, let’s create our own, unique, custom made, realistic version of what having it all means for each of us.
Maybe all I need to feel like I have it all is a fulfilling career and a loving partner.
Or, traveling full-time and not being tied down to any one place or job.
Maybe having it all is having a roof over your head, food in your belly, people to love and your health.
This version sounds pretty good to me.
We want to hear from you. Do you believe that women can have it all? If you were to create your own, personalized version of having it all what would that look like? Share in the comments!