“You can have it all! You can have a fabulous, exciting job that you love and are passionate about, a flawlessly clean house, and three well-behaved children who you spend all of your time raising. You can have a storybook relationship where you constantly love and support each other, with a life of travel and adventure, and even time to build your own business.”
This message is what millions of women receive daily. You can have everything you want in the world… if you only tried harder! The message is toxic because the reality is, women can’t have it all.
Women Can’t Have It All
Let’s add some nuance to this. Most women can’t have it all. Some superhero women out there can raise three kids, work a high-power corporate job, and keep their homes immaculate. Although some may show their perfect lives via Instagram, the critical thing to remember is that this isn’t the norm.
Most women can’t be everything to everyone and still find time to take care of themselves. And you know what? That’s okay.
It’s okay to pick and choose where to focus. It’s okay to prioritize having a family over a career, or vice versa. It’s okay for your house to be messy but for your kids to be happy and well adjusted.
Ann Marie Slaughter Book
There’s a giant elephant in this room to address. Ann Marie Slaughter discusses that elephant in a famous Atlantic article, and more comprehensively in her book “Unfinished Business.” The premise is that women can’t have it all because we have too much to do. The feminist underlining of the book is that women are doing too much and can’t have it all because men aren’t stepping up to help, especially domestically.
While studies show again and again that women do the bulk of childcare and homecare, even when women are working just as much as their partners – I think it’s a separate issue from women having it all. Even if our partners stepped up and met us halfway (as they absolutely should!), we wouldn’t be able to “have it all.”
No One Can “Have It All”
The truth is that women can’t have it all because no one can have it all. Having it all is an impossible standard. No one can be the best at everything, and when we try to be, something will suffer. For women striving to have it all, that something is often their mental health.
We’ve been told we can have it all, and if we can’t, it feels like it must be our fault. When it’s impossible to be the perfect wife, mother, and professional, who also has the ideal body and perfect hobbies, we think that there must be something wrong with us. Why can’t we achieve perfection in every aspect of our lives the way media tells us that we should and the way that some celebrities and influencers appear to do flawlessly?
Many celebrities indeed appear to have it all. But they also have something almost impossible for the rest of us to get: enough money to pay people to do most of it for them. Personal trainers that work on their time, dieticians to help them plan meals, cooks to help them prepare these healthy dishes, housekeepers to keep the house clean, nannies to help them with the children. All of us could have it all if we could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to hire help! Most of us don’t have that kind of money, and that’s perfectly okay. We can’t compare ourselves to the impossible standards set by those who do.
Women Can Have Anything
You may think I’m telling you to give up, stop trying, and that the life you want is impossible. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While you may not be able to have everything, you can still have anything you want.
Let’s be honest. If you think about it, do you really want to have “it all”? Do you want: a perfect career in a high visibility profession, 2.5 picture-perfect kids, a vast, spotless house in the ideal suburb with a white picket fence, and a husband who smiles cheerfully as he hangs up his hat and sits down to eat the roast you spent the last five hours preparing? That sounds more like a 1950s commercial than a perfect life, yet it’s the concept that’s sold to us as the paragon of existence since we were small children.
But who really wants all that?
How to Get What You Really Want
Some women may want “it all,” and the only way to get “it all” is to be rich so you can hire people to help you with all those things. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for an average person to do all that. But, there is time to focus on what you want most. And most of us can have what we really want if we focus on it.
There are a few steps you need to take to get what you want. Those include deciding what that is, making your plan, and being open to changes.
Make a Decision
The first thing you need to do is decide what it is that you want. It sounds simple enough, but with all the pressure from society and our families and friends to conform to the accepted life script, it can be challenging to tease out what you want versus what you think you want because of society’s programming.
I once had a conversation with my close friend, a mother of two, about having kids. She said something that has stayed with me for many years that I’ll never forget.
“I didn’t realize there was an option. Having kids is just something you do.”
How many other women didn’t realize they had a choice in whether to have kids or not? You can apply the same sentiment to many of the things we do. You don’t have to own a home, go to college, work a traditional job, be the best at your profession, or do anything that you don’t want. You can choose what you want and put your energy towards that.
Deciding what you want will take a lot of soul-searching, and you may even get some pushback. We’re often told that we can do anything we want, be anything we want, and we’re looked down upon for “settling” for a job that seems beneath us.
I read a story on Reddit about a girl who was told she could do anything she wanted and said she wanted to be a secretary. The amount of pearl-clutching she endured because she didn’t want to pursue a “valuable” profession like a doctor or lawyer was insane! You can be anything you want…but not that. How absurd is that? Many women choose so-called easier positions, with flexible hours, to spend more time pursuing things that are important to them, like raising their families. There is nothing wrong with that.
Figure out what you really want, regardless of what others say.
Create a Plan
Now that you’ve established what you want most out of life, you need to plan to get there. Does your dream involve a career that requires higher education and professional accreditations? Which schools are you going to go to? How are you going to pay for it? Where will you live, when will you study, and how will you support yourself during this time? These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself in the planning phase.
If you decided that what you want is more time with your family, figure out what you can do to make it happen. Does your work offer flexible hours? Can you switch to part-time or remote work? Does your partner have a job that might allow you to take some time off? What can you do to improve your budget so you don’t have to work as hard? How much money do you really need to live on?
There are lots of variables that come into play when creating your plan. These questions should help you get started, but everyone’s situation is different. You may have unique obstacles to overcome that others don’t. That’s okay, that’s life. Your plan should account for any of those things that life might throw your way. To get started, try doing a brain dump where you write out everything you want and everything you think you need to get there. Once you have it all out, you can flesh out the essential parts.
One other important thing to consider in the planning phase is how your plan might impact your partner or other family members. If you have one, your partner should have a crucial role in planning, and the plan should account for what they want as well. It might take some compromise to ensure that all family members are happy with the plan, but that’s okay. Anyone who will be affected by the plan should be onboard with it.
You’ve decided what you want, you’ve mapped it all out, and now it’s time to get it! It probably sounds daunting. There’s going to be a lot in your plan that you aren’t even sure how to start. That’s okay.
Start small. Send an email. Ask a question. Have a difficult conversation with your partner or boss. Do one thing every day to help you meet your goal, and keep a journal of your progress. Those small steps you started today will turn into giant leaps in the years to come, and with each small task, you accomplish you will be that much closer to achieving your goal.
Allow for Changes
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we planned. When we are in our twenties, the things we want might be vastly different than what we want in our forties. That’s okay. It’s okay to change, grow, and learn what is for you and what isn’t.
Life often throws us other curveballs as well, and even the most well-thought-out plans aren’t immune to changes and hiccups. These things are okay. It happens. Adjust and move forward.
It’s never too late to change things up to get what you really want out of life.
Go Out There and Get What you Want!
Although women can’t have it all (no one can really), we can have anything we really want. So go out there and get it!