Having it all – what does that phrase mean to you?

Does even hearing the phrase ‘having it all’ make you roll your eyes with cynicism? Do you assume it is just another myth that only serves to make working mothers feel dissatisfied with their lives? Do you feel it is something you would like but in reality would never be able to achieve?

We’re all familiar with the concept of ‘having it all’ as an 80’s and 90’s trope; the vision of the hyper driven career woman who manages a top level job while successfully bringing up multiple children; the ‘superwoman’ who excels in all areas of her life as embodied by Nicola Horlick. Second wave feminism had delivered big advances in women’s employment opportunities and equal rights over the previous two decades, and now anything was possible. Success, power, money – and a contented family life were there for the taking – the barriers to women’s ambition and achievements had been well and truly smashed.

With better career prospects emerging, more women attempted to follow the examples of those early pioneers, combining challenging top flight jobs with raising families. And as more women made that journey, the shiny trophy of ‘having it all’ began to tarnish. The stress of trying to be all things to all people was taking its toll. Many women suffered from stress, overwhelm and burnout. Perhaps ‘having it all’ was only for those exceptional few ‘superwomen’?  Perhaps it was just a pipe dream for the rest of us?

It certainly seemed that way. There’s no denying that managing a successful career while raising a family is hugely challenging. You will most probably encounter many pitfalls such as guilt, stress, overwhelm and a loss of confidence  – as well as battling external issues such as inflexibility and even discrimination in the the workplace. In that sense, ‘having it all’ does seem impossible. How can you acquire the right balance of success, status, financial stability and a harmonious family life while dealing with all these internal and external pressures?

Well, as we head into a new decade, I think it’s time to challenge our preconceptions and change our thinking about having it all. As hard as working motherhood may be, the reality is that many women still want to work successfully, achieve in their careers, have financial independence – and bring up families. That fact will never change. What can change is our notion of having it all. We should no longer think of having it all as striving for some superhuman idealised form of a perfect life. We should no longer think of having it all as being the ultimate destination – it’s not a generic raft of achievements and acquisitions, the top job, the high salary, the beautiful home, the children. If we continue to think of having it all in this way, we will never be fulfilled. Having it all should be about identifying what makes YOU happy and creating your own personal steps and goals. It should be about your journey – not your destination.

What do I mean by this?

Simply put, it’s about switching the focus from what you want, to how you get there. It means setting your own standards and defining a set of values and principles by which you can live your best life. It means concentrating on gaining the skills, the confidence, the experience and the capacity to live a rewarding life to the best of your own ability and potential. This analogy explains it well. Imagine having an exquisite meal in a top restaurant – the end product and your experience of it is fleetingly fabulous for sure. But for you, at this point, it’s all about the end product, and not the process. When the meal is over, it’s over. Imagine instead that you decide to learn to cook an exquisite meal from scratch – that you study the processes, learn all about the ingredients, and the presentation, that you practise and fail, and tweak and practise, and improve – and ultimately succeed in producing a delicious, special meal. You will then have the amazing end product – and a set of skills, experience and the resilience to produce it again and again. This is what having it all really means. It’s a process of ‘becoming’ not of ‘having’. You have skills to learn and choices to make – you can indeed ‘have it all’ if you decide how to go about it and take control of your own future.

If you now feel galvanised to find your own version of ‘having it all’ in 2020, sign up for more information on my ‘Having it all’ personal coaching course here. Also tune into the podcast to find out what skills and attributes will help you have it all this year.