Is the idea of being able to balance a top-level career with a harmonious family life a fantasy? Can you have a successful career, or a successful family life but not both?

It’s a contentious issue.

The phrase ‘having it all’ was big in the 1980s. Second wave feminism had delivered huge advances in women’s employment prospects and equal rights over the previous two decades, bringing with it the novel concept of the ‘superwoman’. Incredible examples of successful womanhood were thrown into the spotlight – women who were managing to combine powerful top flight careers with raising families – showing young women everywhere that ‘having it all’ was indeed possible. Success, power, money – and a contented family life were ours for the taking it seemed – the barriers to women’s ambition and achievements had fallen. 

As more women attempted to follow their shining examples in the 90s and 2000s, however, the gloss of ‘having it all’ started to fade. The stress of trying to successfully maintain challenging senior careers whilst managing homes and families was causing overwhelm and burnout for many.  The backlash against the concept of ‘having it all’ was under way.  Perhaps those superwomen from the 80s were just that – super human – different from the rest of the us mere mortals? Or perhaps ‘having it all’ was actually a myth?

As we’re nearing 2020, I think it’s time for a rethink. 

Combining a successful career with motherhood does indeed raise many challenges – there’s no point in pretending otherwise. There are obvious pitfalls linked to stress, overwhelm and guilt, as well as external pressures such as discrimination, inflexibility and resistance in the workplace. However, the fact remains that many women are managing to balance a high level career and motherhood successfully – and that many women continue to want to do so. I believe that you can ‘have it all’ but that having it all no longer means striving for some kind of superhuman idealised perfection. Having it all should be about identifying what makes YOU happy and fulfilled, and creating your own personal goals. What one woman wants can be very different from another’s. It’s about setting your own standards and defining a set of values and principles by which you can live your best life. You have skills to use and choices to make – you can indeed ‘have it all’ if you decide what you want and take control of your own future.

Here’s how:

1. Create your vision.
Decide on your goals – both for your career and personal life. Do you dream of being a partner or having a seat on the board, or are you happy to go with the flow and see where your career takes you? And in your personal life, do you want kids and if so how many? Imagine yourself 5/10 years from now. How are you working? Where are you living? How are you balancing it all? Be ambitious and banish your preconceptions. Imagine an ideal you in an ideal world – what would that look like? This will be the all in your version of ‘having it all’.

2. Get prepared.
Preparation is key for ‘having it all’. Think about all the challenges that could arise for you in balancing your career and personal life in the future. Take a look at the 5 pitfalls of working motherhood and think about how they might affect you personally. With knowledge and planning you can prepare advance strategies for overcoming obstacles and dealing with the pressures that will inevitably arise. (My blog deals with many of these strategies – have a look through past posts).

3. Believe in yourself.
Adopt a positive mindset and believe you can have it all. Combining a challenging career with raising a family is tough – but it’s just another challenge, albeit a big one! Trust in your ability to make your vision a reality. Be bold. Take a leap of faith. Do what you’re afraid to do. This is how goals are achieved and visions turned into reality. Build your confidence by renouncing perfection, keeping a record of your past achievements as affirmation of your abilities and by practising things you find difficult. If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, understand that this means you have previous form for dealing successfully with trying circumstances – however you may feel inside. Positivity is crucial for making your version of ‘having it all’ work. Renowned social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s ground-breaking work on the subject studied the broaden and build theory of positive emotions. Her findings suggest that positive thinking broadens and expands your mind and sense of possibility, which in turn leads to more adventurous behaviour. Over time, more exploratory and adventurous actions lead to the growth of meaningful, long-term skills, which in turn foster more positive emotions. Check out her book on Positivity and build positive thinking into your routine. You can have it all, without being superwoman!  You’ve just got to decide what it is that you want – and believe that you can make it happen.


Tune into this week’s podcast to hear my interview with Janine Esbrand who is a coach for women returning to work from maternity leave. We’re talking more about the challenges of having it all and she shares some of her own tips for making it work for you.