Having It All: A Myth, a Goal, or Something Else Entirely?

Lubna Haq | 2 July 2024

At a female CEO and leaders in Housing Lunch I attended this week, the question posed on my table was, ‘is it possible to have it all?’ This provoked some fascinating discussion and debate which I would like to summarise and share.

The phrase “having it all” has been a loaded one for women for decades. It conjures images of a woman excelling in her career, raising a picture-perfect family, maintaining a spotless home, and somehow still radiating effortless charm. But is this ideal truly achievable, or is it a societal pressure that sets women up for disappointment? One of the key things that emerged was the women around the table recognised that we have choices now in a way our mothers never had. We have opportunities and less societal pressure and censorship that existed as recently as 40 years ago.

But let’s go back to the essence of understanding the question. The concept itself is subjective. What constitutes “having it all” varies greatly from person to person. For some, it’s the corner office or a high-powered career. Others envision a life dedicated to nurturing a large family. Still others crave a balance between professional success and personal fulfilment. I can clearly recall conversations with my friends about the best time to have a family, whether this was even an option alongside a fulfilling career and those friends who felt they had to defend their decision – the choice they made – not to marry or to have children because they didn’t want to.

There’s no denying the social and structural barriers still exist to make achieving this ideal so difficult for many women. The expectation of primary childcare often falls on them, creating a time crunch that can feel impossible to overcome. Workplaces often lack family-friendly policies, and societal messages can subtly encourage women to prioritise their families over their careers. My daughter’s words regularly echo in my brain, ‘I don’t have the mental load to take on (her partners) life admin or family issues’ and when I ask her what she would like for birthdays and special occasions, it is always, ‘time just to be me please.’

This  pressure can lead to guilt and feelings of inadequacy. The constant juggling act of work, family, and personal time can leave women feeling stretched thin and exhausted.

However, framing “having it all” as a singular, rigid goal is missing the point. Perhaps, a more empowering approach is to focus on building a fulfilling life – a life that reflects your own values and priorities. This might involve making compromises and choices along the way, but it allows for a more nuanced definition of success.

Here are some key aspects to consider in building a fulfilling life:

  • Personal Values: Identifying what truly matters to you is the first step. Do you crave intellectual stimulation? Do you find joy in nurturing relationships? Understanding your core values helps you prioritise and make choices that align with them.
  • Work-Life Balance: Finding a balance that works for you, not someone else’s definition, is crucial. This could involve flexible work arrangements, negotiating childcare responsibilities with a partner, or even taking a career break if needed.
  • Support Systems: Building a strong support network is essential. This could include family, friends, mentors, or even childcare providers. Having reliable support allows you to delegate tasks and create space for yourself.
  • Self-Care: Prioritising your own well-being is not selfish, it’s essential. Whether it’s exercise, pursuing a hobby, or simply getting enough sleep, taking care of yourself allows you to show up fully for all aspects of your life.

The idea of “having it all” might be a myth in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean women can’t achieve a life filled with meaning and purpose. By focusing on your own definition of success, setting realistic expectations, and building strong support systems, you can create a fulfilling life that is uniquely yours.

It’s also important to acknowledge that this conversation isn’t just about women. Men too can benefit from challenging traditional gender roles and working towards a more equitable distribution of domestic labour. Ultimately, the pursuit of “having it all” can be a valuable starting point. However, it’s the journey of defining what fulfilment means to you and building a life that reflects those values that holds the true power. If this is an area that you struggle with and would like to develop a more balanced approach you may consider personal coaching or some specific workshops or discussion seminars at work.


Contact Lubna Haq for a more detailed discussion of how we could help.

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