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The Myth of Having It All

by Christine Hassler, life coach, professional speaker, author, and Gen Y expert

March 31st marked the end of Women’s History Month, a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society throughout the history of our nation. Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan who helped redefine the role of a woman in America come to mind.

Perhaps one of the most transformative messages born from the women’s movement was the concept that a woman can “have it all.” It’s an empowering and exciting message; yet, the misinterpretations of this message can also be dangerous and actually quite disempowering for women.

A lot of women define Feminism as a woman’s ability and right to have it all. But Feminism is not about having it all or doing it all. Feminism is about the freedom to make choices. Somewhere along the path of the women’s liberation movement, we began to buy into the belief that to be an empowered women means we have to do everything that both men and women do. So instead of making choices, we have tried to fulfill both gender roles at the same time. And from my perspective, it’s not working. Instead of giving us a tremendous amount of freedom and opportunity, this concept of having it all has morphed into something that excuses putting so much on our plates that we are stressed out, burned out and running out of time for ourselves (and our loved ones) every single day.

And what does “having it all” really mean? Of course it means different things to different people, but generally most of us associate this concept with happiness and success. But most women’s version of having it all is slightly different than men’s. In the brand women buy, we expect that not only are we supposed to have it all but do it all at 100 percent: the career, relationship, children/family all while looking good, doing good and being good.

Men are less likely to try to focus on building a career and starting or raising a family at the same time. In general, men are just better at compartmentalizing their lives while women excel at putting a cornucopia of to-do’s on our plates. I think women could actually learn a lot from men when it comes to making self-honoring choices.

We begin buying into the myth of having it all at an early age. I just concluded a month long tour of speaking to college women across the country on this topic which was inspired by my own journey. In my 20s, I was completely on board with having it all. I had my checklist life in mind: start a lucrative career right after college, meet someone, fall in love, get married in my mid-20s, get my career to a successful enough point that I can take some time off without loosing footing and/or work part-time from home, and then of course get pregnant and have my first child before the age of 32. It seemed like a realistic timeline of expectations and according to the tenants of Feminism. Not only could I have it all, it was my right and even duty as a woman.

I see college women across the country following in footsteps that resemble mine, chasing after the having it all Holy Grail. Yet when I ask how many of them feel an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety, 99.9 percent of the hands go up in the room. And they think this is how college should be! They think that because they can multi-task and over-commit, they should. Women at a very young age are being sold a bill of goods that what they do defines them and doing EVERYTHING they possibly can while sacrificing their peace of mind and overall well-being will create success in their lives. Is this really the message we want to send young women?

I hope not. It’s my intention to remind my fellow females that the Feminist movement is about the freedom to make choices not the obligation to have it all. I also see the effects of trying to live up to this obligation in the 20-somethings I coach and counsel who are so over-extended that they have no idea of who they are or what they really want. They have put their own self-development on hold to accomplish all the items of their having it all checklist.

Again, I can relate. I learned that by trying to do it all at once, I was not doing anything at a level of 100 percent effort or enjoyment. There was simply too much to do and accomplish to feel 100 percent about anything other than my stress level. So in my 30s when each item on my checklist that I accomplished did not create a sense of fulfillment or relief but rather more longing, I could not deny that having it all was perhaps not all it was cracked up to be.

I looked at women who seemingly had it all and noticed that so many of them were so tired and overburdened that they did not seem to be enjoying anything. And when I looked at women who nurtured their natural preferences and abilities and made choices to support those, rather than chasing after all the “should’s” in life, they seemed peaceful and actually quite happy. And these women seemed far more feminine to me.

Which brings me back to the true essence of the women’s liberation movement: the freedom to choose things that support us in being who we really are rather than some cookie-cutter version of a multi-tasking half man, half woman machine. It’s about the freedom to be women and participate in what used to be a “man’s world” without having to act like a man. Being our all as women is honoring the choices and roles women play as mothers, wives, caretakers, CEOs, politicians, military personnel, doctors, teachers and so on without making any of those choices and roles better than another. It’s also about eliminating the limiting belief that if we do not take on more than one role we are less than in anyway.

I feel grateful to be a woman in the world today as it’s an exciting and important time for our gender. As we move away from the pressure cooker of having it all and gracefully slip back into our natural state of being creative, nurturing, compassionate and receptive, we are beginning to shift the impact that women are making. The past has been about participating more fully and equally in the world. The future will be about changing the world.

As old masculine paradigms are breaking down around us, a new type of feminism is upon us. A Feminism that asks us to make different choices that are more aligned with being our all. Who we are in the world is far more impactful that what we have. I hope women everywhere will begin making choices to step fully into being all we can be. And as we do, we will truly feel like we do indeed have it all.

Texas Conference for Women speaker Christine Hassler is a life coach with a counseling emphasis specializing in relationships, career and self-identity. She wrote the first guide book written exclusively for women, entitled “20 Something 20 Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction.” Her second book “20 Something Manifesto” is for all 20-somethings struggling to answer all of life’s tough questions.