We all have that vision of the woman who has it all; the CEO career woman who scores big and still has time to bake cookies with her kids, catch cocktails with her friends, make room for self-care and hell – even scores a book deal.
Setting Impossible Standards
The reality is that this woman is probably on her way to burnout. There’s a certain myth that comes with the message that we can ‘have it all’. This message leads to us setting impossible standards for ourselves and then feeling terrible when we don’t meet these imaginary superhuman standards. In turn, this sense of having let ourselves and others down leads to low self-worth and quite possibly burnout. Social media also contributes to this idea of the perfect life, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, and the perfect career woman – and the have it all message is fuel for this fire.
We need to redefine the message but also the stereotype that accompanies the message. When we think about having it all – we are often alluding to a woman who is successfully juggling the work/life balance and there’s often family involved in that. But all woman are different and all woman don’t follow the same prototype of life and that by constantly sending this message, some women will be left questioning their own validity and place in the world. When we start to unpack what having it all means we need to understand that we are talking about women who are making choices in life and deciding what to prioritize.
Anne Marie Slaughter’s Ted Talk titled ‘Can We Have it All’ covers the point that this message also contributes to inequality in our society. She notes that “…full equality, does not just mean valuing women on male terms. It means creating a much wider range of equally respected choices for women and for me” This means that by talking about the balancing act of having it all, we are creating chasms between those who are breadwinners and those who are caregivers. We don’t say that stay at home parents ‘have it all’ we only lend this to those who are also successful in their career. This have it all philosophy means that we aren’t fighting the real issues that can help us to achieve balance; changes in the workplace and cultural shifts in how we approach gender and success.
Avoiding Asking for Help
When we map our lives out according to the idea that we can have it all it stops us from reaching out and asking for help. The have it all philosophy is about being totally awe-inspiring in our abilities to sail through life with impeccable organization skills. It also talks of a single-handed narrative where a woman achieves all this without reaching out to her partner, colleagues or community for help. It doesn’t cover the trickiness of gender politics in the home, the overarching need to prove oneself in high-powered male-dominated work environments, or the fact that many people live in a single parent set-up. The have it all philosophy backs up the narrative that asking for help makes you weak or somehow less worthy.
Its Time to Aim Lower
The idea that we can have it all is sold as an idea of freedom; look how far we have advanced; women don’t have to stay at home anymore – they can lean in as far as they want. But this idea of freedom is also another trap and it sells an unhealthy message about impossible standards, stereotypes, and goal-orientated success that leads to the dark side of perfectionism. First; we need to set our own standards for what having it all looks like. Even if it's just getting the kids to school and having five-minutes to ourselves. Or sending that report at work on time and managing to send a text to a friend. Lowering standards to realistic expectations is going to help us to achieve our goals which in turn raises our self-worth, our self-compassion, and leads to a lighter load.
What are your thoughts on ‘having it all?’, share stories in the comments.