Stop asking if women can have it all! Do we even want it all?
The question "Can women have it all?" is outdated. It's time we start asking a new question
What was initially an empowering message about the fact that women can both have success in their professional lives and in their social lives, has turned into a frankly patronising assertion. You can be top of your industry AND have a family! Of course, you can! Why are we still questioning it? What we should be asking instead is why this is the goal? Whilst ‘having it all’ might look amazing, it likely doesn’t feel as amazing as it looks. That begs the question… do we even want it all?
When Jacinda Arden stepped down, it was reported with the sexist headline “Jacinda Arden resigns: Can women really have it all?”. The fact of the matter is that this is a tagline that would never accompany the resignation of a male leader. The reason why men aren’t sitting there pondering whether they can have a family and a career is because stereotypically, the emotional load of a household still largely sits on the shoulders of the women and therefore, having a family adds little to their plate. In fact, a male leader’s resignation would be viewed completely differently. If he stepped down to spend more time with his family, that would be met with coos and gushes as to what an incredible man he is and how lucky his partner must be. They would see him as being humble and ‘doing what’s best for the country’, rather than seeing it as weakness, a sign of his own personal failing, or the fact that he couldn’t ‘keep up’. And they would probably listen to what he actually said in his resignation speech.
Something which didn’t happen when Jacinda Arden stepped down. If you were actually listening, you would have heard her say that she felt like she had an ‘empty tank’. She wasn’t saying she couldn’t do it. She clearly could, as demonstrated by the past six years. She was saying she didn’t want to because it had drained her. She was saying ‘enough’. She was saying ‘no more’. She was saying she was tired and I would be too if I had to endure the endless abuse and scrutiny that she has had.
Unfortunately, the trickles remaining of hustle culture, meant that her resignation was not seen with the recongition she should have received. It is a strength to have the emotional awareness to know your limit. It is a skill to notice when your quality of life has diminished and take action to rectify that. It is particularly brave to resist the temptation to keep such an esteemed title such as Prime Minister. It demonstrates good boundaries as no job is worth your mental health. If you have the financial privilege to do so, it should be commended when someone chooses their health first. Other people can be Prime Minister but only you can look after you. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t just be doing yourself a disservice, but your country. Knowing when to hand over the reins when someone else has more to give means she respects the position more than she craves the power that it brings. And we need more leaders who can check their ego at the door
I entered the job market when ‘hustle’ culture was at its prime and like most of us, adopted this mindset of ‘if you don’t succeed, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough’. I was always thinking about work, it was my top priority and I would do anything to succeed. I would sacrifice relationships, I would cancel dates for work events and most evenings I would have not just one work event but two. I thrived off it because my work had become my identity. This hustle culture overglofiried being busy and I was a part of the problem. The source of my external validation was my career and therefore I failed to recognise the exhaustion and burnout that sat underneath.
Until one day, when I would push it too far and then get ill.
When forced to slow down, the thoughts in my head would be horrible as my productivity and my self-esteem would be so intertwined so as soon as I could, I would return to the busyness of my life as a distraction. Until another illness would hit. And another. It would actually take me years to learn this lesson and if I’m being honest, I only started to listen because the list of unachieved goals was getting smaller and smaller.
I believe that if you don’t listen when your body whispers, it will scream. And one day, it did indeed scream loud enough for me to hear and what followed was a total reexamination of my priorities. When I finally slowed down, I noticed all that had been missing from my life and understandably, wanted more of a balance.
I started questioning what my definition of success was and then one day, I had an epiphany when I was at lunch with someone I deeply admire. She told me that picking up her kids was a non-negotiable every day. Her team knew that the people she worked with knew that and her agents knew that. The fact that she was at the level of her career where she could make this a non-negotiable and not lose a job over it, screamed success much more than any monetary figure. She said she did occasionally lose jobs over it and that even more confirmed that the woman sitting in front of me had her priorities and values in check. She knew what was important in life and at that moment, I realised, that is what I wanted. That was what success looked like. Success wasn’t doing the most or being the best. It was not bending on what was important to you, making time for it and if you lost out on an opportunity as a result, so be it. I wanted the confidence to know there would always be another job but nothing was worth losing the everyday joys.
The truth is most people if you want it hard enough, can have it all but whether you truly want it is a different story. Do you want to walk through your life constantly busy? Do you want to be exhausted when you wake up? Do you want to have such a full life that you never take a moment to realise how much you are accomplishing?
Not me. I want a slower life. And I wish there were more women speaking about the fact that the goal is not to have it all but to enjoy what you have.
It’s OK to be capable of having it all and choosing not to.
That doesn’t make you lazy.
It’s OK if you don’t want it all.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t ambitious.
It’s OK to want a quieter life.
Of course, it’s possible to have it all, but having it all is exhausting! It makes sense that we don’t want to spend our life with an empty tank. The world teaches us the only way we can be happy is more, but sometimes the answer is actually less. When you have less, you appreciate each thing more. When your diary is emptier, it means you actually can enjoy each event rather than rushing out to go to the next one. I would know as I confront a quieter diary than I ever have had. Am I less in demand than I was when I was attending every event? Yes, but am I happier now that I don’t need to be in rooms full of small talk? Absolutely!
In life coaching, we believe that you hold all the answers and the job of the life coach is to ask the right questions to get you there. The problem here is that we are asking the wrong question.
Lots of love,
Have you tried having it all? How did it work out for you? Have you ever found that less is more? Let me know in the comment!