Why Smart Women Who Stop Trying To 'Have It All' Are Happier

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As a little girl in the 70’s (and coming of age in the 80’s), I grew up witnessing the rise of feminism.

Helen Reddy sang "I Am Woman". The perfume ads touted strong women who could have it all (thank you Charlie and Enjoli). It was the age of the ERA, a truly wonderful thing. No longer were women expected to stay at home.

Yet, it also ushered in the belief that not only could women have it all, but that we should.

I began to pursue having it all with gusto. I went to college and pursued a career. I had two little girls, continued to work, and was also Vice President of the PTA. There were never-ending tasks to maintain the pretense of having it all: workouts, salons, shopping, cooking, laundry, and tidying up the house.

Being a mom brought on a whole additional level of proving I had it all, and I tell you, raising small humans is hard work!

But chasing the belief that I should have it all often left me exhausted and frustrated on the regular.

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What made it more frustrating was the (rare) days when proved I could do it all. I got the kids up, fed, and dressed and everyone got to school and work on time.

Work was productive and rewarding. Then, we came back home at the end of the day to an immaculate house where I made a wholesome dinner, got everyone bathed and to bed on time, and was available for a few moments of sexy time. (Talk about a fairy tale.)

That was a rare occurrence, though, and I'd beat myself up when I didn't do it. I wasn't thriving or happy. I was trying to survive. I was ravaged with guilt for not doing it all every single day. I traded time for one activity at the sacrifice of another.

I believed that I was a crappy wife, a horrible housekeeper, and a subpar mom. My (then) husband’s affair seemed to prove that I sucked as a woman.

From the outside, though? It looked like I had it all. When you try to pretend that you do have it all together, deep down you’ll know you’re living a lie. And honestly? I was miserable and worn out. I believed that I was nothing but a broken failure.

After getting a divorce, I began to make peace with the fact that maybe I wasn't broken and maybe, just maybe, the sexy perfume ads and societal beliefs weren’t correct. I had to make peace with the fact that NOPE, you can’t have it all. We, humans, are not wired to do so much in a week, let alone a single day.

I realized that feminism meant that I could choose what I wanted and simply accept that not having it all is OK.

We are witnessing a new rise of feminism and it’s a glorious thing. However, I am also cautious about it giving women more freedom. Why? Because of the unrealistic standards that are also prevalent. I call this the push to always be "Instagram Perfect".

You know what I mean. Not only should a woman keep an immaculate house, feed her children organic meals, and be über-attractive all the time, she should also have a six-figure business with a thriving social media following. Or, if she works full time, she should be ambitious enough to have a side-gig that fulfills her spiritually.

All those "internet gurus" will tell you that you can simultaneously make a million, be head-over-heels in love with yourself and a perfect partner, raise smart kids, and be model perfect.

What’s worse is that those same gurus hint that if you aren't "all in" and "don't have it all", something must be wrong with you.

That’s utter BS. It's time to stop buying into it.

Pursuing that level of perfection is what makes you feel exhausted, stressed, subpar, and burned out!

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Nothing is wrong with you. You are not broken. You’ve just bought into the belief that the human experience should be easy and perfect. But that’s not reality. You will have days when everything falls into place. And you’ll have days when you feel like a hot mess.

Humans are messy, dynamic, imperfect creatures with rough edges. But, here is what I know to be true:

  • You deserve to have your deepest desires.
  • You have the potential to truly excel in some area of your life; you may have to make sacrifices in order to pursue it.
  • Tending your relationships will give pay you back tenfold in happiness.
  • No matter how blessed you are, you get to want more. Wanting more doesn't make you ungrateful.
  • Love is your birthright.
  • There are tips, tricks, and tools that can help make you more efficient and productive (rather than just busier.)
  • Desiring a simple, ordinary life is not a sin.
  • Taking exquisite care of your body — quality food, regular exercise, and adequate sleep — is important to a well-lived life.
  • Investing in your own self-development — be it a book, online course, or working with a coach — is worth every minute and every dollar.
  • It’s impossible to focus on changing every single area of your life at the same time, that's a plan for failure.
  • If you want to change your life, begin with one or two things. Soon you'll discover that other areas of your life will naturally fall into place.
  • If stuff falls by the wayside in pursuit of your dreams, then maybe it needs to.
  • A little planning now will make the road ahead easier to navigate.
  • Clearing clutter from your life — mental and physical — will give you clarity on what’s really important to you.
  • Sometimes, you just need help managing your life — an assistant, a house cleaner, or a babysitter. Help is not a dirty word.

You are entirely capable of having a fulfilling career, raising a family, having a rocking body, and healthy relationships.

But just remember that the pursuit of perfection and the pretense of having it all is unrealistic. That expectation will squash all the joy out of living. It doesn't matter how smart, how well-educated, or how much money you make, no one is capable of having it all. At least, not all the time.

Yes, you will have those single days or moments when you do feel as if you have it all. But those moments are fleeting because the human experience demands that life will always shift and change.

Making peace with the fact that you can’t have it all does have its benefits.

That’s because what’s often missed is that there’s an inexplicable beauty to the chaos of human life. The pursuit of perfection and proving you have it all will always betray the most important person in the world: you.

You deserve to live a life that feels loving and nourishing. And in order to really do that, my dear, not expecting yourself to be able to HAVE it all and DO it all will give you the ultimate reward: freedom.

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Debra Smouse is a life coach and author who discovered that when she fell in love with life, it loved her right back. Get a free e-book and a bi-weekly love note.