Why Women Who Try To 'Have It All' End Up With Nothing

Stop the madness!

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"I can bring home the bacon ... Fry it up in a pan ... And never let you forget you’re a man ... Cuz I’m a woman!"

The lyrics to that insidiously catchy 1980s Enjoli perfume jingle (and the brand’s slogan: "An 8-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman") have stuck with me long after the scent faded. 

By my early teens, I had already learned that, as a woman, I needed to go-go-go (I’m the 24-hour woman, right?) in order to "have it all." 


Success as a woman meant being a top-dollar breadwinner, a great cook, and an flawlessly sexy, attentive wife — all poured into a slinky cocktail dress that I’d wear while churning out award-winning articles with one hand and mouth-watering appetizers with the other. No pressure.

Growing up in the 70s, my single mother became the first policewoman in our state, and movies like "9 to 5" showcased empowered women challenging sexist bosses and breaking down the walls of the old-boys clubs. We were bold, we were strong, and we were taking over — it was exhilarating.

But that powerful feeling of knowing that I could be or do anything shifted to thinking that I should have it all — or else.


The concepts of freedom, possibility, and choice suddenly started to feel overwhelming instead of inspiring. Our friends and family, the media, and society at large are constantly telling us we deserve this thing called "Having It All".

"Of course you can have it all!" and "Don’t settle — you deserve everything!” are statements I’m sure most modern women have heard bandied around the sisterhood — well meant, sure, but packing a hell of a pressure-cooker punch, too.

For many of us today, success as a working woman looks more like a day in the life of Michelle Obama. Impressive? Yep. Attainable and sustainable? Well… 

You're encouraged to pick a job that helps you make a difference in the world. But not just any job, mind you — you must "lean in" and aim for an influential CEO or CFO position, or maybe become a scrappy (but definitely successful) entrepreneur. You should also obtain at least one master’s degree from an Ivy League school (but a PhD is even better!).

Meanwhile, stay in peak physical health and beauty at all times: strong, flexible, stylish, lean, and toned, and eat only healthy, organic foods. 

While conquering the world (and looking effortlessly hot while doing so), it's important to also be a fun, perfect wife and mother; effortlessly balancing the demands of your household and your business affairs. Of course, you'll also have time to complete darling Pinterest crafts, give back to your community, and head off on multiple Instagram-worthy vacations each year (because #YOLO).


See what I mean about PRESSURE?

When we don't measure up to these standards, most of us feel disappointed (like we're failing) — and yet, we’re still out there trying anyway, and it’s killing us and ruining our relationships.

On the love life side of things, we expect a slightly stronger, taller, all-around better version of ourselves as our ideal partners. How tall are you in those 6-inch heels? Mr. Perfect must stand four inches taller than that. You’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Mr. Perfect must boast an even more impressive title, of course.

When we try to choose our mate based on the same impossible standards we often set for ourselves, the pool gets very small — think kiddy-sized.


This isn’t going to help you find or keep your ideal mate, just like that First-Lady list above probably won't help you lead a life that’s fulfilling on an individual level.

However, none of this means you should settle for less than what you need or just give up looking when it comes to life and love.

Over the years, I’ve learned to define my "Having It All" list on my terms. I started by thinning my never-ending, impossible-to-complete-in-real-life to-do list. As I sat there frustrated and exhausted at the end of each day with 19 items still left, I asked myself, "If I can’t do it all, then what’s enough?"

"What’s enough?" is an awesome question. It applies to everything.


What’s enough exercise? What’s enough effort on this work project? What’s enough money?

When I was single and dating, I did the same thing. First, I made a list of the perfect man. I called it my Unicorn List, and it was 9-pages long. Then, the list was complete, I ran through it item by item to see what would shake out and stick in real life.

For example, "Would I rather be alone than be with a man who doesn’t think I’m beautiful?" The answer is I’d rather be alone, so that one stayed.

"Would I rather be alone than be with a man who didn’t like the same music I liked?" Nope, that’s not as important (I have headphones), so I crossed it off.


This is how I identified my deal breakers. I got that monster list down to four pages, and this informed me about the man I was truly looking for.

Guess what? I found him.

"Having It All" is a tricky little sucker, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom.


It can creep in when no one’s looking and take a stranglehold on your life.

My advice is this: When you feel the almighty "Having It All" pressuring you, treat it as an opportunity to ask yourself, "What’s enough?" 

When I do this, I shift from "I must have it all" to "I’m leading a happy life on my terms." And isn't that really what we're all after? 

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