Regarding Women and “Having It All”: What Exactly is “It All?”

Every once in a while I meet a stranger who will breathlessly ask me “How do you do it all?” I always respond in the same way: first I stare at them dumbly, then I ask “What is ‘it all,’ exactly?” From what I can gather after years of unscientific research, “doing it all” is simultaneously balancing a job and a marriage and a kid or two. Staying out of jail and avoiding foreclosure. Remembering to send a card to your mom on Mother’s Day. And checking for coffee stains on the front of your shirt before you put it on in the morning, lest those around you begin to question your sanity or focus. In other words, “doing it all” may just mean being an average responsible adult who is not clinically insane.

Then there is “having it all.” Having it all is not the same as doing it all; the former implies some sort of entitlement, or at least accomplishment; the latter sounds a bit more like stress, drudgery, laundry, unmown grass, kids who you must wrestle into the bath—you get the picture. And one more thing: “having it all” (or not) is used to describe women. Men, as far as I can tell, either always or never have it all, because it simply rarely comes up where the male sex is concerned. I live with 4 males (five, if you count the dog), and I’m not sure any one of them has ever thought in terms of having it all, unless you’re talking about what’s left of the half gallon of ice cream or possession of every single remote control in the house.

This week many of us are wondering whether we “have it all” after the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s excellent piece in The Atlantic.

There is so much in her story to discuss—and it has already been discussed, at length, online—but I remain intrigued by “having it all.”  Do we even want to have it all?  I don’t think I know what it is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want it.  You?

Speaking of having it all, take a look at the research that Real Simple did with the Families and Work Institute earlier this year, and join in the conversation about time management techniques for busy women. Plus, learn how to find free time from five extremely busy women.

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