Five Myths About Having it All


A secret to fulfillment is setting goals that are lofty yet attainable. Which means “having it all” and its associated myths need to be ditched. Right quick.

Myth #1: I can "have it all" - in sequence.

The notion of having it all at once has been deceased for some time. But we’ve been handed a sneaky alternative:  the idea that we can sequentially have it all. Be a hard-driving career woman, then a fully-focused family lady, then a career woman again. Voila! You had it all! (And, yes, this should apply to men, too…)

An article in Glass Hammer notes that while sequencing may work for some women, it often happens accidentally, at best. The author also notes:

“While there are certainly periods of more intense need, such as when caring for a newborn or a sick family member, no one can effectively slot child-rearing or elder-care efforts into neat time sequences.”

Family isn’t a two-year gig that ends; it’s a lifelong commitment. As is work, if it’s created in a manner that’s meaningful, self-driven, and intrinsically satisfying. We can aim to blend work and life, but we can’t be powerhouse perfect in both. Period. <Click to Tweet>

Myth #2: Having it all simply requires some good planning.

In the book Creating a Life, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett interviewed career-driven women who’d suffered from age-related infertility. One interviewee, who regretted waiting to try for kids, said:

“Ask yourself what you need to be happy at 45. And ask yourself this question early enough so that you have a shot at getting what you want. Learn to be as strategic with your personal life as you are with your career.”

Sounds nice, but is it possible?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says no. In Lean In she writes, “I’m a big believer in thoughtful preparation…but when it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them.”

I agree with Sandberg. Not only can strategic planning prove inflexible, what you think you’ll want at 45 when you’re 25 tends to be quite different than what you actually end up wanting. Consider this:  your 8-year-old self probably thought you’d want to be living in a castle and wearing princess gowns 24-7 right about now. Was she right? (Alright, this may explain the Kate Middleton obsession, but still...)

Bottomline:  we aren’t good at projecting ourselves into our older self's mind. As a result, long-term work-life strategizing falls flat.

Myth #3:  My career will [matter less/be on auto-pilot] by the time I’m 30.

Sandberg is an outspoken critic of this myth. She writes, “Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.”

Sandberg contends that women often step back from their career incrementally throughout their twenties, “making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.” She argues that as a result, many women have neither the financial power to purchase quality nonparental childcare, nor the motivation to stick with a job they’ve made uninteresting through years of parenting preparation.

Not to mention that the deeper we get into a career, the more engaged we tend to become, not less. Expertise yields passion, making it nearly impossible to walk away. Or to remain content if we do.

Sandberg’s advice to young women:

“Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.”

Myth #4:  I can figure work-life stuff out later.

I love this beauty:  the quandary deferment approach.

Uh, try again.

Putting off thinking about where family will fit may mean you never have a family to fit. About half of all high-achieving women in America are childless, “roughly twice the rate in the population at large,” according to Hewlett. Based on interviews, she believes that most of these cases are not by choice, but rather from waiting too long to find a mate and/or attempt conception.

Hewlett’s advice? “If a high-achieving woman were to make finding a partner a priority in her twenties or early thirties, attaining both career and children would be a much less daunting proposition.

As you might imagine, feminists loved that. I actually read Hewlett’s Creating a Life so I could join the feminist bandwagon against her, but I ended up feeling much like author Amy Richards:

“I came to sympathize with Hewlett and eventually realized that she was sadly just in the uncomfortable position of having to tell it like it is. Hewlett wasn't saying women must procreate, but women who wanted a chance at having their own biological child should try sooner rather than later.”

Which leads us to the granddaddy of them all:

Myth #5:  Reproductive technologies will save the day.

At least once a year my intelligent, data-driven females students sit in my seminar proclaiming they’re going to wait until 40 or so to get pregnant. “With technology these days, anything’s possible,” they say, followed by discussions of plans to freeze their eggs.


Thing is, reproductive technologies aren’t knights on white horses.

For instance, freezing eggs is a lengthy process that involves hormones and minor surgery, that costs about $40,000 all told, and that was just taken out of “experimental” status in 2012. Even after all that, it’s far from guaranteed:  embryos freeze better than eggs (i.e., sperm’s necessary), and even frozen embryos only produce children in about 35% of IVF cycles, if the woman is under 40.

Furthermore, the rate of live births after IVF using nonfrozen embryos is only 12% for women 41 or 42 years of age, and 4% after age 42. In other words, anything is not possible.

Simply put:  the timeline for leaving home and getting married has been extending but our biology hasn’t gotten the memo.

Next Time

This all sounds pretty dire, now doesn’t it? Fear not:  since I’m not one to pose a problem without floating a solution, on Thursday I’ll post How to Prepare to Not Have it All. As bad as things may sound, I’ve actually found "having just some" to be a relief. The key? Drilling into your core and figuring out your own priorities. No small task, but well worth the pay off.

  • Do you have any “having it all” myths to add to the list? Or has one of the myths I mentioned been your pet myth? Let me know in the comments below!

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The saga of IVF tends to be emotionally, financially and physically taxing. (Photo credit: