Has the answer to this question evolved now it’s 2022?
by Hayley Doyle
During my university years, I performed in a not-so-well-known musical called, Baby. It followed the lives of three couples at three very different stages of life; the young lovers about to leave college, the professionals trying to start a family, and the parents of children who had just flown the nest. One thing connects all of these people; a baby. The young lovers get pregnant by mistake, the professionals start their IVF journey, and the parents who are embarking upon finding their feet as a couple once again, also get pregnant by mistake. There is a song sung by the three women, about the musical’s common theme, called, ‘I Want It All.’
At the age of 20, I enjoyed singing this. I understood it… only, sort of. Because 20 years ago, I didn’t really see ‘having it all’ becoming a major problem. We had entered a new millennium. My career hadn’t even started, but the prospects looked pretty good. I was head-over-heels in love. I wasn’t thinking about babies or mortgages, but rather fame and fortune, and more realistically, a good laugh. Dreamily, I had notions of taking my future kid to the theatre with me, and she could sit in my dressing room or watch from the wings as my acting career continued to flourish. Oh, naivety, how sweet you are.
This was the early Noughties, the era that brought us Popstars, the predecessor show of X Factor and a Saturday evening telly addiction. In 2001, 10 million viewers tuned in to watch finalist Kym Marsh break down in tears, revealing her secret; she was a mother of two. She was terrified that being a mum would ruin her chances of success. At the age of 24, it was thought that she should have fought for her career first, and then had children. Instead, brilliantly, she fought to have it all.
I was a little younger than Kym Marsh at that time, and the media was bursting with photos of famous women who - apparently - had it all. Glossy magazines airbrushed Hollywood stars with captions about them loving motherhood whilst promoting their new movie. The paparazzi filled the tabloids with female celebrities pushing strollers with their iced lattes and hanging out with their kids on the beach. These were the women we were supposed to aspire to; those who had had their careers, so they could have babies next, all the while with a handsome dude by the side. If they still fancied going on with their careers, it was easy, because they’d already made megabucks and could hire a nanny. They had. It. All.
Sadly, many of those celebrities have had their privacy exposed consistently over the past 20 years that we know it doesn’t all end happily ever after. Having success in your career, followed by marriage and babies, isn’t the final chapter to forever happiness and well-being. So when we ask, can women have it all? What - in 2022 - do we mean?
I think we have to stop looking externally and dig deep. Luckily, we’re now living through an age of honesty, of open conversations and giving the previously underrepresented, a voice. What a time to be alive! Raising a child is a full-time job, and this is no different to how it was 20, 40, 100 years ago. That job hasn’t changed. What has changed, is the world and how women have been accepted into society. It’s our turn now. Of course, we’re still only scratching the surface of this revolution. The work is complex. We have such a long fight to fight, but if one thing has become clear, it’s that what you see, isn’t truly what you get. We should be working towards a less judgemental society and try to see things from multiple perspectives, and not a quick glance.
One person’s ‘having it all’ is allowed to be wildly different to another’s. Don’t fall into the trap of ’comparisonitis’. A quick break to check your phone can result in half an hour lost to scrolling, having a nose, and then feeling like your life is nowhere near as funny or glamorous or social or idyllic as all the people who happened to post something that day. It can seem that, everywhere, women are having it all. Whereas, you, aren’t. I’m guilty of this reaction as much as anybody. How many times have you glanced at somebody’s photos on Instagram, presumed they had it all, and then actually met them in real life, had a chat over a coffee and realised they are just as frustrated, angry, sad, tired, fed-up, overwhelmed, bored… as you? Think about it.
One of the problems we face in this age, is variety. It doesn’t sound like a negative word, but variety doesn’t give us something we need. It takes it away! Let’s use Netflix as an example. You change into your pjs and flick through the categories, trying to find the perfect show to watch. What will match my mood? Ooh, what can I zone out to? Or, what will ignite my brain to think? There’s so much choice, that show must exist. But, it doesn’t exist. And you return to watching the next episode of whatever you were watching yesterday. You’ve wasted your own time and put yourself in a bad mood. As Mark Manson says, “The more options we’re given, the less satisfied we are with whatever option we go with… Variety is not freedom.” Having it “ALL” in 2022 is too much to handle! We only have to Google something simple and the variety of outcomes creates the opposite effect of finding the answer. It just takes the lid off the box and unleashes a gazillion more questions. Let’s say I need a new mascara. I’m running low. Hmm, what’s the best mascara out there at the moment…? Yikes!! In a millisecond, I’m hit with the suggestion of so many mascaras that I cannot possibly buy a single one. I’m left with the dregs of my old one until I find the energy to just order that same brand again. So how on earth can I expect to have it all when I’m struggling to complete the most basic of tasks?! Choice, and the variety of choice, is making it harder for us to establish what we want, in order to have everything that we - as individuals - want.
So to break it down, you have to ask yourself, what do you want? Not what you think you should want, or what the next person might want. You. You. Somebody else’s goals are not your own. If you had theirs, you wouldn’t have it all. You’d be pretty dissatisfied.
I’m a vocation kinda person rather than a ladder-climber. A creator. The big career goals I’ve hit have come from a deep passion and love for what I chose to do. Unfortunately, that has meant that there are periods when I’m out of work; the joys of freelancing. I have envied the corporate climbers. I have wondered often, am I doing the right thing? Because when I can’t find work, I am unhappy, and it filters through into my family life and personal well-being. Then, work does come along, and I struggle with the juggle. I work late. I lose sleep. There is no balance. So I strive to find consistent work that will fit in with being a mum and a wife and a daughter and a friend. To me, that will be having it all, because I can work alongside my husband to arrange an ongoing system that covers childcare and allows us quality family time. I will be able to create stronger boundaries. So, this is my goal.
It’s okay to want it all. So long as you know what that ALL is. The problem might be, that you just don’t know. That you’re bombarded with too much information, too many choices, to wide a variety. We compare and feel overwhelmed rather than opening our eyes and noticing that we might already have it all, if we look in the right direction. Honestly, there are days when I really do feel like I have it all. Truly. I stand tall, everything is aligned. I enjoy a creative meeting, I pick my son up from school, I read my daughter a bedtime story, I get paid, I unwind with my husband when the children are in bed. And maybe that’s enough. Days. Moments. Because if I had it all all of the time, what would I strive for? How would I enjoy the wins? Surely, we want to recognise the highs from the lows? We still want to dream big, whilst understanding that happiness can be found in the small, don’t we?
To quote that song I sung 20 years ago;
“I want a quiet simple life and some glory,
And Steven Spielberg filming my first story,
I wanna be Mother Teresa, Sally Ride, Lucille Ball, I want it all!”