Having It All: Addressing Life’s Most Annoying Question

Can women have it all? It seems to be the $64,000 question all over the media these days.

My immediate (and somewhat snarky) answer:

Why do people care? “Oooooooh my…does she have it all? Can she do it all? How does she do it all?” It all sounds rather superficial and speculative if you ask me. The peanut gallery commenting on the priorities someone else places on their own life.

My second (and slightly more snarky) answer:

Why don’t people ask men this question? I’ve yet to hear people comment on my husband’s ability or inability to have it all. However, I think it’s for good reason. I think the conversation doesn’t take off with men because they don’t fuel the fire. They don’t contemplate the question and stew on it like women do. (Why would you ask me a question like that, what are you trying to say — that I don’t have it all? I might have it all. What do you know about my life? I mean, I’m working really hard. Gosh.)

Case in point the conversation I just had with my husband.

Me: You know how people talk about whether women can or cannot “have it all”?
Richard: No.
Me: You know…the job, the house, the family, the good life.
Richard: Oh. I guess I know what you mean.
Me: Do you think you have it all?
Richard: I mean probably…yes.

Lord, I love men.

Simple question, simple answer. Yes, he has a job. Yes he has a wife and kids and a home. So, yes he’s living the good life. End of story. Now off to work.

Well played.

My more thorough (and hopefully more helpful) answer:

In my life, I’ve learned (through some trial and a whole lot of error) that in order to have it all, you first have to figure out what your own“all” actually is.

I think it’s a shame when women chase the standard (and outdated) definition of having it all a big career with a big title, several perfectly coifed children, a handsome husband and a house with a white picket fence around it. Keeping up with the Jones’ as a competitive sport. Awesome.

I know the chasing scenario all too well because it’s the way I lived my life for over a decade. Chasing the titles, chasing the accomplishments, chasing the image and chasing my children around the house yelling at them to clean up.

And at the height of my chasing, if you asked anyone they would have told you that I did, indeed, have it all. Well, if you asked anyone…except me. The world would have said I had it all. And I would have said that I had it all and hated it. The pressure. The stress. The anxiety of keeping up with it all of keeping up the façade. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Thankfully since that time I’ve watched enough Oprah episodes and read enough self-help books to know that the reason I wasn’t happy with the “all” (that I had at the time) was simple. It wasn’t my “all”. It was everyone else’s. And at some point in my life, I had looked at society’s definition of “all,” laced up my running shoes and started chasing it.

I’m so glad those days are over. Thanks to Oprah and Devin, I identified my own definition of all and started working towards that.

And I’m very clear about it. My all is not everyone else’s all. Period.

  • My definition of all isn’t working for a large company, it’s being an entrepreneur of a small one.
  • My definition of all isn’t spending every ounce of free time with my husband and children. It often includes tennis and girls nights. With lots of red wine.

Most people say that me leaving the spotlight of a big, national company and starting a small “mommy-focused” company (yes, they really say that) was a big step back for a career woman to take. “Ohhhhhhh, what a shame.  You had it all!”

But that’s only because my new life and new career isn’t other people’s all. It’s mine.

And — for the first time in my life I’m not concerned about other people’s all. All lives are not the same and all moms are not this same.  For example…

  • Sue Mizera, a former boss of mine, is a hugely successful businesswoman, who works around the clock and doesn’t have children. Good for her. That’s her all.
  • Kat Brotherton, my dear friend, who was a high-powered lawyer who decided to leave her firm and stay at home with her three children. Good for her. That’s her all.

Two successful women with wildly different “all’s.” Both incredibly content with their choices.


So when it comes to this $64,000 question popping up in the media all the time, the simple way to handle it is like a man. Think about it rationally and answer it quickly. If your answer (like Richard’s) is yes then skip to the next question and get on with your day.

And if your answer is no (like mine was)…then contemplate what your all actually is…and go out and get it. Women can have it all. As long as it’s their all.

It’s that simple. And that hard.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Kate Neale Cooperreply

Love this, Katherine. You’re absolutely right: it’s simply a matter of defining your all.

Katherine Wintschreply
– In reply to: Kate Neale Cooper

Thanks Kate! I hope more women can determine there all!

Valerie McDonnellreply

Love this post! And I love my definition of having it all but I must say that I often find myself having to defend it. People seem wowed when I say I finished grad school while taking care of two kids and being pregnant with my third but then the next question comes, “So what is your degree in?” Clinical Social Work. “Oh…” I get blank stares and mostly the subject changes. I often take this two ways. Either I’m pitied for picking a profession that is famous for not making much money or people still believe social workers mostly work in Child Protective Services. Regardless, many people continue to comment how lucky I am that I have a husband with a good job so I can pursue my passion. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to have my definition of “my all” if my husband didn’t enable me to. So, our society and even our gender does place unrealistic expectations on us of what success looks like. Unfortunately it often involves one’s socioeconomic status as equal to one’s success or even one’s happiness. Luckily, I work in a profession that shows me this is not true for most of my clients whom are women.

Katherine Wintschreply
– In reply to: Valerie McDonnell

So true, Valerie. Just further proof that we all need to find our own definition of “it all” and hold strong. I love that you followed your heart and are not only working and raising a family at the same time, but you’re making the world a better place. Anyone who questions whether that’s having it all or not…is just looking for things to question.

Tina Parentreply

I love this post. I struggle with being content with what I have all the time. Granted, it helps if you actually have ANYTHING, let alone having it “all”! There I go again. I’m a stay at home mother of four children ages 12, 11, 18 mo and 6 mo. My husband works very hard to support us so I can stay home with the babies. We live with his parents in a three bedroom mobile home. Yes that means BOTH babies have a spot in our tiny bedroom! I never graduated high school and have only accomplished getting a cna certification. Not what I want to do for a living. I know I am blessed with a wonderful family, a roof over my head and the ability to stay at home but I always find myself wanting more. Namely, a house with more room and a more defined career path. I get so frustrated feeling like there has to be a way I can change things NOW! But alas… I have to play the waiting game. Five years to go to school for the career I want before the babies start kindergarten and Im able to return to work. And the house will just have to wait too. If you think it’s stressful having it all… Remember there are ALWAYS those who have less. Happiness is being content with what you have. And I’m still working on that one! 🙂

Katherine Wintschreply
– In reply to: Tina Parent

Tina – Thank you so much for your beautiful response. Your outlook on life is admirable and something every mother should strive to achieve for herself. While you might not have ended up exactly where you had pictured, I’m convinced the secret to life is not having what we want, but wanting what we have. My grandfather always says that and I love it. Keep taking care of your babies (young and old) and being grateful for everything you do have. I’m getting ready to share my newest post about “lighting yourself” up from the inside. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Thank you again for taking time to reach out. I loved reading about everything you’re doing. It’s a monumental task to take care of and raise four children. Don’t ever forget that. Good job mom!

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