No, you can’t have it all. And that’s perfectly fine

This month marks the third anniversary of the death of Helen Gurley Brown, the woman single-handedly responsible for telling women the world over that we can ‘have it all’.

Her legacy, CNN suggests, is “complicated”. I tend to agree.

On the one hand, she was a trailblazer. She was an opinionated, passionate, powerful female in publishing at a time when women were more likely to be fetching your coffee than meeting you at the executive table.


There’s no doubt that she has inspired (either directly or indirectly) countless other women to aspire for “more” in life. But then, there is the phrase. Having it all.

It’s not just a quote that Gurley Brown coined, but her life philosophy and the title of her best-selling book: Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money, Even If You’re Starting with Nothing.

With the release of this book in January 1982, she planted the seed. It’s a fantastic concept and we need to give her credit for repeatedly reminding women, via the pages of her magazine Cosmopolitan, that women ought to stretch themselves and expect more out of life.

There’s only one problem. Her book was missing a crucial chapter. We can’t have it all without one very important caveat – sacrifice.

If we don’t accept the fact that sacrifice is part of the picture, we’re destined to fall flat.

You can’t have a high-flying, powerful career working 70-hour weeks and most weekends, without sacrificing at least part of your social life and personal relationships.

You can’t have a busy career when your children are small, without sacrificing time spent with them.

You can’t be a modern woman who juggles work, family commitments, marriage, friends and other responsibilities, without making personal sacrifices – for me, it’s most often sleep, but it can also be quality, distracted-free time with my husband.

So this month, I say cheers to HGB. Thank you for paving the way for women all those years ago. But I’ll also remember that ‘having it all’ doesn’t always look the way we think it will.

Sacrifice, hard work, gratitude, understanding that some days it all turns to crap: these are the real ingredients of ‘having it all’. And it’s a perfectly fine way to live.

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