It’s a phrase that’s become fairly commonplace in the media and pop culture, even warranting a mention in Sex and the City (a sure-fire indication of its mainstream appeal). You’re probably sick of even reading those words, so you can imagine it’s a bit tiresome to be constantly asked.
Just ask Lisa Wilkinson. During the Cannes Lion festival this week, the Today co-anchor, former magazine editor and mother of three shared the truth about ‘having it all’ — as well as her biggest health regret.
“Can I tell you the truth about that phrase? I consider it an albatross around the necks of women,” Wilkinson told the Daily Mail. (Post continues after gallery.)
The 55-year-old, who has been married to fellow journalist Peter Fitzsimons for 23 years, went on to explain the phrase was coined by Cosmopolitan magazine’s founding editor Helen Gurley Brown.
Although Gurley Brown made some significant achievements for women throughout her life, Wilkinson says she had a lot of hired support that played a major role in her marriage and career running smoothly in tandem.
“We’re talking about a woman who had a husband who worked for her. Every day she had a manicurist, a stylist, a hairdresser, a driver, a housekeeper, she had no kids herself, and everything was laid out on a platter for her,” she explains to the Daily Mail.
For the average woman, this kind of support simply isn't affordable or accessible. Subsequently, the entire concept of 'having it all' — which generally implies it's possible to maintain work, child-raising and relationships without any significant compromise — unrealistic and unfair.
"Having it all isn’t about having a career, having kids and a happy marriage, it’s actually about having enough support staff to make it through the day," Wilkinson adds. "That is what having it all is really all about. It’s the truth, spread it around."
On a different note, Wilkinson also spoke about the "stupidest thing" she's ever done: undertake the Israeli Army Diet when she was 18.
"That diet was literally two days of apples, two days of cheese, two days of chicken and then probably two days of air," she said.
'I can't remember what it was exactly. I just remember it was the stupidest thing I've done. It's the only time in my life I've ever gone on a so called diet. I got over that whole thing a long time ago." (Post continues after video.)
Back to 'having it all': Lisa Wilkinson isn't the only high-profile woman who has highlighted what an impossible standard it sets for women exclusively (notice men are never asked about balancing their home, work and family life?).
Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg is certainly with Wilkinson on this one. The mother of two — whose husband Dave Goldberg died unexpectedly this year — told Oprah Winfrey, "Having it all is the worst. No matter how much we all have and how grateful we are for what we have, no one has it all, because we all make tradeoffs every single day, every single minute.”
In a 1996 speech, author and director Nora Ephron told young women that "of course" they can have what they want in life — it just wouldn't necessarily look as smooth and effortless as they might have imagined.
“What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications," Ephron said.
"It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands."
Even Gwyneth Paltrow, who can certainly afford to 'have it all', admits she's had to compromise in order to manage things on the professional and home fronts.
"You can’t have it all. I don’t care what it looks like… I look for an interesting supporting [movie role] about once a year. That’s the most I can manage. Some women can do it and that’s fantastic, but I can’t,” the actress has said.
As for Wilkinson, she says she tries to juggle her work and family life as best as she can, but isn't sure she does it "all that successfully."
"I suppose I just approach everything as well as I can with work because I love what I do, I always have, but my family is still my priority. They always say on the day you die, you wont look back and say, 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work', it's all about family," she tells the Daily Mail.
"Like every other working mum, half the time you feel like you've only being half OK with whatever role at any given time ... I think I do it all with a pinch of salt and a smile on my face. It's the way I'm getting through it."
Perhaps it's time we put the whole idea of "having it all" to rest, and acknowledge that everything in life is going to be messy — especially when there's more than one plate spinning at once.
What do you think about "having it all"? Do you think it's unfair on women?