'Having It All' Is A Lie: Why Women Who Focus On Just One Thing Succeed

by Emily Arata
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Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, the idea of one day ”having it all” is a bedtime story we tell ourselves.

It soothes nightmares and helps women get a good night’s sleep, reassured that tomorrow we’ll somehow find the time to balance work, relationships and fun.

In reality, trying to “have it all” as an adult woman is nothing short of a one-way ticket to anxiety and discontent.

The idea seems to have originated by the publishing company behind Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 advice book, titled, "Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing." Although the New York Times claims Brown detested the title — she fought to have it called “The Mouseburger Plan” — her guide to love, career and sex has become iconic.

There’s something in her authoritative stance on the jacket photo that just shows she has it all figured out.

From its foundation, the idea is flawed.

In the years since the book’s publication, "having it all" has become something of a colloquial term referencing the career woman’s plight. Women feel torn between their private and professional lives, stretched as thin as the linen that makes up their expensive designer dress pants.

As the millennial woman enters her first decade in the workforce, she shoulders a burden passed on by her forebears. Instead of accepting the status quo, however, this corporate newbie has the chance to change the system.

Which leads us to this point: Let's all try having just one thing for a few months at a time.

When you’re feeling a little weary, turn your attention to a single pressing problem. It’s better for your health, career, fitness goals and relationships in the long run.

If you’re focused, you’re more likely to get the job done.

Whether you’re parked at a desk or trying to clean your apartment, multitasking only leads to a mediocre performance on all fronts. While it often seems as if you have no choice but to accomplish ten different things at once, make a conscious decision to slow down.

Pick an aspect of your life to focus on for two to three months at a time, and give it your undivided attention. If your whole brain is at work — not, say, mentally picking up your dry cleaning — it’s more likely you’ll pick up the nuances of the day.

For example: If your boss makes a passing comment in a meeting about needing a little help on a project, you’re more likely to catch the nuance if you’re giving him or her your full attention. And, in the long run, those extra tasks might just get you promoted.

It takes a little time to develop skills in any field.

If you hit the running trails today, chances are you won’t be prepared to pound out a marathon in just a week. But with time, those miles will become something you can do with your eyes closed. In any area of your life, harnessing all your attention will mean a shorter learning process.

Whether you’re angling for a new job or thinking about taking the next step in your relationship, concentration and focus will pay off in a short amount of time.

Mozart didn’t learn to compose music by squeezing it in between his other hobbies. Author Malcolm Gladwell calls this idea the “10,000 rule,” meaning it requires a minimum of 10,000 hours to achieve expert status in anything. Some experts believe it requires even more than that.

We’re not saying you need to be the next Bach, but applying the entirety of your brain to one activity certainly has benefits.

You can say goodbye to stress and anxiety.

We’re firm believers that undue pressure usually results from a feeling of having too much on your plate, which in turn leads to a mental crash. Instead of forcing yourself to work until the point of exhaustion, rest easy knowing you’re prioritizing.

As life continues to pick up speed, the dozens of decisions you make each day — both major and minor — add up to an exhausting blur. Between choosing to watch a romantic comedy instead of a drama on Netflix and figuring out which photo to upload to your Facebook, the brain rarely has time to rest. It’s an idea commonly called “decision fatigue,” because you’re always running in overdrive.

Rethinking your attitude and focusing your attention on a single end goal will save you from semi-permanent exhaustion.

Achieve your goal, and use that as momentum for the next one.

Is there any better feeling than triumphantly hitting a milestone in your life? Walking out of your boss’s office after being awarded a raise feels incredible, as if no one can touch you. It’s the same reason the more Type A among us adore to-do lists: those feelings of small victories throughout the day.

Similarly, taking three months to focus nearly exclusively on one personal goal — and victoriously smashing that barrier — will serve as momentum for your next objective. Instead of haphazardly giving a portion of your energy to a dozen different ill-planned ideas, you’ll be motivated and refreshed by achieving what you set out to do.

Now, onto the next goal.