Tolagbe Martins: Having it all (30 Days, 30 Voices)

My strategy is two-pronged; first I remind you of the wisdom contained in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 as a tool for resetting your brain by accepting that there is provision for all things as long as you make TIME for them.

Women in the 21st century have it all. We have the right to vote, we have access to education, the right to choose our spouse, our career, and way of life.[1] All these rights and freedoms ought to leave us free (in Ms Oprah Winfrey’s self-affirming mantra) to ‘live our best lives’. We are faced with a plethora of choices, each with its inevitable consequences while we are still being sold the pernicious lie that we can, by dint of sheer force of personality, ‘have it all’. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s not sufficient to merely ‘have’ it all, we must also BE it all—a lady should be a chef in the kitchen, a maid in the living room, and a whore in the bedroom. It goes without saying that one must also be a successful ‘mumpreneur/ mummy mogul[2]’ and of course, put in enough exercise to maintain a suitably lepacious figure. The church had to weigh in on this and has ratcheted up the pressure by fetishising the Proverbs 31 woman.

So what does ‘having it all’ mean? The phrase was coined by former editor-in-chief of   US Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown  who went on to publish a book with the same title in 1982. Thirty years later, there’s been a phenomenal rate of ‘buy-in’ by women  and we have it all (pun intended) planned out – graduate from higher education, waltz into a fabulous job, build a great career, meet and marry ‘the one’ and of course, have loads of beautiful babies while juggling said wonderful career (all before the age of 30).  Men of course have similar aspirations but arguably, women feel they have to do it all at 100%-looking good, being good, and doing good. To illustrate the difference in approach, imagine you’re at a buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, would you try to have the yam and corned beef stew with the cake and ice cream[3]?

The path to ‘Destination: ALL’ is strewn with the casualties of depression, divorce, infertility, misandry, badly-brought up children, and low self-esteem.  Just ask Harvard Business Review[4], their paper addresses childlessness in the typical high-achieving woman at midlife as a result of a “creeping non-choice” The irony of that ‘non-choice’ in a time when women have finally earned the right to CHOOSE is a  testament to the wisdom that greyer heads than mine have long since recognised- ‘awoof dey run belle’. So where do we go from here? The battle for fuller and more equal participation is being fought and has been won in some parts of the world by those who came before us. The next phase must be about changing the world on our terms, harnessing the power of our creative, nurturing, compassionate, and receptive natures.

My strategy is two-pronged; first I remind you of the wisdom contained in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 as a tool for resetting your brain by accepting that there is provision for all things as long as you make TIME for them. If being a biological mother is vital to your sense of achievement and self-worth, make it a priority given the biological realities of female fertility. If getting that Ph.D. is vital, then get stuck in- the thesis isn’t going to write itself. Secondly, I advise you to consign ‘Having it All’ to the same cupboard in which you placed the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Father Christmas embrace BEING your all by deciding what choices[5] you can make so you have the energy to truly be your ALL. Be a friend to yourself, celebrate and manage your many choices, and don’t whatever you do, get distracted by the “path not taken.”

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A Caveat

I am acutely aware that I’ve addressed a ‘first world problem’ as the vast majority of Nigerian women do NOT share in the freedoms I have enjoyed so freely. The brief for this article was specifically a non-political one and I chose this ‘elitist topic’ because I believe that YNaija is a platform for expressing a wide spectrum of perspectives. I am the grandchild of Nigerians who had access to higher education and I know for certain that both my grandmothers (Ajike the teacher and Ebunoluwa the nurse) took the road less travelled so that I, sixty years later wouldn’t have to.

About the author: I am a lifestyle entrepreneur living and working in Lagos, Nigeria. I believe that work should be a passion and that inspiration can be found everywhere. I believe that everything can be elegantly and creatively done-without costing the earth. I live in hope (increasingly frayed) that Nigeria will be a ‘country’ one day. I tweet as @tolasol

Tolagbe is a wife, mother and a business woman.  When she’s not playing dress up at The Social Place Lagos (@SocialLagos),

Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


[1] I know not in Nigeria- but this is not a political article

[2] Hence the multiplicity of cupcake makers

[3] Scratch that, this is Nigeria the answer could be yes

[4] I know how much Naija people like Harvard!

[5]Yes that word again!

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Comments (6)

  1. Lovely piece by Tolasol. Your writing is refined and professional.

    Women need to stop trying to fit into the mold set for them by the society. You need to define what it means to be successful for yourself. Realize that there will be trade-offs and decide what should be high on your priority list. And please look for a supportive man who helps you achieve your dreams and not just his. And there's nothing wrong with asking for help from friends and family.

  2. Very educative and inspiring piece.

    So well-crafted and beautifully expressed.

  3. Super article. I find it hard to have it all, much as I would love to and most of all I would love to be ALL things to ALL people. The perfect wife, mother, friend, worker. Funnily enough (although I know this is not a political article!) – in some ways, it is easier to have more in Nigeria IF you are fortunate enough to have access to a fantastic support network, I was blessed with reliable household staff and incredibly supportive in-laws who helped me massively.

    I was thinking today that the hardest challenge for women is self confidence. I don't know about you but every time I took a leave of absence from a job (3 x maternity leave + 1 country relocation) I struggled to get back into it purely because I doubted my own ability. I think it is a very real obstacle for us women/mamas and can really hold back our potential to have it all.

  4. On so many levels, I find this piece consoling. Just minutes earlier, I was experiencing this 'left behind' feeling cos today has been on a fast lane, and I hadn't been able to catch up on Ynaija info and other online news I follow (because of this impulse to stay updated). As a younglady, I feel this pressure to be SUPER in everything and all things! Then there's the 'time is ticking' chorus I hear left right centre. It's just crazy. Thank you

  5. Very inspiring article, men should able to relate to it as well. We all have that "Having it all" complex. Excellent article (loved the Caveat, nip the twitter hate in the bud :D)

  6. Great piece.

    As a woman, the expectations are high. I have learnt how to balance my life by not worrying too much. I don't envy people and I don't try to live up to their expectations. I see a lot of women striving to be perfect wives and mothers and yet want to be the best in their careers.

    A personal example is the use of rug in my house. I do a 9-5 job and can't wake up everyday to sweep the floor. Solution: There is rug everywhere so that the cleaner who comes on weekends can sweep the whole place and you won't notice any dirt during the week, unlike if it is tiles or marble.

    One day at a time, that's the way I live and it has paid off big time. Anyway, I think it is time for me to get that PhD.

    Well done Ma'am.

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