Ladies, Stop Telling Yourself “You Can’t Have It All”

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Girl, Stop Apologizing" by Rachel Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is it possible to achieve balance in all areas of your life? Do you believe that you have to make a compromise (e.g. between career and family life) because you “can’t have it all”?

If you think that you can evenly divide up different areas of your life, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary stress and anxiety. In her book Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis says that you need to stop telling yourself that you “can’t have it all,” and accept that you can have it all if you’re willing to put in the work.

Here’s how you can thrive in all areas of your life.

You Can Have It All

By now you’ve decided that your goal is worth having—that you are worth it. You’re capable of achieving it, you don’t care if it’s been done before, and you have made time to work toward it. Bonus: You have even stopped caring what other people think of your dream. But now you worry that the other areas of your life will suffer.

Hollis empathizes with your fears. That if you sacrifice time with your partner to work on your goal, your relationship will weaken. That if you choose to work instead of stay home, your children won’t feel as loved as they could. That you will lose friends if you scale back your social life. Hollis insists that this fear that you can’t have it all is an excuse that will hold you back. 

(Shortform note: These fears don’t need to be ignored. In fact, fears are useful in that they define what we don’t want in our lives. You can use them as a tool to stay grounded in the pursuit of your dream. Write your fears down at the beginning of your journey and refer to them from time to time to make sure that you’re maintaining the relationships that are important to you.)

The Truth: Work-Life Balance Is a Myth

Many people aim for balance in life (most commonly, work-life balance), but Hollis believes you should instead strive to be “centered,” which means to feel content and at peace with all areas of your life.

She believes that achieving balance in all areas of our lives is impossible. Time can never be equally divided among all areas of your life, all of the time. And even if it could be, that still doesn’t mean that every important moment could be attended to. She stresses that work and home will always compete, and sacrifices will always be needed. In fact, she points out that we all struggle with balance in our lives even if we aren’t working on a goal, so we might as well be going after what we want.

So how do we achieve this centeredness? Hollis believes that the easiest way to achieve contentment and relieve yourself of guilt is to intentionally prioritize the important moments.

Are Being Centered and Being Grounded the Same Thing?

Two phrases that are often thrown around in conjunction are “being centered” and “being grounded.” But are they interchangeable? According to Psychology Today, while they’re similar, they’re not the same. 

To be grounded is to live in the present moment. You aren’t dwelling on the past or worrying about the “what ifs” of the future. There’s a peacefulness that occurs when you live only in the present. How does this relate to goals? Well, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. Instead of focusing on the past (I’ve never been a runner) or fixating on the future (How will I find time in my schedule to train the longer runs?), focus on living in the moment: I am running one mile right now.

To be centered is to have a place to return to—a value that is paramount to others and can be thought of as a destination. Using the previous example, if the most important thing in your life is your family, use that as your center and work your marathon training around your time with them. 

The Fix: Focus On Quality Time

Rather than focusing on the number of hours you spend on family, friends, work, and so on, Hollis advises being intentional about when you focus on each. Go for quality over quantity, and the guilt will melt away.

For example, your children won’t remember the number of hours you spent with them each day, but they’ll remember if you had dinner with them every night, or if you showed up for their dance recital. They’ll remember the family movie nights and one-on-one chats over breakfast.

As another example, your partner would rather have an hour or two of your undivided attention in the evening than an entire day together where you’re checking your emails and your mind is elsewhere.

(Shortform note: If you’re unsure whether you’re doing this right, check in with your most important relationships frequently to gauge whether your loved ones feel you’re there for them. For children, this might be a Sunday night conversation in which you ask, “What is happening this week that is important to you?” When you know what is important to others, it is easier to be there for the right moments.)

So how can you make sure you’re giving enough quality time where it’s needed? When scheduling your week (remember, Hollis said weekly is the key), start by placing your priorities on the calendar—the moments that you will feel sad or guilty for missing. All of your other responsibilities can be worked into your calendar around these moments.

(Shortform note: This is an excellent opportunity to utilize timeboxing, as discussed in Excuse 4: I Have No Free Time. Remember, timeboxing is the strategy of setting start and end times to all activities in your life to ensure that priorities are being met.)

When possible, outsource the tasks that aren’t meaningful. Hollis is a big believer in utilizing help (more on this in Behavior 3: Advocate For Yourself) and she gives many suggestions for how to winnow your list of responsibilities so that you can give more time to the important stuff. 

For example, if your housework is taking time away from your priorities, and it is causing you to feel uncentered and guilty, outsource it. Hire a housekeeper (if you have the means), divide the housework among family members to share the load, or let some parts of your house be messier. Her point is, your time is valuable. Use it in areas that are important to you.

(Shortform note: One of the most effective ways to prioritize your time is to embrace the power of saying “no.” As discussed in Behavior 3: Advocate for Yourself, when you say no to requests that don’t serve you, you free up more time for your priorities. Hollis recommends you decline in a firm, polite, and immediate manner.)

A final note: Some weeks will be heavier on work and others will be heavier in other areas, but if you prioritize with intention, you will feel centered overall.

Ladies, Stop Telling Yourself “You Can’t Have It All”

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Rachel Hollis's "Girl, Stop Apologizing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Girl, Stop Apologizing summary:

  • Rachel Hollis's lessons she learned while building a multimillion-dollar company
  • Why "having it all" isn't something you should aspire to
  • Why women need to stop trying to fit society's idea of a "good woman"

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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