Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
I Want To Have It All
By Richard Eyre

Editor’s note:  This column appears every two weeks . with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time.  Click here to read the full introductory column. Click here to go to the Cliches archives.

The unofficial motto of the feminist movement has become a good general description of the most pervasive attitude of our time. “Having it all” has also become a tiresome clich, with implications of greed, stress, and unrealistic expectations of our selves.

Think about it. “Having it all” ignores the trade-offs, choices, and priorities that have always been a part of life. The central problem with the attitude is that it focuses on wants rather than needs. We want things because other people have them. We want to do and to be what we perceive those we envy to be doing and being. We want to have it and do it and be it now. And all without much reference to what we need or even to what would be best for ourselves and for those around us.

The old and healthy notion of delayed gratification is not much in fashion these days. “Saving up” or “waiting for” or even “looking forward to” are endangered phrases, if not already extinct. We buy it before we can afford it, do it when we don’t have time for it, go after it even at the expense of time and focus taken from those we love and from things we can only do now.


I tuned in quite by chance to a late-night interview with one of the leading feminists of the last decade. She was once again a “current item” because she had recently, in her forties, given birth to her first child.

The interviewer, in a cynical tone, was boring in, trying to stir controversy or uncover inconsistency. “I’m  going to read you a quote,” he said, “and I want you to see if you know who said it: ‘Any woman with any brains and any guts deserves to do something more important than staying home with little kids.’ Do you know who said that?”

The camera focused on the guest, who sat forward and answered in a tone that mixed assurance and defiance. “I said it. Thank God I woke up before it was too late.”

Without waiting for more questions (the interviewer had lost his train of thought anyway), she went on to say that in her rush and passion to do everything and be everything, she had almost literally forgotten to do what she now believed was the most important things of all.

She talked in warm,  mellow tones about how much her child had changed her paradigm, how much joy she had received, and how little she needed some of the things she had wanted so badly.

Then she rekindled her look of defiance and said something very powerful: “Look, I still want to have it all – I’ve just realized that I don’t have to have it all at the same time!”


There are seasons in life. There is a time, for most, to have and raise children. There may be a time for public service, times from travel, times for intense concentration on career, times for education. And despite all sorts of popular myths about the shortness, the scarcity and the “slipperiness” of time, the fact is that most normally healthy people in the spring, the summer, or even the fall of their lives have a lot of time. Learning to spend that time on what matters rather than trading it for things, for wants, for some illusive notion of having it all, is the lesson and perhaps the objective of life.

The opening clich is not so bad – if it is modified first by a definition of all that means “all that I need and can use to contribute” and if we recognize that there is a right time and season for things and that delayed gratification is usually more of a joy than a sacrifice.

So – with those caveats – our new maxim:


I hope you enjoy pondering this new maxim. Next column we will explore (and argue with) the old clich that says “familiarity breeds contempt.”

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