How to have it all by not having it all

How to have it all by not having it all-Felicity Harley

Feeling overwhelmed? Who isn’t, especially in these crazy times. Luckily, author Felicity Harley, author, journalist and mum of three, has some comforting words to share – you don’t have to have it all to have it all.

When Felicity Harley started writing her book, Balance and other B.S., she couldn’t have predicted the “overwhelm” that has only escalated in our daily lives during 2020. As a Tribeca client, we were extremely fortunate for Felicity to share her thoughts on the many themes her book explores, such as why not having it all can actually be the secret for women to embrace their wonderfully messy lives. 

Tribeca Financial (TF): You don’t hold back in Balance and other BS, exploring and pulling apart subjects such as wellness and wellbeing, balance, feminism, and perfectionism. Why did you write this book and what do you want to achieve?

Felicity Harley (FH): Over the past few years my conversations with other women about the mental load had escalated – mums at the school gate, work colleagues, my barista, comments on social media – all talked about the strain of modern life on their wellbeing. In early 2019, this inspired my article for the recently closed women’s lifestyle site, whimn.com.au, titled Balance is B.S and Modern Women Have Been Sold a Lie. It went bananas. In my 20 year career, I’ve never had so much feedback about a story. Too many women were feeling overwhelmed, unsure of where to turn and were simply fed up. So, I wanted to write a book that would be like a big giant hug to reassure women we’re all feeling it, and through sharing my story alongside other women, reassure readers that they will get through it.

TF: What was the piece of research that alarmed you the most about women’s mental health?

FH: I wanted to cram a lot of research into this book, but a survey of 15,262 Australian women in 2018 stopped me in my tracks. It found 67% of Australian women constantly feel nervous, anxious or on edge, 78% struggle with sleep, 68% constantly feel foggy in the head and 80% are easily irritated (there’s plenty more, too!). Basically, Australian women’s mental wellbeing is on a knife-edge as we struggle with the constant pressure to be “perfect” and to effortlessly handle it all. These stats came from one of the biggest health studies, conducted by the not-for-profit, Jean Hailes for Womens Health, who asked women over 18 about their mental health and wellbeing. It was eye-opening reading these stats for the first time, but really they just backed up the exact conversations I was having with women daily.

TF: You talk about the “overwhelm” in your book. Can you describe what that means for women?

FH: Overwhelm is a handy word I use to describe the cyclone of 1000 things going through our minds at any one time and sucking us dry – the to-do-lists, the work worries, the washing that needs to go out, the green juice we need to drink, the gym membership we pay for yet only use once a week, the financial woes, the COVID hotspots we need to skip, the mother-in-law’s birthday coming up…you get my drift. This so-called “mental load” is there from when we wake up, to when we go to sleep – all day every day.

TF: Do men have a version of the overwhelm?

FH: You’ll have to ask my husband that. Haha. For sure, many men – feminist allies – are struggling to navigate this post #metoo world. Both women and men agree that the basic tenets of feminism are spot-on, it’s just a bit messy working through who does what and when. We’re not there yet, but at least many men today are trying to juggle the demands of work, friends, family and folding washing.

TF: One of those “feminist allies” you refer to is your husband Tom (former footballer and Sydney Swans CEO). What traits does a feminist ally display and how important is this in nurturing relationships between men and women?

FH: He always has my back – he wants to pull his weight around the house and with the kids. He respects my paid labour (career) and values the unpaid labour (running of the household), and tries to work it so we both feel like we’re doing our share. Of course, running a football club is a big gig, but when I was deep in the writing of this book he took all the kids away for a week so I could bash out 40,000 words. He steps up when it matters and vice versa.

TF: What advice would you give to someone, woman or man, who is trying to do it all (home, work, life), and feels like they are falling short?

FH: One word: boundaries. Interestingly, this is one area that women bring up a lot after reading my book. When you feel like you have to give, give, give it means your boundaries are translucent, limp or non-existent. Often we feel that if anyone is unhappy it’s our responsibility to fix it. We need to learn where we stop and others start. The truth is we teach people how to treat us – know what you will and won’t accept, where you draw the line, when to push back or not and be constant and realistic.

TF: “Done is better than perfect” is another theme of the book. How do you change to this mindset and what benefits does it bring?

FH: In this modern world, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing perfection will give us a happy, balanced life. This messaging is due to a few indiscriminate factors like the escalating pressures of modern life, social norms, the upbringing of millennials and Gen X’s being told we could have everything we wanted. And yes, social media has added to all this but trying to be the best at everything will be your undoing, a disappointment, and a set-up for failure. Getting it done, finished, is enough. Distinguishing between a perfect job and what is good enough takes practice; it requires boundaries and you have to let go. The clean house, the perfect motherhood, the mental lists, the laundry, the worry – it has to go.

TF: You spoke to a lot of amazing women in writing this book. Was there one piece of wisdom, a quote, and insight, that resonated with you the most?

FH: There are so many! I really liked this one from Turia Pitt: “My favourite tip is to stop looking at the big picture. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but when you’re constantly looking at the enormity of the task ahead, it’s easy to feel demoralised, because the gap between where you are and where you want or need to be is so big. It can feel impossible to manage. Keep focused on the task today. Don’t worry about tomorrow, or what you have to do ‘next’. Just focus on the small step you can take today.”

TF: What’s your version of having it all?

FH: I have it! After the birth of my first son, Jimmy, I quickly realised you can’t have it all. You can have little bits here and little bits there, but you can’t have it all. Now with three kids, I am very clear about my “list of truths” – a defined list of what’s important to me at this point in my life. At the moment it’s my children, family, health and wellbeing, and friends. Right now, my career is taking more of a back seat, but that’s okay. I’ve also learnt to be more guarded with my time, and I’m a lot better at saying no and losing the guilt associated with that.

TF: If there was one message or insight you would like women (and men) to take away from this book, what would it be?

FH: I want women to feel empowered in their wonderfully, messy lives – to know they’re not alone and there are things that can be done today, in this moment, that can stop your overwhelm tomorrow. Control your controllables, is another of my favourite learnings while writing this book. Also, you are good enough just as you are, doing your best in that moment.

A huge thanks to Felicity for her time and empowering insights. You can purchase Felicity’s book here. And if you’re looking for another great read about empowering women, take a look at our article on Marie Forleo’s book Everything is Figureoutable

At Tribeca, we’d love to be part of your wonderfully messy life by helping you control what you can control when it comes to your financial wellbeing. If you’d like to find out how please talk to your advisor or arrange an appointment with one of our Tribeca Tribe here.

A bit more about Felicity

Felicity Harley has been a journalist for Australia’s leading women’s publications for two decades including Founding Editor of Women’s Health, is a regular contributor on Channel Seven’s Sunrise, has hosted TV shows and events, and is a sought-after speaker on her favourite topic: health and wellbeing. Felicity was also named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence for her brainchild, the ‘I Support Women in Sport’ campaign.

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