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"Having it all" - successful career & relationship?

By Isabelle Lepine

As the media becomes increasingly saturated with success in all its glorious forms, with CEO’s fronting their business’ on social media, often promoting transparency by over sharing their life, we are confronted with a stark reality: career success inevitably brings relationship turmoil.

It’s a question that has stood the test of time in various forms throughout the generations: is it possible to be both successful and happy in a relationship? Historically focussed on men, as the traditional breadwinner in the household and patriarch of the family it was imperative that the male kept control of both his success in his chosen field and of his ever so troublesome wife, who typically cared for the children.

In today’s society, dependant on who you’re talking to arguably those same stereotypes still exist, with toxic masculinity rampant in males lives pushing them to work themselves into the ground providing an endless list of needs unmet for our consumerist selves.

Furthering this still, it is important to remember that success is only valiant if the endless hours of work is a choice: an entrepreneurial side-hustle bringing in an extra income. Gone are the days where the true hero is the woman or man working three jobs to put food on the table. Our obsession for the instagrammable lifestyle has somehow lost its grip on any slim line of integrity it once held on to, in favour of the vacuous influencer luxury promoted daily on our feeds.

Often there is a misconception that there will be a positive correlation with the amount of money someone has and their happiness and that will translate well for their relationships, but we only have to look at perhaps the two most well-known self-made billionaires in the world to disprove this materialistic hypothesis.

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk is best known for his pioneering work in the tech and science space. Whilst Tesla’s chief executive officer remains an enigma to be cracked, he did open up quite famously in an interview for Rolling Stone’s, with reporter and best selling author Neill Strauss. Musk admitted, “if I’m not in love, if I’m not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy.”

This desire, or desperation, for companionship is seen in his ship-jump approach to relationships over the years. Marrying university sweetheart Justine Wilson in 2000, who he reportedly seduced by giving her his credit card for an endless supply of expensive college books, their marriage came to an end after sharing eight years and the joy of bringing up five sons.

Shortly after the divorce was settled, Musk was spotted with Talulah Riley, whom he reportedly proposed to incredibly fast considering the circumstances. But this relationship failed also - lasting a mere two years in partnership with one another. Elon is now in relations with musician Grimes and the pair share a child together.

Meanwhile, amazon and blue origin founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, split from his wife MacKenzie Scott after 25 years of marriage back in 2019. Although the pair finalised their divorce amicably and respectfully, both announcing they went their separate ways via individual twitter statements, less than two months later MacKenzie Scott signed The Giving Pledge.

Created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2014, the pledge is “an open invitation for billionaires, or those who would be if not for their giving, to publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”

“I have a disproportionate amount of money to share,” Scott (formerly Bezos) said in a letter made public in May 2019, after pledging to give away the majority of her approximately $35 billion net worth. Whilst an incredibly noble act, and yet to be reciprocated by her former partner Jeff Bezos, it’s plausible to immediately conclude that she viewed the money as an obstacle to her future happiness within relationships. Whether that involves the inextricable link to her former husband, or the sheer weight of amassing such wealth brings; only the flies on the walls will ever know the real truth behind such a formidable partnership.

This leads us to ponder our next question… why does success ultimately lead to the downfall in relationships?

In a podcast episode of ‘The Diary of a CEO”, hosted by Steven Bartlett and featuring 25 year old fit tech entrepreneur Krissy Cela, the pair openly discussed the reasoning behind the difficulties of holding a secure relationship as a highly driven and ambitious personality. Krissy shared, “As a CEO, you live and breathe your company,”, “It’s going into that relationship and constantly expecting [your partner] to be on your level.”

Her statement came shortly after Steven described his brain, equating Cela’s as similar, to be “crazy, neurotic and obsessive”, before expressing their shared sentiment that “you can’t have everything you want all at once”, leading us all to believe that perhaps it is too good to be true.

Even when we turn to the feminist discourse for some encouragement, which - alongside other avenues of thought - continues to make respectful strides to be inclusive of all women, the majority of feminist theory continues to perpetuate the idea of a professional career woman with a family as complete.

The phrase “having it all” was originally coined by Cosmopolitan’s former editor-in-chief and author Helen Gurley Brown in 1982 in her book. According to certain analysis, she intended to catalyse women to strive for more love, money, stability and inevitably, more pleasurable sex regardless of what social economic class one was starting from. It was less a debate of the sexes, with children not even mentioned, but more about holistic and free living from what is traditionally a very narrow definition of women: professional mothers.

Whilst arguably out-dated in todays modern world, we continue to see the concept of ‘having it all’ for women distilled down to two distinct, and potentially classist, definitions of womanhood: having a career and having children. It seems to be that no matter how successful a woman gets in her career she will always be inextricably linked to her family, or more inexcusably, her lack of. Cue Rhianna’s infamous retort back in a 2014 MTV interview, when asked about her ideal relationship, of, “I’m not looking for a man - let’s start there”.

Although we are advancing in technology, space exploration, health and fitness and a plethora of other categories, at what cost is this being afforded to us? So many strive for success in terms of the money, or the position of power within the company, yet many in doing so lose sight of those important to us and fail to recognise the wealth we already possess in each other.

In all honesty, quite tragically, I don’t think the answer to our question is as black and white as yes you can be successful and have a happy relationship with someone or not, due to the broad variety of variables. Of course each partnership is different and so it would be unfair to condemn our examples today as having failed to achieve the “have it all” status. But I do think what we can take away from it is our own version of the Giving Pledge.

We may not all have billions in the bank. However we should pledge to give time and patience and love to those around us, no matter how busy we may be changing the world in our own small way.

Maybe then, be it woman or man, we really can have it all.

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