Ivanka Trump, left, Kirsten Gillibrand and Melanie Heale
Photograph by Getty Images
By Caroline Fairchild
January 5, 2015

Last Thursday, Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times explored the origins of the phrase “having it all.” She traced much of it back to a 1982 book by Helen Gurley Brown titled Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing. Since then, the phrase persistently comes up in discussions revolving around the pressures women face in their careers as well as at home.

I tend to shy away from asking female leaders what they think about “having it all,” yet I find it is brought up naturally in interviews. Perhaps this means that the phrase is not devoid of meaning as I sometimes feel, but is just evolving alongside work/life dynamics.

Here are three of my favorite takeaways from interviews with female leaders on the topic:

1. You can have it all, but not at the same time.

I heard from execs as diverse as Trump Organization EVP Ivanka Trump and Dee Dee Myers, the former White House press secretary who is now the head of corporate communication for Warner Bros(TWZ), that it’s a losing battle to think that you can have it all in every moment of the day. There will be periods where work will be the top priority and other periods where children will come into sharp focus, they say. Yet women can have it all throughout the course of their lives.

2. What exactly are we ‘having’?

My favorite interview on this topic last year is when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told TIME’s Nancy Gibbs why she hates the phrase. “I think it’s insulting,” she said “What are you ‘having?’ A party? Another slice of pie?” Gillibrand’s remark gets at one big point: Having it all means entirely different things to different women.

3. Having it all may be overrated.

And on that note, it could be entirely possible that removing yourself from the pressures of having it all could be the best thing to happen to some women. “The choice not to have it all, far from being defeatist, is extremely liberating,” Melanie Healey, Procter & Gamble’s group president for North America(PG), told Fortune’s Jennifer Reingold after announcing that she was retiring. “Slugging through a decade of work but losing touch with your family and friends or with your community creates its own sense of failure.”

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