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The Art of Having it All: Book Review

Recently I was asked to review the book The Art of Having it All by Christy Whitman.  Since I would love to have it all, I was happy to oblige.

Of course, I was suspicious right from the beginning because I am not sure I really believe there is a particular strategy for having it all. Its sort of a complex philosophical question.  Like what does having it all mean anyways?

First I needed to know who this person was who has it all and things she has the formula for all of us having it too.

Whitman is an American who, originally working as a pharmaceutical sales rep, found herself divorced and overweight and looking for a change.  She moved from California to Pennsylvania and shortly after met her current husband at a leadership conference.  Currently, she resides in Montreal, with her husband and their two sons and they run a coaching/empowerment company and apparently have made millions.  Oh, and apparently she lost the extra weight and has the body of her dreams now too.

The book is supposed to inspire women to make positive changes to their lives and find health, wealth and happiness.  Let me start by saying that this book is clearly aimed at upper middle class and above North Americans.  It certainly does not apply to marginalized women living in developing countries who live in extreme poverty and/or lack basic human rights.  If she thinks it does, she's dreaming.

Whitman herself, was not doing so badly for herself when she met her husband, the love of her life.  Its not like she was a single mother living in a shelter.  Okay, so this is a book for those of us living in the first world, dealing with mostly first world problems.

Her theories are based on the Manifestation Equation, which is:

Clarity + Alignment + Action = Manifestation

Clarity - Mental clarity about what we actually want (the outcome you want to create)
Alignment - Aligning goals with our wants (connecting the feeling you seek with the outcome you are working towards)
Action - Steps taken, infused with energy and intention, to achieve your goal

Apparently this is related to the Law of Attraction, which is the basis of the book and movie, The Secret, which I never read, but remember caught the attention of Oprah, among others.  The Law of Attraction is essentially:

 "Like attracts like, and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results. This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from "pure energy", and the belief that like energy attracts like energy."

Essentially it is the theory that positive thinking brings about positive change.  I do believe this to be true, but only sometimes and only in certain situations.

My infertility clients always ask me whether they should think positively before going into an IVF cycle, to make it more likely to work.  I tell them not to bother if that is not their normal coping style.  Yep, you heard me!  Some people, myself included, prefer to be cautious in their optimism because having too high expectations leads to disappointment that is more difficult to overcome than if they had tempered their expectations.  Seriously, there is no connection with infertility, believe you me!  As I always tell them, if there were, we could simply think ourselves pregnant or 'unpregnant' (for a person experiencing an unwanted pregnancy).  I have had many optimistic clients that have a failed cycle and many pessimistic, cautious clients experience success.

Likewise, I don't think (and there is no scientific evidence to support it) that positive thinking can help you overcome something like cancer.  Positive thinking may help the patient and his/her family cope better with the diagnosis and treatment process, but it doesn't in and of itself increase survival rates.

Now in all fairness, Whitman seems to be focusing on career, love, and weight, since these are the areas where she achieved successful change in her own life.  But again, even in these areas, there are so many complex, interrelated factors.  To say positive thinking is the only thing you need to succeed is a drastic oversimplification.

I do agree, however, that how you feel about yourself affects your emotions, which affects the energy you give off (she calls these vibrations) which affects how you are received and perceived by others.  So I don't know if what she's talking about is so different from self-acceptance, something that often has to come BEFORE finding the love of our life, the dream job, and/or the weight loss, which we often convince ourselves will be the ticket to self-love and acceptance.  It doesn't work that way.  You have to develop unconditional love for yourself first.  But that is not easy.

She makes it seem like you just need to understand her success formula and put it into action, but, again, that is a huge oversimplification.  Believe me, I work with clients all the time who have little self-worth for various reasons and it is usually deeply ingrained in their psyche, any change does not usually happen overnight, it is a long, slow process.  Their brains, literally have to be re-wired because it is processing information with a negative bias, in order to do that, you have to practice, practice, practice and intentionally replace these negative thoughts with more positive ones.  It often requires training and the use of various cognitive behavioural strategies under the supervision of a therapist.  Some 'negative thinking' can be due to chemical imbalances in the brain.  It may require medication.

I also feel like there is a bit of a 'blame the victim' aspect to this law of attraction stuff.  Let me ask you this, anytime you have been feeling down or anxious about something, did it make you feel better when someone told you to, "Just think positively?"  Like many self-made people, Whitman seems to have that believe that if she can do it, than anyone else can do.  But we don't all start with the same advantages.

So perhaps she intends this book to not only be for upper-middle class and above first world women, but also those who don't have any serious psychopathology or even severely damaged self-esteem?

Now what does having it all mean?  This part really got me flummoxed.  She says when we want something, like money, for example, we are actually seeking a feeling.  It isn't just the things we can buy with it, but also the security, power and other things that go along with it.  She then says to focus on feeling those things and let that drive you towards achieving your goal.

Here's the thing, if I use myself as an example, I don't really know if I have it all.  I mean, I am blessed to have an amazing husband, who is my best friend, and two beautiful daughters, I am physically fit, and do work that I adore and is meaningful to me.  But I would certainly love to have more money.  I love our house, but a bigger, fancier one would be awesome, as would a newer, less beat-up car.  But do I need those things to be happy?  No. So is having it all about having it all, or does it mean recognizing what you do have and being happy with it?  Is it about having what you need and being satisfied or getting everything that you want? See?  Its complicated!

While I cannot say I love this book, nor do I fully buy into this whole Law of Attraction/Manifestation theory, it did get me thinking.  Rather than using it as a guide for getting EVERYTHING YOU WANT, which, really, isn't possible for anyone.  I think its usefulness may be in helping women to set specific goals and develop a strategy for achieving that goal.  Again, this is a book for people with 'first world problems', and really, much of the existential angst we experience is due to first world problems.  So there you go.  Bam!

Disclosure: The publisher sent me a complimentary copy of this book but all the opinions on this blog are my own.


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