I typed ‘you can have it all’ into Google this morning and the results came back with a number of articles telling me that I certainly couldn’t have it all. ‘What were you thinking?’ being the obvious follow up question.
It’s not just Google either. The magazines I pick up, sitcoms I flip past, my friends and family are all spreading this message. Even as I question it, I acknowledge that I’ve said it to. But is it true?
Can we have it all?
Early feminists told us we could have it all. We could have the high-powered and fulfilling career, the fabulous apartment, the nice car. We could be a good friend and daughter, always ready to lend a hand, an ear. If we so choose, we could have a husband and a family, keep on top of the housework and the cooking. We could take all these individual full-time lives and blend them together into a seamless new super-life. The juggling and multi-tasking routines would make circus clowns look like petty amateurs.
If we can’t have it all, it certainly isn’t for lack of trying. Some of us are able to juggle balls / spin plates / multi-task / [enter your favourite cliché here] for a time, but it seems like the stress of trying to have it all, the guilt over not measuring up in various areas, the lack of sleep, always piles up until we’re caught crying in the bathroom at work, or eating ice cream for dinner or drinking far more than is good for us.
But this doesn’t stop us – me included – from trying to have it all. From trying to be more, do more; work harder, smarter, longer. To balance a relationship, a career, a professional diploma, hobbies, chores, friends and a workout.
So what’s a girl to do?
We can change the definition of having it all
Lucy Mangan, who writes for Stylist among other publications, is fabulous and I find myself agreeing with her most of the time. She wrote an insightful piece about this topic called, conveniently, We need a new definition of having it all. Her approach is that society has provided a biased definition that keeps the masses chasing their tales whilst the elite benefit from their efforts. She says, ‘We need a definition of success that privileges activities that feed our souls as well as our employers’ coffers.’ Hear, hear.
However, I’m also reminded of the Sex and the City episode where Carrie, in conversation with her boss Enid at Vogue, is told that the secret to having it all is to not expect it to look the way you thought it would look. But like Carrie, who was embarrassed and shocked by the cool and collected Enid’s cowering at the book launch party when her boyfriend and his ‘girlfriend-from-the-other-side-of-town’ appear, this advice doesn’t necessarily ring true.
By all means, define success and happiness on your own terms. But that doesn’t mean you have to strip back your expectations of life.
You can change society’s definition of having it all
Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a thoughtful and brave piece for The Atlantic, in which she says, “Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating “you can have it all” is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”
She discusses the topic of not being able to have it all from a social perspective and identifies several important and relevant parts of society that would have to change to bring everyone onto equal footing. I appreciated and applauded the article, but it lacked the immediacy that I wanted to see as I’m grappling with the issues she highlights in my day-to-day life.
You can trade short-term sacrifices for long-term benefits
Eric Sinoway, writing for the Harvard Business Review said, “The pursuit of a meaningful, multifaceted life involves endless choices about both short-term tactical issues (“Should I volunteer for this project?”) and long-term strategic ones (“How can I position myself to advance in my career?”)…The key is to differentiate between options that appear to be equally valuable by carefully considering how each of them advances you toward one dimension or another of your legacy vision.”
His article is about identifying the short-term sacrifices you can make for the long-term benefits you’ll derive. He and his colleague, Howard Stevenson, identified seven dimensions of life and for each dimension, you ask yourself three questions:
“Who do I want to be in this part of my life? How much do I want to experience this dimension? Given that I have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources, how important is this dimension relative to the others?”
Basically, you choose which balls to continue juggling with and which ones to put to one side. Realistic, perhaps, but not exactly inspiring.
You can have it all, but not at the same time
Most of these writers, and coincidentally my husband, believe that you we can have it all in small chunks at the appropriate time. It may be physically impossible to fit everything into a 24-hour period, so you make choices and spread the load and fit things in where possible.
When you are involved with a task, you’re fully there. Then you move on and are fully there for the next task. This certainly falls in line with a fantastic article in a recent Stylist that discussed the pitfalls of multi-tasking.
It seems like the best option at the moment, but still not 100% satisfactory.
I wonder what it is exactly I’m balking at. Certainly no one likes to be told that they aren’t capable of something. That what they want is beyond their grasp. Perhaps that’s part of it. But I also believe that it’s important to not get too content with your lot in life, to comfortable with your current accomplishments. I believe that when you settle, when you accept without questioning, you begin to lose.
It would be wonderful to feel comforted by these articles and experts telling me it’s ok that I can’t achieve everything I’ve set for myself, that I’m still able to find meaning in life on a lesser scale. And perhaps they’re right and I’ll come to accept it in 10, 20, 30 years time. It’s an important dialog, and I can appreciate what each of them is saying.
But I suppose this is a blog promoting restlessness and discontent and never-ending pursuit to some extent. Because I think it’s important to want more out of life, out of ourselves. Not at the expense of the present, but for the sake of the future.