counseling, psychology, self-help

Sorry, You Can’t Have It All

So you want to have it all, eh? You want to have a killer career, the perfect kid, a hot and heavy marriage, a big house, a nice car, and travel the world in your free time? (Because you would clearly have so much of it). Oh and you are doing it ALL this while keeping a super fit body because what is the point of doing well if you are not looking good when doing it? Right?

Sorry, to tell you this, but it ain’t gonna happen.

The reality is none of us have it all. We may do a good job of making it appear that we do but behind closed doors something always has to give. When most people talk about “having it all,” they tend to focus on all the external stuff like having a big house or getting a new job or getting their kid into an Ivy league school.

Many of us are controlled in life by all or nothing thinking–we feel unless we have everything going right for us, we have nothing going right for us.

We live in a society that tells us doing more means doing better. We are told that all of us, if we work hard enough, can have it all. It is this type of message that will make us feel like our lives are never good enough.

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about all the pressure to “have it all”–to be perfect in a sense. It is an idea we all take part in perpetuating in our culture. I always wondered to myself, who wants it all– that sounds exhausting. Yet haven’t we all felt this pressure?

This pressure to have it all starts in our early lives.

Growing up, in elementary school, we are stressed the importance of getting good grades, being the “Star Student of the Month,” and getting those academic awards of recognitions.

By high school, academic achievement isn’t enough. By the teen years we are expected to be smart, good-looking, fit, well-liked, athletic, and at the top of the social and intellectual hierarchy.

Later in adulthood-comes the career ladder–which we are expected to climb and climb rapidly. In our society 40 hour work weeks just don’t cut it and if you aren’t doing more than average in your profession, you are failing.  The treadmill of your career is where the elevation and speed keep going faster and faster until you literally feel yourself about to fly off. Add to that pressure to be a perfect parent (if you have children) and raise the ideal child. Welcome to adulthood, where the 24/7 nature of our lives, refuses to allow us to slow down.

As you can see, from the time we are old enough to read and write, the pressure begins to have it all.

In this day and age, it seems even more challenging than ever to even attempt to have it all–work is no longer left at the office, relationships are now supposed to both emotionally and financially fulfilling, parenting is competitive and all-consuming, and social media offers constant comparison to everyone in our social network.

The truth is having it all is just a way of the thinking that arises from our desire to compete with one another. As human beings, we are wired for competition and comparison. The reality of human nature is that we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to everyone around us.

He has a nicer house than me–but I bet he can’t afford it. She is better looking than me–but whatever I am smarter. That dude drives a Porsche-must be nice–but too bad he is too old for that car. She is younger than me–but I looked better than her when I was that age. That dude has a real nice body–but he should be because he doesn’t have any real responsibilities. If I had his time, I could live in the gym too.

Sound familiar?

Human nature has us always jockeying for position–with a side of rationalizing as to why someone is perceivably “better” than us is one facet it or another. So, better or not, we will figure out a way to feel like we have a leg up on the competition.

This type of thinking has largely driven the “having it all” mentality. This mindset is unlikely to change anytime soon.

But the reality is none of us can have it all.

Anyone with even a working knowledge of economics knows about “opportunity costs.” I remember learning about opportunity costs in high school–our teacher used the example of going to college for four years vs. starting work right after graduation. Make money right away or make more money down the road. There is no right or wrong choice-it is up to you what your goals are. Basically, opportunity costs means that every choice you make costs you something else, even if indirectly. Thus going to college for four years is costing you four years you can be out in the world earning a full-time salary.

Every day we have opportunity costs–sleep an extra an hour or haul your ass to the gym.  Perhaps you decide to drag yourself to the gym. Despite gaining the value of a good workout, you lose the extra hour of sleep. Taking advantage of one opportunity always means giving up something else you can have potentially been doing.

So what is the answer to this dilemma?

Perhaps the solution is as simple as accepting our own limitations and deciding what we truly value. Then we can prioritize our lives around those values.  We cannot be everything to everyone. Something has to give. I find the people who are struggling with trying to have it all are really just struggling with deciding what to give up.

Everything in life is about priorities. You can’t have everything so you have to prioritize. Nevertheless try not worry too much about how other people live their lives and what they do because at the end of the day there is only so many hours in a day. We all face opportunity costs. Don’t buy into the axiom, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.”  Well, Beyonce also has a full-time staff to clean her house, take care of her kids, cook her meals, run her errands. She also has Jay-Z to look after (and to look after him closely if the Lemonade album has taught us anything).

The truth is you have to choose. YOU. If you want something bad enough, it is going to come at the expense of something else. Most of us are never taught this truth–our society ingrained in us from our early years the notion we can have it all. We are largely raised to define our self by external metrics of success.  Some of these metrics are useful, some are not.

We all get 1,440 minutes a day. It is up to you to decide how to use those minutes and how you measure your life.

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5 thoughts on “Sorry, You Can’t Have It All”

  1. Great article Erin! Someone once said (maybe someone famous? Maybe my grandma? Can’t remember), “you can have it all, just not all at once!”

    Anyone that seems like they have it all is just someone you don’t know very well! ❤️

    Like

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