If you’re a woman over 40, and likely even if you’re younger, you probably grew up being told you can “have it all”. No need to sacrifice anything – a rewarding career, loving partner, thriving social life and healthy well-adjusted children are all within your reach. But is it true? Can women have it all?
Unfortunately, it’s bullshit. You cannot have it all. And that’s okay!!
I’m thankful to my parents for telling me I could. They believed it and wanted it for me. I don’t blame them in any way for being incorrect. They didn’t know. So much has changed since I was a kid and my parents told me this. For one thing, the world offers many more options and that means more choices, and an ever increasing opportunity cost.
Why you can’t have it all in life
Life is about making choices – every hour of every day. With each choice you make, you are passing on other equally attractive options. The more variety, the more loss. In today’s non-stop, internet obsessed, social media consuming life, thing move quickly. We’re faced with an endless array of selections, too many alternatives all given equal weight.
If you chose, for example, to accept the high paying job, stepping up the career ladder, you are opting to work more. Those hours have to come from somewhere. Where will you sacrifice the time? Your partner? Children? Or maybe you’ll give up the gym or socializing with friends. Whatever you chose, you will lose something.
The same is true if you pass on the career opportunity. You’ll preserve time with your family and friends but will remain stuck in your job, not able to get ahead.
Generation X women thought they could have it all
The negative effects of trying to have it all impact women (and men) of all ages. I think Gen X women carry a unique and heavier burden. We were the first generation of women who were told we can have everything we want. And we’ve been trying to reach that unattainable goal ever since, always falling short and losing sleep trying to figure out where we went wrong. What could we have done better?
According to Ada Calhoun, in Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis –
Speaking with women across America about their experiences as the generation raised to “have it all,” Calhoun found that most were exhausted, terrified about money, under-employed, and overwhelmed. Instead of their issues being heard, they were told instead to lean in, take “me-time,” or make a chore chart to get their lives and homes in order.Ada Calhon
Thankfully, we’ve delivered a more measured message to more recent generations but the struggle still exists.
Work life balance or balancing?
Work life balance is like the vision of a lake shimmering on the horizon on a blistering day, just out reach and evaporating as your approach. Frankly, I hate the phrase. It is stated as if it exists, a tangible thing to attain. Reality is it’s an ongoing juggling act. Balancing priorities and tradeoffs.
There is no uniform distribution of commitment that results in a perfect “balance”. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take 2 parts work, 3 parts children, 1 part spouse, and a dash of health and friendship and voila “work life balance”?
It doesn’t work that way.
It’s a constant redistribution of the water in the buckets. It’s messy, and sometimes ugly. Sometimes it’s seeps out the bottom or turns into all out warfare with two equally important parts of your life each pulling at one arm, threatening to tear you apart. When you need more room in your home life, you take if from your career, and vice versa. In order to exercise, you sacrifice sleep.
You fight the battle everyday reconciling your time, commitment, and energy for the things you love. Balancing your life is an ongoing journey, not a destination. It’s give and take. Start and stop. If you think of it in this way, as a continual realignment rather than a static state, you can finally stop chasing the mirage.
How do I chose?
When our parents were growing up, choices were measurable and the value varied. A family carried a lot of weight, a new car far less. Buying a home was a priority, vacations a luxury.
That’s not how it is today. In so many ways our thinking has become superficial. Sometimes we don’t think at all. We take “facts” at face value and fall victim to the belief, or more accurately the feeling, that everything has equal weight. I MUST have that bag, buy those shoes, put my kid in private school, tour Southern Italy for my ten year anniversary.
We need to learn to consider our choices, give up alternatives, and be comfortable with the loss. We are not meant to have everything. So why try? Why not realize that we live in a time of great opportunity with more alternatives available to us than our parents could have imagined at our age? And that means choosing from a myriad of options and selecting what matters most to you. What a wonderful problem to have! We should be grateful.
Ask yourself the following questions to help hone in on what is truly important to you.
- Who do you want to be (vs. “what” do you want to be)?
- Which qualities do you want your children, friends, and family to use to describe you?
- What do you value the most? The least?
- Can you define your needs vs. your wants?
- Are there things you are not willing to sacrifice?
By answering these questions, honestly and fully, you’ll create a framework to use to judge decisions. Put your questions and options up against this framework and be true to yourself when you do. Revisit it from time to time. As you life changes, so will your answers to these questions.
Why even in today’s instant gratification world, you still can’t have it all
It may seem at times that you can have everything you want. The world is your oyster! Press a button or swipe a finger and whatever you can dream up is yours. But remember that each time you chose, you are giving up something else.
In a world with more opportunities than any one person can ever take advantage of, there will always be more that you don’t have than what you do, an ever escalating mountain of opportunity cost. Carve your path right through it. Be aware of the choices you make every hour of every day. Consciously put aside that which you have passed on and be okay with it. By doing so, you will find that you don’t need to have it all to be happy.
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