This highly recommended post by another blogger on the concept of having it all got me thinking about how women in particular have been sold the “have it all” message over the past few decades.
You know the one — today’s woman can get a great education, have a interesting and fulfilling career, have an amazing relationship, raise a family, have a magazine worthy home and garden, be beautiful, make time for all her hobbies and interests, travel the world, live her dreams, and reach for the stars?
And the truth is a woman today can have (within reason) any of those things. Women today have more options than ever before. But something I have almost never hear anyone say is a woman can’t have ALL of those things at the same time. And that it’s OK, even sanity itself, not to try to.
Yep, that’s right. The problem might be that life is a smorgasbord of abundance. There’s too many good things to have and not enough room or time or resources to have them all. Or at least not on a quality level, although many women are burning themselves out trying. That’s the good news and the bad news, at the same time.
For example, I have three dear friends who put their time and energies into their educations and careers during their 20s and 30s. They all have Master’s degrees from top schools, and all have had successful and interesting careers, all hold high level positions for companies that are household names.
At the age of 38 or so, all decided it was “time to have kids.” Unfortunately, although each of these women were ready to be excellent mothers, and they all had met and married awesome men ready to be fathers, none of them were able to get pregnant even with the aid of all the infertility treatments science had to offer.
For each, it was a crushing blow. Used to being in control of their worlds, they assumed that like scheduling their week or a project, when they decided they were ready to have a baby, it would happen. The idea that there might be a cost of delaying pregnancy until they were ready versus having a baby when their bodies were most biologically ready — and that the cost might be not being able to get pregnant — had never seriously entered their minds. And with all of the celebrities having babies at 40 and even 50 years old, at 38 none of them had even considered that they might be starting too late.
One, now 53, gave up her career and is now a stay-at-home mom with two adopted children. One, now 45, has made peace with not having kids and puts her energy and time into helping other people’s children through her career. The third, now 39, is gearing down her career while still undergoing infertility treatment, and my fingers are crossed for her.
Now there is no way to know if they would have struggled just as much to get pregnant earlier in life, and I am in no way trying to imply that it was some kind of karmic retribution for choosing to get and education and pursue a career. It’s simply that Americans, and especially American women, have been led to believe that having it all, all at once, and on demand, is possible — when often it’s not. And this pretty little lie leads to much unnecessary strife and unhappiness.
The same could be said for a woman choosing to marry and start a family very young. What are the chances of her also pursuing higher education, establishing a successful career, and having time for all her hobbies and interests without her (and her family) paying that price in some way their time and quality of relationships?
The dirty little secret is the grass just looks greener. The young mother at home with the kids may envy her friends who have an exciting career, just as her friend who has a career but can’t have a child may envy the young stay-at-home mother. The woman who has children and a career may envy both those who have more time for their career because they don’t have children and the woman who has more time for her children because she doesn’t have a career.
When you think about it, every decision from as small as how to spend an hour to as big as if and when to try to have a baby, means a trade off in some other way.
And it’s not just women who face this. Men, too, have to and have always had to make choices between career, time with family, hobbies and interests, etc. It’s an illusion that men have somehow had the golden ticket in life, and that they were having it at the expense of women. Nobody has the golden ticket. There is no golden ticket. Everyone only has so many options, no matter their sex, age, income level, education, or other factors.
Ironically there is a solution to this situation, and again it involves realizing it’s a choice. But rather than choosing to want and try to have it all, ironically it means choosing NOT to. It is in choosing to give up some things in order to have other things that are more important and making peace with making those choices and trade offs that an abundant quality life lies. And also to accept that in everything there is a season, and having one thing might mean waiting to — or even never having — another. And not just realizing this, but being truly OK with it.
I personally struggle with this concept. I constantly beat myself up internally for not doing and being it all, for not somehow squeezing 48 hours of stuff into a 24 hour window. And trust me, I have tried. Pretty much daily. For years. That trying has come at great personal cost to myself, and others.
Nor if I am honest can I say I have been able to enjoy “having” it all, even as I was (and still am) furiously, frantically, and barely juggling it. I now realize that although there is always room for self-improvement, it wasn’t because I’m not trying hard enough or wanting it bad enough, it’s because I was and still am trying to do and have too much at once!
So in the spirit of resolutions and all of that, in 2015 I am going to make time for what’s most important and make peace with giving up some of what’s really not, without feeling like that trade off is some kind of failure. If you also struggle with this concept, I hope you will join me.
Sometimes less really is more. And sometimes more is actually less.
Let those who have ears hear.