Once again, the specter of “having it all” rears it’s ugly head. The question of having a happy marriage, a functional family and a rewarding career, all at the same time, is the wrong one to be asking. It is a question grounded in unrealistic expectations that requires a suspension of both the laws of time and physics.
The dilemma that Anne-Marie Slaughter discussed in her article in the Atlantic is one that faces most, if not all, adults. It isn’t new, or special, or even, really, a dilemma. Ms. Slaughter held a high level position in the State Department, which for her was a dream job. She also has a 14-year-old son who was struggling with school and having the usual adolescent difficulties. Unlike many, Ms. Slaughter also had a husband at home to handle those domestic challenges. So is it really accurate to say she didn’t “have it all”?
The Dilemma of Having It All
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a dilemma as a situation involving choice between equally unsatisfactory alternatives; or a problem seemingly incapable of a satisfactory solution. Ms. slaughter may indeed be facing a choice, but it doesn’t qualify as a dilemma. Because neither having a once-in-a-lifetime job that has a good salary and prestige, nor having an intact home for your family is unsatisfactory, one might ask just what is the problem? This is where the laws of time and physics enter the picture.
Time is the great equalizer–no one gets more than twenty-four hours in a day. Physics prevents us from being in two places at the same time. This does not just put limits on women; men are subject to these same constraints as well. However, there isn’t much talk about whether men can have it all or if they too have to make hard choices.
Choosing How to Have It All
In reality, everyone has to make choices. Sometimes those choices are hard. The idea that any one of us can escape this basic fact of life is a myth that has been perpetuated for far too long. The question that each of us need to ask is, “What does having it all really mean?” The next question would then be, “Who gets to decide?”
No matter what approach or angle I take, I always end up in the same place. “Having it all” is about being content with the choices you make for your life. You and your partner are responsible for those choices. You also have the power and responsibility to make different ones if you’re not living the life the two of you want.
Getting married, taking the job, working the hours, having a family, staying at home–these are just some of the options life might present. There will be consequences as a result of the choices you make. That’s just the way life works.
As a culture, we try to cram as much as possible into our allotted time in a deluded attempt to “have it all.” We exhaust ourselves and damage our relationships playing in this zero sum game. We’ve bought into the lie that if we do more, we’ll have more. But, more of what? More stress, envy, depression, anxiety, guilt and unhappiness spring to mind.
I propose that you step back and take a deep breath. Several, as a matter of fact. Identify how you’re living your life and if it is a good fit for you and those who matter to you. Where are your joys? Your frustrations? Your guilt? What would you like to do more of? What would you like to let go of?
Sit down and compare your answers with your partner’s. Sort through what stays and what goes. Have courage and reformulate your life. Only then will you really be able to “have it all.”
Do you think you can have it all? How are you making it happen? What, if anything, would you change?
- How to be Friends and Lovers in Your Marriage
- The Secret to Embracing Interdependence
- How to Own Your Happiness and Enjoy Your Marriage Now and Forever
Learn more about Lesli’s book and how you can take the work and sacrifice out of your marriage.