You can have it all! It’s a feminist mantra that has been repeated so often that it has become a cliche. Of course, women aren’t the only ones that want to “have it all.” Men have been chasing that same will-o’-the-wisp since time immemorial. After all, who wouldn’t want to have all his heart’s desires? Who wouldn’t want to rise to dizzying heights in his career, get married to someone he or she loves, be mommy or daddy of the year to 2.1 rugrats, be in peak physical health, and have a great house, lots of friends, and an abundant supply of money? Unfortunately this is one beautiful dream that very few, if any, people will ever get to live. There are many good reasons for that.
1) Goals grow over time: Human beings are goal-setting animals and our goals only grow over time. Someone who gets promoted to regional manager will immediately start to covet the company VP slot. The person who wins a championship in just about anything immediately begins to think about what he’ll need to do to repeat. The musician who has a hit record wants to sell even more copies of his next album. This is why a college student with no car and a $15 Salvation Army couch in his studio-apartment living room can be completely satisfied with his material possessions at 18 even though he may feel poor at 50 if his car is a decade old, his small house is run down, and he can’t afford a new washer. You’re either growing and improving as a human being or you’re starting to rot inside, and this makes it very difficult to ever be completely satisfied with any aspect of your life.
2) What we want changes over time: Human desires are not static. What you want today may be exactly what you don’t want next year. We’re not talking about moving the goalposts here; we’re talking about playing a new game. How many people go to college for four years to get a degree in a subject that they never spend a day working in for the rest of their lives? Plenty. It’s also very easy to start working your way up to the top of a profession and realize that you don’t like it very much. The same goes for getting the spouse you want and realizing two years in that he or she is really not whom you want to spend the rest of your life with. What good is superficially appearing to “have it all” if you don’t want what you have?
3) There are only so many hours in a day: It doesn’t matter how good you become at decision making, prioritizing, multitasking, and time management; everyone still has the same number of hours in a day. This means you can’t go to your son’s baseball game and get a promotion by landing a new account in Tokyo at the same time. You can’t be in the gym working out at the same time you’re practicing on the piano. You can’t spend the same money on a training seminar and a car payment. Most of us love the concept of win/win choices, but in life, we often have to make win/lose choices. One priority has to win more of your time, resources, and attention while the other priority has to lose.
4) We’re unrealistic to begin with: Think about some of history’s greatest movers and shakers. Martin Luther King cheated on his wife. Tesla never had a wife because he believed great inventors shouldn’t be distracted with wives and families. Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group that included his friend Brutus. The greatest baseball player in history, Babe Ruth, was traded from the Yankees after helping to make the team legendary. Napoleon died in exile. Ronald Reagan spent the last decade of his life in a fog because of Alzheimer’s. And on and on it goes. If the legends whose names will echo throughout history didn’t “have it all,” why should the rest of us think we’ll be able to live our ideal lives?
5) We can’t match up in every area against people with unbalanced lives: The standard for “success” in life is ultimately set by other people. This might not be a problem for people who want to “have it all” if everyone else wanted to have balanced lives. Unfortunately for them, the highest achievers in any area tend to spend an inordinate amount of time working on their performance. The stay-at-home-mom has more time to spend on mothering her children than the woman running her own business. The man who only has 40 hours a week to spend on his career is never going to be able to compete on an even playing field with the people who put in seventy-hour weeks. Most balanced people can never measure up to their own expectations because they’re comparing themselves to high achievers who’ve obsessively pursued the ideal in one particular area. In other words, nobody can achieve like Bill Gates, Lance Armstrong, and Oprah Winfrey all at the same time.
And more career suggestions from our other contributors: