What Did You Give Up, To Get What You Got?
Posted on March 28, 2012
How are your decision making skills? Excellent, fair, nonexistent? If I ask you, hypothetically, to pick only one of the following, which will you choose?
No, I’m not asking you to select between the dashing star of Mad Men and his beautiful partner Jennifer Westfeldt or the funny and likable “Friends” cast before they all became wanna-be movie stars.
Love, Money, Children, Friendship, Personal Fulfillment. Which will it be? Some people have their priorities straight. Others have realistic expectations. The rest of us want it all, all of the time. I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to have all five of these components in play at once. Nor am I implying that every person on this earth wants babies and loads of cash money. What I am saying is that having it all is damn hard. We only have so much energy, so much time and so many resources. And yet, again and again, this idea of “balance” is forced upon us by the media, by our well-meaning parents, and by our lying-through-their-pearly-whites peers.
The Happy Ending is so pervasive that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when one or all of these elements is missing or broken. I see it all around me: frustrated friends who feel pressured to strive for more money despite the fact that they have a kick-ass partner and a job that they enjoy. Or a complete and utter focus on someone’s love life when they are making tons of cash, have fantastic hobbies and great friends: “Poor Sam, we really need to find him a girl.”
Whatever happened to the concept of the journey? Not a journey of attainment but a journey in the experiential sense. To figure it out along the way, to gain and lose and come out anything but shiny and perfect at the end? Let’s get past the fact that our natural inclination is to remain comfortable. Life isn’t like that. Sometimes we can’t get pregnant, or we want to work in the arts even though the arts aren’t well funded, or we live under a constant grey cloud even though we crave the sun (Vancouver, I’m looking at you). It gets even more complicated when we attempt to stack our aspirations on top of one another like building blocks. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the…you know the rest. Each building block affects the one below it, increasing the pressure. Commitment affects breezy love, babies affect commitment, personal fulfillment affects friendships, money affects everything. Rationally, we know all of this. And yet we continue to view our lives through the lens of a romantic comedy: if we put in a bit of heavy lifting, it will all work out in the end.
What if we could be honest with one another? Sometimes only a couple of things on the list are working out. The natural flow of things is this: the more attention we give to one thing in our life, the more likely it is that something else will suffer. And yet, we keep stressing and repositioning ourselves, convinced that the final destination is a heavenly place where our partners are gorgeous and funny, our babies free of birth defects, our 401k’s fat, our social calendars overflowing, and we are just so freaking fulfilled and content with who we are as people. I’m not advocating a passive stance. We strive for more in order to grow and have meaningful experiences. But let’s stop for a second and think about what makes something meaningful. Are ease and perfection really the magic ingredients? Or is it the imperfections that we often view as failures? Can we take a bad breakup and parlay it into a chance to focus on our careers? Being laid off as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves?
What if we finally let ourselves off the hook for not having it all? Maybe, if we’re really brave and really honest with ourselves, we’ll come to the conclusion that we already have so much. Just look at that picture of Oprah up there. She isn’t lamenting the daughter she never had. She’s taking her fantastic career and her personal fulfillment straight to the bank. And that is one check that isn’t going to bounce.