Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You Need to Know 'All' To Recognize It

Ever since I read this essay sometime last week, I don't think I've really stopped thinking about the concept of 'having it all'.  

The author, Delia Ephron, was clear in making her point that 'all' is relative. It expands and contracts.  It changes overtime depending on where we are in our lives and our perceptions of what we can still achieve realistically.  Ephron was also very clear that the American female version of 'having it all' being only interpreted to mean having a career, marriage and children, is 'revolting'. I would even throw in the words "oppressive", "delusional" and "exclusionary".

One of the most striking points Ephron made in the essay, for me, was the fact that she underscored how 'having it all' is statistically impossible mainly because it keeps breeding wanting even more....and then some more!  I've always felt bad about labeling myself 'insatiable' but I bet I'm not the only one.  I feel that it's human nature to keep wanting more, although I'm sure our degrees of insatiability vary.  Some people are just incapable of being happy with what they have, while some can always find contentment with 'what is', in spite of the presence of their 'what could still be'.  

It is within this context of insatiability and my questioning myself about my capability for happiness and contentment that I began thinking of how my definition for 'all' has changed through the years.  

When I was about to start college, at sixteen, 'all' was about getting into the program I had applied for in the top university I wanted with such singular focus.

I got it and so 'all' changed.

At 18, 'all' meant being allowed by my father to drive my own car and have a greater feeling of independence.  I learned to drive, but he was too paranoid at the time to let me.  

I did not get it so 'all' had to change.

Then I thought life would be perfect if only I had a boyfriend, a smart, responsible and good looking boy to hold hands with as I walk the university hallways.  What a great addition to top it 'all' off, completing the magical trifecta of happy family-good grades-love life.  

It didn't happen again and I opted to convince myself that I can't have it all. Family and good grades should be enough for now.  So I moved on to a different 'all'.

After graduating from college, it was 'all' about getting a job.  Then, it was followed by getting a job that I liked and was more related to my degree. Both happened somehow, but still not to the level I wanted.

So I had to go back to feeling that 'all' was really about getting a boyfriend. This time, it needed to be someone who was truly marriage material.  After all, I was already in my mid-20's.  

The first two jobs did not cut it.  And sadly, I still didn't find anyone who was cut for the future husband role.  Maybe a change in game plan was seriously needed, I thought.  So I decided to step back, take a pause.  In reality, this pause translated to going for a master's degree.

Now that would surely give me 'all'!

While in graduate school, back in my beloved (top) university, 'all' became defined by getting accepted for a teaching position.  To live the life of an intellectual, an academic, was 'all' that mattered.

I got it.  I was invited to apply.  I interviewed, and got accepted.  Naturally, 'all' had to change once more.  It had to go back to that one elusive element: a love life.

Then finally, FINALLY, I met someone remarkable.  There I was, doing something I loved and didn't mind showing up for every day, and having someone I could possibly marry and grow old with for the rest of my life.  Now if only he were here with me, physically, that is.  You see, what I had was a long-distance relationship.  I guess, it still wasn't enough to be 'all'.

The relationship didn't work out as I had planned and being in my late 20's at the time, (close to 30 actually), I was sure that what would bring me my utmost happiness and sense of 'all' was to explore foreign lands, start anew somewhere, AND have someone to love and be loved.

I did meet someone and eventually married him.  The relationship also ended up bringing me here, to the States, and so I had to really start (almost) from scratch.

It wasn't as easy as I had envisioned.  And though the 'exploration' experience was not as 'Hollywood-like' as I naively thought, it was and still is worth all the effort.  It's definitely a different kind of adventure, but undoubtedly one that is fit for me and my low threshold for excitement.  

After achieving that elusive love life / marriage, as well as the dream of starting new (which I sometimes still complain about, oddly...), 'all' naturally had to shift to include having a child.  

Again, reaching that objective was not easy at all, but at least I got there.  I got it.  I had it 'all'.

So what is the point of this long list and this looking back?  

What I realized is that, despite my unrelenting complaints and strong tendency for disillusionment, the truth is that I did get  (eventually) EVERYTHING that I hoped for or wanted, everything that I said was to be my 'all'.  I surely did not get them all at the same time but maybe no one does, and that still doesn't give me much justification for whining. The thing is, we so very easily forget what we have asked for.  And if it doesn't show up within 24 hours, most of us just give in to disappointment and accuse life of being impossible, unfair, unreasonable.  

The most important thing I realized given all this is that, for the most part, my 'having it all' almost always had to do with love...being loved and having someone to love.  That was the perpetual element that I constantly craved, whether I declared it out loud or kept it to myself.  

I was never sure I would be a successful career woman.  I was never sure I wanted to be part of the rat race.  I also never clearly declared I would be happy and content if I became a millionaire.  All I was ever sure of was that I would not be happy if I didn't find someone I could love and who would love me, and yes all this boils down to having a family, having and giving love.  

Is there really anything more than that?  For me, that was all, and this IS 'all'...(at least for now, as I'm sure something else would change).  This may be different for each person but we just have to go back to how it makes us feel, instead of being rigid about when or how 'all' shows up.

Have you taken the time to define what 'having it all' means for you?  You might be surprised to realize that you've had it all along.


  1. Hi, Joy. I read somewhere that we can, indeed, have it all, just not all at once. A sequential allness, if you will. That sounds like your experience.

    Then there's the meme that goes, "What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be." Adjust the expectation to allow contentment a chance to take root. This idea of an expectation-happiness gap is fully explored in a blog post on why Gen Y'ers are so unhappy: http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09

    At this stage in my life, I find that not only do I know what makes me happy (the passion for doing something that lifts my spirits), I've also learned to find happiness in small, random things. Still, the big cloud that hangs overhead is why I can't make a living by doing the things that make me happy—why I have to return to the reviled desk job to keep a roof over our heads. Being independently wealthy would sure be "all" defined, at this point!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. Just entered a long, thoughtful comment that was lost when I hit Preview. Not the first time this has happened to me. As usual, Joy, this post led me into unexpected depths, dissecting what "Having it all" actually means. It's a perception of fulfillment, of happiness, of possession, but not a tangible state of being. "Having it all" can be as ephemeral as a . dream, unless used in the materialistic sense of wealth, possessions, and greed. In your case, it seems to be related to emotional fulfillment, a state of mind that has to be the nearest to having it all that I can imagine. It's something we all aspire to have but often don't see or recognize. Or as I did at the start of your post, relate having it all to career, home, family, tangible things when all along it's more like a state of mind. Maybe.

  3. Ah, the myth of 'having it all'...I am not sure of what it means. These days, I just try to take it one day at a time. Just like you, my needs have changed over time. I think that I also appreciate the small things in life, like my first cup of coffee in the morning. Right now, I would love to be able to live from my writing, but that's a long shot!

  4. I never gave thought to having it all until after I became a mom and started hearing about working mom's trying to have it all. For me... having it all means being happy with where you are and what is in your life. If you're not happy then strive to get there. You can have it all if your seeking your truth and your happiness!


Let me know your thoughts!