Image courtesy of Paro_for_Peace, creative commons liscence


For years, I’ve been attributing the quote “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time” to Maria Shriver. It turns out she might not have said it, but Oprah said something similar, per my very thorough 2.5 minute Google search just now. Whatever. Either way, some totally badass woman with more money, power, and influence than your average deity has thrown in the towel and admitted that perfection is impossible. So what hope do the rest of us – poor souls with no nanny, chef, driver, or personal jet to speak of – have? And why do I keep running around like I think I can be the exception?

It turns out that I have choices. I get up every morning and have choices about how I spend my time, my money, my emotions, my energy, my passions, and my talents. There are certainly times where I have felt stuck in a pity party of “I have to’s” but the reality is that I’m never really stuck. I can choose to blow off laundry for the night. I’ll pay for it this weekend when I have to do 6 loads instead of 4. Or I could just go buy the kids more underwear instead of doing laundry at all. It’s all trade offs: my time, my money, my energy. If I spend some of one now, I’ll save some of the others for later.

Certainly, life has a way of forcing our hand in this mindset from time to time. Illness, infertility, death of a partner or close family member, inherited debt – no one chooses these kinds of things to happen to them. But I have witnessed many friends having stepped into and through these situations being incredibly intentional about how they show up and spend their energy during life’s low points, particularly those thrust upon them through no choice or action of their own.

So the rest of the time – when we feel overwhelmed by the task ahead of us, stuck in a job we don’t quite love, or feel out-of-sync with our partners – it’s easy to feel as though we’re somehow deficient, that we alone are being kept out of the “having it all” club. It’s important to remember that everyone is living within the constraints of their choices (even Maria and Oprah) – we just might not see those choices on the surface, unfolding on social media or in the stories they share at mom’s night out.

A few weeks ago, a new friend asked me this question: what are you willing to struggle for this year? It was a reminder that we all have tough decisions to make about which part of “having it all” we are focused on today, and it acknowledges the trade-offs that come with each choice. It also reminded me that what I want to struggle for now is not the thing I have to choose forever – I can change my choices at any time, as my life and my circumstances change.

The clarity that comes with truly knowing and owning the choices you are making at any given moment is as close a definition of contentment that I can think of. My soul speaks and says “this is what’s important right now” and my actions align to get me there. That’s when a calmness descends, that “presence” we all strive for. We just have to remember this is possible when we’re in the grip of stress, sadness, frustration – to be ok with having enough.

“You can’t have everything – where would you put it?”

– Steven Wright

Photo credit: Paro_for_Peace, creative commons liscence

Jen S.

Jen Swanson (@jgswanson) a digitally curious designer of experiences, a mom, a wife, a reader, a gardener, a cook, and a little bit of a bad-ass. Professionally speaking, of course.

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