No, You Can’t Do It All

I checked out an article touching on Shonda Rhimes’s commencement speech at Dartmouth, and found myself smiling even though I’m CF. The speech was about the fallacy of “doing it all”.

You know what I mean. A little girl is told that she can “do it all” – have a career, a healthy marriage, AND a family.

It’s a lie.

The reason I found myself smiling is because I have found, maybe a little too soon, according to my mom, that “having it all” is a myth. I knew it even back in college, when I struggled to get my papers written after being up till 4am working. But working outside of college, it was a wakeup call as to just how little time there really is in the day.

My bosses keep me on a part-time basis, and it shocked them that I insisted that they keep me that way. That is with very good reason: my photography work. Never mind money for a minute: because I have a shorter workweek, I get to have time for things like cleaning my house, having a homecooked meal with Mom, working out, and yes, photos. But things like the housecleaning – that is something I rarely, if at all, have the chance to really do if I’m working full time. Considering accounting gets a wee bit busy (understatement) in spring, and I’m working 6-7 days a week, then it becomes all the more important to have some time when I’m not working.

It sounds mundane, I’m sure, housecleaning. But imagine the state of my apartment if I didn’t take that time. I’m well past the age of my mother picking up after me, and she works too. I’m the de facto super for our household. I’m the one who does the minor repairs, replacements, maintenance, etc. And I barely even find the time to unpack my suitcases after a trip.

Mind you this: I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets. But I still have responsibilities and a life and an apartment. And if I, working part time and running a business, cannot manage it, then what about someone in different shoes?

You just plain do not have the time to “do it all”. You just don’t. There’s a finite number of hours in the day that we have to allocate across working, sleeping, and everything else. The original motto for workers’ rights is “Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will!” – which is why your workday is that eight hours – but realistically, it’s more like 10. One hour each way for commute, and if you have overtime, then you add more to that segment. So where do you get the extra hours? Sacrifice either sleep or the “what we will” portion. If your friend needs your help moving and you say yes, and you take an hour or so off work, then you have to make up for it. You need a certain number of hours of shut-eye to not be an exhausted mess. If you’re in a relationship, then relationships require work too. You have to set time aside to make it work. So where do you find the hours? What if you’re sick as a dog and can’t afford the time off?

If you have a family, it’s infinitely tougher. If you want to be there for your son’s swim meet and there’s a project you have to submit at the same time, what wins? If you manage to do both, how will you feel? Bedraggled? Exhausted? Yes, if this happens on a consistent basis Be honest about how tired you are. Be honest if you admit that you’re staying up late working on things that you bring home or that you have to stay late if you left early one day or another. If you do, however, manage to do both on a consistent basis, ask yourself this: how long can you keep doing that? Your strength and resources aren’t infinite. You do get tired. Tiredness morphs into fatigue a little too easily. If you’re fatigued, you can kiss any sort of living – not only surviving, but living – goodbye; no matter how great things are at work and at home, will you really be able to enjoy them if all you want to do consistently is keel over and sleep?

Let’s start being honest about what we feel when we try to “do it all”.

I work and I have a business. So basically two jobs. I live with my mother, and even though we live together, we rarely, if at all, see each other during the week. She works too and gets out earlier than me. She sends me things to read or watch all the time, but I can never watch them – no time. On weekends, we’re both exhausted, so we sleep and try and keep the apartment clean. And two days aren’t enough to rest – anyone trying to convince themselves to contrary is kidding themselves. Time is not infinite, and you know what else isn’t? Energy.

People always like to say “work a little harder” and they’re usually the ones already comfortable. Those of us who are already working hard are doing so at an expense that’s a hell of a lot more than money. There’s a limit to how much harder a person can work without collapsing. I see a lot of this trend in vilification of single mothers, unjustly so: single mothers 1. rarely, if ever, ask to be single mothers, and 2. work more than one job to make things work financially for themselves and their children. As a result, they end up missing out on a lot of their children’s lives – all in the name of survival. And those who are not single parents, and stuck in economically wrecked areas – think Midwest, rural Americana, small towns that have never been the same since industrial and factory work has been shipped overseas – are that much worse. Think about it: you’re in an area where the only available jobs are minimum wage or not much higher, where the economic downturn is affecting the consumers with a lot of them likely on public assistance to make it meet, and if you don’t want to go on welfare, you can, and often do, take two jobs to survive. Which leaves you working twice as hard as you would work in a metropolitan area, for less pay. And it will catch up to you, regardless of the money: fatigue waits for no one. And while you work, you sacrifice everything else.

There’s a limit to how much harder people can work before they keel over. This is why they’re people and not robots: they actually need to rest, take care of themselves, and be themselves.

The fact is, no matter how much you may say “work harder” or how much one person works, there needs to be a collective reminder that workers are human beings. With very human lives. Living alone doesn’t mean one doesn’t have responsibilities. Just like being stay-at-home anything – husband, wife, mother, stepmother, pet mom – doesn’t mean there’s no responsibilities. And this means that something out of the “having it all” equation either needs to disappear, or you just may find that in your effort of “doing it all” and “having it all”, you’ve done a mediocre job at all of the above, and that, I’m sure, will be in no way satisfying.

Let’s begin by first accepting that we ourselves have been lied to, and we ourselves have been told the same bullshit line that ends up running us into the ground earlier than we are ready to. Let’s begin by saying that if it’s important to us, then we need to prioritize it in the order of which is more important. And most of all, let’s begin actually acting on what we feel our life priorities are.

If you value your career first, own up to it, and put it first. You will lose people around you, but you will be doing what fulfills you. Don’t lie to yourself and say, “I want a career, and a family” when you know that the second will never make you as happy as the first. Same with when it’s the other way around. If what you want is a spouse and kids, then have them – and put them as a priority. If you are okay with working less, or if you have the job that gives you allowances with your time, then you know you can make it work. But if you, like a lot of folks, have an inflexible desk job, ask yourself what of your life comes first – and act accordingly. But do not, do not run around trying to do everything and pretend that having it all makes you happy when it will exhaust you first.

Don’t put out the platitude of “It’s all worth it” and don’t put out the second platitude of “You’ll make it work”. Neither is true, because both carry a heavy price. It’s all worth it – at the expense of your own energy and well-being. You’ll make it work – and sacrifice whatever you have to, for what guarantees? There are none, in life. Don’t put the blanket backpedals on. It’s just not fair to those of us who listen to you and subsequently get duped because we bought into your view of life instead of our own.

When you stop trying to please everyone and see exactly where you, just you are happy, then you’ll see exactly how fulfilling life can be. It just doesn’t do well to run ragged trying to please everyone but yourself.



One thought on “No, You Can’t Do It All

  1. Thank you for writing this. I think I am only recently coming to terms with not being able to do everything and have recently sacrificed a few hobbies to focus on what’s truly important to me. I prefer to spend more hours on a few things than a few hours on more things and that’s something I’ve only recently realized. I wish there more hours in the day to pursue more of my passions, but even if there were, there are only so many productive hours one is capable of before they burn out and then they achieve in less because they’re just too tired.

    I absolutely love this post.

Comments are closed.