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Your lifestyle, your quirk
A few weeks ago, Marissa Mayer and her arrival at Yahoo/announcement of pregnancy started a whole Internet discussion about having it all, and whether people can have it all. Spurred on by some of the back-and-forth I saw on the web, I asked the SQ writers to discuss what they considered “having it all,” and whether they thought it was attainable for them.
It’s pushed on everyone from the start, but in the last thirty or so years, women have become its focal point. We’re told “you can have it all” from the get-go…so why do so many turn around and hassle the women who attempt to reach it? Marissa Mayer can’t seem to please anyone; it’s assumed that she’ll either neglect her baby or neglect her new company. Either way, a hell of a lot of very vocal people seem to think that she won’t be doing much good for either party.
I guess it’s time to answer that question for myself, although I’m still not sure where to start, mostly because I’m not sure what “having it all” means to me. Hell, where did the concept of “having it all” even come from, and why we continue to push it as The Most Important Thing Ever? It seems to include some vague concept of a white picket fence, a successful career, marriage, children…a version of the American Dream, I guess, which, despite all babbling to the contrary, is not one size fits all.
After lots of reading, reflection, and unnecessary starts and stops on this essay, I’ve started to wonder if “having it all” should be gently modified into “having my all,” because everyone’s concept of The Perfect Life is different. Some people have similar threads—almost of the writers here at SQ discussed children, for example—while others have wild adventures (traveling to Africa) in mind. It’s what completes you that matters.
But what completes us? We have so many competing images thrown at us by the media, by our friends and family, by everything. Even if we aren’t outright told “you want this,” it’s projected to us from the day we’re born. Our elders can’t help but raise us in their image and try to instill their values in us, no matter how much they may try not to.
Anyway, enough rambling. What do I consider having it all? And do I have it?
In short, not yet. But not because I’m particularly lacking in anything – but more on that later.
At some point I heard that career counselors often ask their clients what they wanted to do as children, because that’s often closer to what you actually want to do than what society and our Rules of a Good Life have pounded into you. Over the years, I had teachers have me write out lists of goals. I found one in storage. Some of the tidbits:
I think I wrote that list when I was about 11, so that’s…almost twenty years ago (gulp!). There wasn’t much on it about children or family beyond my parents and close relatives. While some of those dreams are largely just dreams—Atlantis, anyone?—I do feel like the general spirit of what I want has remained intact.
(And as an aside, I’m glad that my 11-year-old self didn’t want to be involved in a shipwreck.)
The late Helen Gurley Brown remarked that she had work and love, and that, for her, was having it all. That sounds about right to me. Thus far, I’ve been unlucky in relationships, but I’ve more than made up for it with my career and the love I share with my family and friends. Sometimes I don’t entirely recognize that. Like many people, I see something I do want but don’t have—say, a loving relationship or an air conditioning unit (yes, I realize these things are not entirely the same)—I tend to dwell on that. My books have, so far, received more good reviews than bad, but it’s the bad reviews I fixate on. It’s the same story across the board.
Why does that happen?
Here’s what I think: I don’t think anyone ever truly has it all. Humans are programmed to want more no matter what they do. It’s not greed, it’s just the way we are—it’s what has pushed us to explore what’s beyond our planet, and what has led us to create. If we truly feel we have it all, what’s the point in striving for more? I think you can be perfectly happy and content with what you have, and technically have it all (whatever you think that is), but you probably still want to do more and accomplish more—and that doesn’t mean you don’t have it all. It just means you’re not stagnating.
People tell me I’m very hard on myself. No matter how good a work I’ve produced, it’s never good enough for me; I’m always looking to improve things, to make it even better. Honestly, it’s kind of a wonder I’ve been able to make it in publishing in any capacity. I don’t see the good things I do—I just see the problems, the areas that need fixing. Thus, when people ask me what I’m doing with my life, I mumble that I scratch out a living and that’s about where it stops.
Occasionally, though, something happens and I’m able to put everything into perspective. I have some great clients who seem generally pleased with the work I do, which enables me to work from the comfort (and occasional squalor) of my own home. I have a group of wonderful, beautiful friends who still want to spend time with me even though our lives have often moved us in different directions—whether it’s family life for two of them, or a different state entirely for another. On Saturday night, the two who remain in-state took me out for dinner, and asked me, jokingly, what I wanted to do at 29, being that I’d already done quite a bit at 28.
“I did?” I asked.
So I wrote some of it down, because sometimes things look more realistic on paper.
I’ve published three books, somehow conned my way into a managing editor role here at SQ and its soon-to-be-sister publications, and I live in my own apartment (with my own bathroom!) with a miniature, feathered dinosaur (my cockatiel). Granted, I am probably not going to be visiting the Titanic anytime soon; it’s deteriorating at an alarming rate, and besides, hovering around in a metal canister two and a half miles down isn’t really my cup of tea (which, incidentally, is why I also will not be checking out Atlantis if it’s ever found). My parents still like me, even though they aren’t quite sure what to make of me at times, and I can go visit them and my younger brother whenever the weather up here in OC gets too miserable to bear (or I need to do laundry; whichever comes first). My friends put up with my neuroses, even though I’m pretty sure some of them wouldn’t mind strangling me at times (and they know I use too many parentheses, too).
I realize how lucky I am, and even though there’s more that I want to do in this life, I’m very, very happy.
And isn’t that the epitome of having it all?