Thursday, December 5, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Having it all. Sounds good, doesn't it? But what does "all" mean?

Well, it means that a woman tackles a successful career, meets male version of herself who has an equally successful career. Then they establish an egalitarian household where they split laundry and dinner duty, and have two children at perfectly scheduled intervals.
That does sound like "all." But it's not my "all." 

My "all" is different, and so is yours, I'm guessing. Except the only "all" we hear about is the above one.

Delia Ephron made me think with her article, "You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake." She begins with a rambling description of her love of bakeries, and the reader does wonder where she's going with this. 

She then jumps to Sheryl Sandberg and her premise of having it "all," which echoes the above scenario. But, Ephron points out, Sandberg's "all" differs by individual, situation, choices, even by society.

For instance, in my case, I seem to take after an ancestral quirk in that I occasionally believe that I must be deathly ill, but no way would I actually go to a doctor. In that time span, my "all" is simple, beautiful, august, life. Grant me that, O Lord, and I shall never bother Thee again, I pray. Then it turns out that the malady was caused by my own overwrought nerves expecting the worst. 

Well then. My "all" is now health, and tripping over an eligible bachelor who is witty, confident, learned, and employed in the manner which I have become accustomed. Oh, and can his mother be reasonable? How about flat-out lovely? Could he not have younger siblings that I have to humor? While I have You, I am in dire need of chic winter boots . . . 

My "all" changes, based on my own choices. "All" can be big, or it can be small. 

On top of that, we don't even know what we want.
Never underestimate the power of high school. It’s the identity everyone wants to live down, the approval everyone aspires to. Being able to check the boxes — marriage, children, career — is more important at a high school reunion than anywhere else, which is why I think that high school, not feminism, is the reason an idea of happiness got framed this way. It instantly creates the social world of high school: haves, have-nots, wannabes and freaks. Freaks are those who aspire to other versions of life, who want to march to their own tune. Thanks to this definition of success, they will always be freaks.
My friend Molly graduated from high school in 2003, and keeps bumping into her classmates on Facebook, even those she hasn’t spoken to since high school. Daily she is bombarded by photos and news of the have-it-alls. She keeps redefining what she wants, she says, by seeing what everyone else has.
Getting away from high school is supposed to free you from the pressure to conform. But now that there’s no getting away, high school is forever. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg is not Queen Have-It-All. She is Prom Queen Have-It-All.
What do we want? What the popular Shprintzy in high school has, which is the fast-paced, glittering career? Is the only man worth having is one who knows how to competently fold clean t-shirts? Better yet, is that the man you really want?
Before one can have it "all," one must actually figure out what one's "all" is. 

Ephron notes that having it "all" relies on living in the moment, reveling in small pleasures, as opposed to the gradiose. That's why she loves bakeries. 
To me, having it all — if one wants to define it at all — is the magical time when what you want and what you have match up. Like an eclipse . . . This eclipse never lasts more than seven minutes and 31 seconds.
 . . . Having it all are moments in life when you suspend judgment. It’s when I attain that elusive thing called peace of mind.
Not particularly American, unquantifiable, unidentifiable, different for everyone, but you know it when you have it.
When I can't wait to go to bed because I have found a perfect book, that is an "all." When it occurs to me look up at the sky on a clear night and see the stars in their timeless glory. When a niece throws her arms around my waist and squeezes the stuffing out of me. When she goes to sleep without a fuss ten minutes later and the house is quiet, leaving me and the aforementioned book.

Sandberg, your "all" ain't my "all."     


Tovah11 said...

What a great post!
What if what we want is just not attainable ever? Do we just give in and try for another goal? I feel that I've come to a point in my life where I've realized my limitations...rather than everyone lying and saying, "you can do it". You know what? I know I can't so stop telling me.

Probably the biggest hurdle was when I decided not to have children and everyone said 'oh, you'd be a great sad." No, I wouldn't be a great mother. I'd be an adequate mother. Big difference.

I'm glad to be able to see objectively my strengths and weaknesses,

Princess Lea said...

Modifying what one wants; I linked an article about just that once:

I know, for myself, that I cannot be the driven career force AND. I tire way too easily.