When I first started my law career, I bought into the mentality that I could do and have it all. And I envisioned that I’d one day be known as one of the “best” in my field, have a massive book of business, and attain leadership status within my firm while at the same time being a rock-star wife and mom that my husband and children adored (because I would attend all or most of their games and school events and find the time to cook dinner for my family on a regular basis).
You see, I was taught throughout my life that I could do anything I put my mind to, including having “it all”.
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But then something called “real life” came along and got in my way.
Because I was trying to do and have it all, I ended up:
- severely sleep deprived (I pulled a lot of all-nighters and often woke up as early as 2:00 AM just to get my work done),
- stressed-out, and
I also lived in constant fear about which of the million balls I was juggling would be dropped, because I knew with certainty that one eventually would get dropped (and, let’s face it, some dropped balls have more dire consequences than others).
And then my biggest fear became a reality (the ball that I dropped related to an important work project). That’s when I started to question the “have it all” mindset that I’d previously adopted. I even started to question whether I could truly succeed at everything I worked hard for.
When I began this journey, I felt let-down by everyone who had convinced me that I could have and do “it all”.
Even worse, I secretly felt like a failure.
But over time – and with quite a bit more thought and living – I realized that I wasn’t a failure. The “have it all” mindset had failed me, and I knew I would be better off without it.
During this quest, I discovered that the phrase “have it all” wasn’t intended to mean what it’s morphed into (for information about where it came from and its original meaning, go here). And I also learned some important lessons – some of which turn conventional wisdom on its head. These “lessons” may challenge your way of thinking and invoke within you some strong feelings. And, honestly, I hope they do.
Because societal rules aren’t one size fits all.
Lesson #1: You don’t want to do or have it all
When you think rationally about what having it all means, why would you even want it? Seriously, it sounds exhausting and over-inclusive.
Imagine that you’re placed before a buffet table full of food. So much food that 20 people could eat until they’re bursting at the seams and there would still be food left over – and you’re told that you must eat it all. That, my friend, is what having it all really is (it’s impossible).
Moreover, the buffet table includes food you don’t even like.
Now, this example may seem a bit ridiculous – because it (kind of) is. But it’s exactly what you’re doing when you try to do and have “it all”, which is why this lifestyle so often leads to exhaustion, stress, and burnout.
Lesson #2: When you try to have it all, you’re going after someone else’s definition of success
So many of us are striving for “success” without ever defining what that means. This results in goals and activities based on what we think we’re supposed to be doing (as opposed to what we really want). And, I’ve got to tell you, that’s how you end up feeling utterly unfulfilled and frantically searching for more purpose and meaning in life.
This comes up a lot in my coaching business. Many of my clients go after things because they think it’s part of being successful and what is expected of them – without analyzing whether it’s something they truly desire.
And that’s where I was right before I decided to drop this mindset. I was defining success according to the outside world’s terms instead of my own. And I was going after things that weren’t all that important to me – so that I could be “successful”.
Figuring this out was life-changing. Because it allowed me to get clarity about what I most desired, needed, and valued in life. And that enabled me to redefine success on my terms, making is easier to drop the things that didn’t fit within my new definition.
Lesson #3: Trying to do and have it all leads to certain failure
As I mentioned above, trying to “have it all” is exhausting and leads to stress and overwhelm. Which means certain failure. Yes, you may achieve a goal you set for yourself (or many goals), but if the goal isn’t truly what you want then it will feel hollow.
You’ll even feel less worthy when achieving something you do want. Why? Because trying to be superwoman comes with a hefty price tag. The overwhelm and stress will sap your mental and physical energy. Your happiness will suffer. And your relationships will suffer too – including the relationships you have with your spouse, your kids, the rest of your family, your friends, and even yourself.
And this price tag results in anxiety, self-doubt, and loss of self-respect, making it difficult to enjoy the achievements you most desired.
Lesson #4: Working hard (and wanting something badly) doesn’t equal success
We constantly hear that we can succeed at virtually anything we work hard enough for.
This idea is intertwined within the “you can do anything you set your mind to” messaging that’s everywhere these days. I feel like society is doubling down on this refrain more now than ever before – especially when it comes to girls (which sometimes annoys this boy-only mom, until I think hard about what we’re teaching them by insisting this is true).
I remember this lesson hitting home in my late 20’s. It’s not that I’d never felt failure before then (because I had). But, because I’d always learned that hard work and perseverance would eventually lead to success (especially if I wanted it badly enough), I believed it. And I also believed that failure is what happens when you don’t succeed. But, to be blunt, these are lies.
Hard work and perseverance are good traits to have – and they make it more likely that you’ll succeed. But they don’t mean that you WILL succeed.
Because the world just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes others are more talented and/or work even harder than you do. Sometimes others are luckier than you are. And sometimes life just isn’t fair.
This lesson is best learned when young (especially when our parents are still around to help guide us). So, to the parents out there: please don’t teach your kids that they WILL achieve anything they want and work hard for.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard to get what you want. There’s obvious value in doing this. You may succeed. And, even if you don’t, you’ll have learned something and grown from the experience (which is a form of “success” in and of itself).
Besides, it’s okay not to “succeed” at everything. Because that’s what life is all about. Plus, failure isn’t the opposite of success. Failure only occurs when you refuse to learn anything.
What matters is getting back up, dusting yourself off, and moving forward with the knowledge gained from the experience (and you haven’t failed if you’ve done this).
Lesson #5: Letting go of “having it all” will lead to more success
Ever feel like you’re floating through life without much purpose or meaning? Living the “have it all” lifestyle leads to feeling lost and purpose-less. It causes overwhelm, anxiety, stress, and guilt. And feeling like a failure – even when you “succeed” (because your “success” isn’t very meaningful to you).
If you find yourself feeling this way, let go of trying to have and do it all. It’s the first step to getting clarity about what you want out of life – and what success means to you.
We each have unique gifts, talents, and strengths. And we each have individual values that are supremely important to us. Purpose and meaning comes from aligning our actions and decisions with our values and using our strengths and gifts within our daily life. And that’s true success.
Now, just because you align your actions and goals with your core values doesn’t mean that you’ll succeed at everything (because Lesson #4 still applies). But you’re more likely to be successful at something that’s aligned with your values. And you’ll have a lot more fun doing it, regardless of the outcome.
Replace the “have it all” lifestyle that’s making you feel overwhelmed and exhausted with a new one. One that’s based on your definition of success and includes your values, needs, and desires. Not only will this reduce your stress levels, but it will also bring more meaning and purpose into your life. And it will give you clarity about what you want and how to go get it.
If you’d like to take this even further and start ditching the overwhelmed and overworked lifestyle for good, download the Overwhelmed and Overworked Rescue Blueprint for my 5-step formula for how to (1) tame your to-do list, (2) cultivate a success and freedom-oriented mindset (in lieu of the overwhelmed one you’ve been living), and (3) free up more of your time to spend doing what you love most (including relaxing with family, friends, and even yourself).DOWNLOAD NOW
Until next time…