If there's one thing I have come to realize in my thirty-something years of life, it's that you cannot have it all.
Thanks to the ubiquitous American Dream discourse and to parenting that focuses on empowering kids by boosting their self-esteem and telling them they can achieve anything if only they want it hard enough, we come of age persuaded that the sky is the limit.
Don't take me wrong: the sky IS the limit to those who are willing to work hard and consistently. Being an asthmatic who runs half-marathons, I know that for a fact. But the sky is the limit only in a few areas of our lives. Not in all of them. That would be just plain impossible.
Difficult choices have to be made along the way. An example: in my early twenties, I was very ambitious, career-wise. A yuppie wannabe. I had wild plans. I would wear a Rolex and drive an Audi or BMW. That was among my priorities. At some point, despite the fact that I have always loved children, I did not even want to have any of my own, for fear that motherhood would interfere with my climbing of the corporate ladder. If I had kids, I thought, I would hire a full-time nanny to look after them. I could already sense that if you want to do it right, it's one or the other: motherhood OR career. Not both. You cannot be there for your kids a lot and work a lot.
What I could NOT sense yet was that once I had children, I would want to be with them pretty much 24/7. There are different reasons for that, but from the moment I became a mom, I strongly felt that my place was beside my kids, and that their place was beside me. This is my experience, and I'm not saying all women feel that way; to some, it seems like staying home with the kids would be akin to be thrown in jail. But as far as my own choices go, I decided to put my career on ice for many years in order to be present for my kids. I knew right from the start that it would have repercussions on my whole adult life. Yet I did not hesitate. After almost 10 years of motherhood, I can say without hesitation that the benefits for my kids, myself, and the family as a whole were well worth it. I thought I would be back "on the market " long ago, yet I still work the bulk of my week from home (as a self-employed translator), spending only 10 hours a week teaching outside the home. I don't see when this is gonna change. It works for us. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice. I actually like it.
Again, this is my own, personal experience, and I understand and respect that other mothers have a different feeling and approach to the work-family reconciliation dilemmas. Honestly, I think we all look at each other wondering "What if she has it right, and I have it wrong?" I know I sometimes (often) wonder if I'm not wasting some of my career-related potential. But the truth is, none of us has it right and none of us has it wrong; we all do what works best for ourselves and our family in our own personal and unique situation!
I have also made the choice to prioritize my health and fitness. This takes time and energy away from other endeavors. But it's important to me, and so I "just do it". The rare times I had to interrupt my weekly routine of workouts because of sickness, I was amazed with how much time I gained... but nonetheless very aware that I am most happy when I spend a good 7 hours a week or more exercising (plus the inevitable stretching and showering that follow).
Another obstacle in the way to a full-fledged career is that - oh! surprise! - I also need free time. Time to read, time to write, time for my friends and family, time to just get lost in contemplation. It is a luxury I do not want to let go of.
I quite like the balance I have achieved in life. (To be exact and completely honest, I should say "I quite like the balance I struggle like crazy to maintain in my life"! But hey, no one said it would be easy.)
It's all about choices. Constant choices. My mother, who makes everything from scratch when it comes to food (she grows her own food in her garden to begin with), has offered to give me the same yogurt maker and bread machine she uses. My reaction was along the lines of "No thank you. If I start making my own yogurt and my own bread, I can pretty much say adios to my precarious life balance! Way too time consuming!" On the other hand, I have acquired a high-energy breed of dog, who needs long walks and runs every day. That, I was willing to do. It's all about putting your priorities in order.
There is no foolproof recipe in this world, so I never cease to reassess my life and my choices. I do NOT want to wake up at 65 feeling that I gave my time and energy to the wrong things. Sometimes, I have doubts. I question myself. But who doesn't?
Whenever you feel like you might have a "small", uninteresting life, remember that 1) you simply are choosing to prioritize different things; and 2) those who seem to have it all lined up don't necessarily fare better. One of the girls I went to high school with first became a lawyer, and is now a judge. Sounds impressive like that, but the first thing she adds after answering "I'm a judge" to the "What do you do?" question... is the very sincere "It was my dream job, and I thought I would love it, but in fact I do not enjoy it at all". A judge, but an unhappy one. Who wants that?
This post is NOT an apology of a simple, unambitious life that would solely focus on everyday domestic bliss, and I do NOT want to demonize big accomplishments. Not at all. What this post is is an inducement to look at your life honestly and to decide what your priorities are going to be, implementing them right now and with conviction.
If you still feel like you might not have lived up to your own expectations, remember this: we tend to forget our successes and take them for granted as we go. Sometimes, stating the facts by focusing on the positive can help make our life sound "impressive" again... bringing back a well-deserved sense of satisfaction and even pride.
I, for example, could say, and it would all be true, that I started my own translation/editing/writing business and that in said business, I have clients and/or associates all over North America, plus in Europe, and even in South America (e.g. Argentina) and Asia (e.g. Singapore, China, etc.). I could also mention that some (most) of my clients are among the biggest names in pharmaceuticals, nutrition and cosmetics. Makes it sound big, doesn't it? Yet in my everyday life, siting alone in front of the screen, painstakingly translating away hermetic medical terms, my career feels anything BUT big!
More importantly, what I enjoy the most in my everyday life are those moments that bring about no money, no recognition and no prestige: I love chatting with friends or family members, I love cuddling with my kids or with my pets, and I love getting lost in my own existential thoughts. This won't get me to the top of the ladder, for sure. I does get me to a serene and happy life, however.
How do you reconcile all your goals, aspirations and needs?