Enjoying the Journey Rather than Striving for Perfection: Why “Having it All” should not be the focus

Whether the phrase is “doing it all” or being “effortlessly perfect” — having the career, the kids, the wonderful relationship, the happy life, and never revealing both the stress and pressure that we all know is behind the strong, but poised face — this complex that women have accepted is neither uplifting or empowering. Rather, it is a construction that women have fallen into, and it is very difficult to get out.  
superwomanThe past few weeks, after being thrown into a full time internship + an intensive Duke Engage Program + training as a Division I athlete + making the time for teammates, family, and friends, I have grappled with this “having it all idea” and continued to go back to this statement — I CAN DO IT ALL.  This has been my attitude for as long as I can remember, even after my mom told me I was doing too much, even after she constantly used the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”.  I liked being busy, I liked being challenged by the balancing act and the critics who said it couldn’t be done…most of all I think there was always a subconscious hope that despite my transience, I was basically superwoman, and could take on the world.  I don’t think this was a stupid way of thinking…maybe a little naïve and stubborn, but on the positive side, it reflected ambition.

 
But as the weeks have progressed during Moxie, I have realized that what was once ambition has now become a concentration, an obsession, with an OUTCOME that is impossible. The more I understand the barriers that women are faced with in our society, and the cultural messages that shape our behavior and attitudes, the more I can see that having it all is just another piece of this greater, patriarchal system. It is just another construction to keep women constantly going, working and reaching for an unattainable goal, but also constantly preoccupied with questioning their value and never reaching a place of satisfaction.

 

This notion of having it all was most upsetting to me when we saw the play Ann, which was a monologue and life-story about Ann Richards the second female governor of Texas, performed by Holland Taylor, actress of film, stage, television, and a playwright (If you wanna talk about doing it all).  Holland brilliantly portrayed Ann’s upbringing, her family background, and especially Ann’s tough, relentless, do-it-all attitude but also her witty and humorous side that probably kept her sane during the intense stress, and pressure that she was under during her term as governor.  The scene at her desk, which goes on for about 45 minutes, portrays a frustrated, overwhelmed, but assertive and capable Ann, balancing her career, her family, fitting in important people and dealing with some not so important/irritating individuals.  I admired her intensity, and her composure, her confidence and even the chaotic business. But at the same time it saddened me.  We can’t live like this. We women cannot be happy if we are constantly going, going and never breaking, never realizing our accomplishments and always looking at the end point.  I kept thinking…she is going to have a heart attack, it just seemed like the amount of work she had to do was impossible, and on top of that she had to constantly prove herself as a female leader.

 
I do want to be like Ann one day though.  I could definitely see myself working the long hours, dealing with needy people, drafting legislation, serving as a role model and mentor to other women, and changing the system from within, transforming the culture and society that we live in to better many others. But if this day ever comes (and I believe it will), I want to enjoy it, I want to embrace the process, be excited to come to work ready to take on a 12 (or more) hour days, but I want to do this with no regrets and I want to do it with joy. I believe that all of this can and will occur — as long as I follow my passion, stay true to my values, and have faith in the process I know that I will fully embrace any career, or path that I fall into. I just may not be able to take on all of my passions at the same time.

 
My most recent personal struggle, that has been a struggle since I was in 7th grade when I started running varsity track, was one of balancing my running with other passions and desires.  At 21 the decision is not whether or not I can play soccer and run at the same time, rather can I train like a pro-athlete, intern and do a duke engage program all at the same time.  My body has broken down the past few weeks, I have gotten sick twice, and I have realized that I will be unsuccessful andbri hispanic games unhappy if I continue to believe that I can do everything. I have finally admitted I cant. And the second, and probably most relieving realization, I don’t have to.  I am extremely passionate about this entire summer. The people I am meeting, the new knowledge that I am obtaining, and the experience that I am getting.  I love the process of developing myself as an individual, a woman and especially a feminist, BUT there is another passion that is more important to me at this point. My career as a runner.

 
It took me until last Wednesday, almost 10 years to realize what it meant to train like a pro, what it meant to prioritize my running and what it meant to be all in.  This realization, after much reflection and talking to a fellow teammate, was a relief, it was exciting and it seemed like a light bulb had finally gone off in my head.  I was and I am ready to do whatever is necessary to get to the next level.  I understand and accept the sacrifices, but I look forward to prioritizing my running because this is what I love, this is what I have dreamed of since I was 8, and this is what it means to “do it all” for this moment in my life. Texting my mom on Wednesday night I was excited, but also a bit uneasy.  When I started to cry I was confused…shouldn’t this be a happy moment?

 
I cried out of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of going all in, fear of pursuing my lifelong dream and passion and finally, a fear of failure. Now that I think about it, and I think about my goal to focus on the process and find joy in the journey, I realize this was an irrational fear. FAILURE is an endpoint. It has no room in my plan, in my journey, just as “having it all” (in our societies terms) is dropped from my to-do list.  There may never be one moment that I am succeeding in the balancing act, and accomplishing everything. This can only occur on 2 hours of sleep and even then something will always be missing. However, I will always “have enough”, I will always be fulfilled if I am enjoying the process, if I am following my passion and pushing myself to be a better me. I will always be happy if I stop allowing societies expectations of me and more importantly, of women, to consume my thoughts and behavior. The pressure and worry is unnecessary. It is as simple as living “in the now”, living free; living me.

 

1 thought on “Enjoying the Journey Rather than Striving for Perfection: Why “Having it All” should not be the focus

  1. I really enjoyed this post. 30 years after my graduation from Duke, I am still trying to do it all, though I know full well what that means for me. And I laughed at the old saw, “jack of all trades, master of none.” As a COO, that is actually my job, and I love it. I also know that I haven’t been able to go “all-in” on anything – career, family, friends, pro bono work, hobbies, sports. Just too many to have the depth that I want in any one of those areas. And I don’t think I could give up any of those, because I love them all. So good for you, for realizing what you need to prioritize now, and not getting stuck in “I can do it all.” While one may be able to do it all, I believe it means sacrificing depth for breadth, because something has to give. Many women, though not all, get the “I want it all” bug, and it comes with a price.

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