Lesson 2: You Can't Have It All

"A lot of people get so hung up on what they can't have, that they don't think for a second about whether they really want it."  -- Lionel Shriver

"Eight years at McKinsey and then Harvard Business School!" I read. Ugh, I felt so far behind. I was browsing the bios of a company that a friend had been hired at, and I couldn't help but wonder, did I get on the wrong path somewhere? Every person had years of corporate experience, either at a Wall Street bank or a respected consulting firm. Meanwhile, I've taken a different path, eschewing the corporate world for a chance to do odd jobs and write. Sometimes I think, "If only I could have the freedom and creativity of freelancing, with the money, vacation days, and status of a corporate job, then I'd be set."

It's so easy to want to have it all. You want a rewarding job, plenty of money, a great marriage, strong friendships, personal independence, interesting hobbies, knowledge of the latest trends, all capped off with a relaxing evening spent at home. We yearn to have it all, however you define it, and think that once we get there we'll have arrived. 

Life Has Limits

The problem with this approach is that the "having it all" life doesn't exist. Why? Because we're finite human beings; you only have so much time. This have-it-all ideal is built off of limitless thinking: if I want something then I can get it. But contrary to what society says, no one has it all. What comes to mind when we think of someone "having it all" is actually a composite lifestyle. We take this person's career, this person's home life, this person's vacation life, and combine it with an overarching lifestyle narrative, and soon we've create a collage lifestyle that can never be found in any one person. 

This collage lifestyle only exists in our mind, influenced by the social media we consume and the lifestyles we're exposed to. This collage lifestyle can't exist in real life because most of the the things in it are mutually exclusive, meaning the choices it takes to get one part disqualify you from getting the other part. Here are some of the most common "trying to have it all" contradictions I've noticed. 

  • People in high-paying jobs want more purpose and meaning from their work, while people in meaningful jobs want more money and prestige.
  • Married people want the freedom and adventure of being single, while single people want the stability and companionship of marriage.
  • Suburbanites wish they lived in a cool urban area, while urbanites wish they could afford to buy a house and have big rooms and a yard.
  • People who start working after college wish they had gone on more adventures, while people who travelled the world through their twenties will wish they had paid off their student loans (or at least they should).

Everything Has A Trade-Off

These scenarios show that life involves trade-offs, a simple way of saying that everything has an opportunity cost. In all of these scenarios, every decision requires you to say no to other good things. And while opportunity costs have always existed, they bring greater anxiety today, since the internet and social media make us more aware of all of the other opportunities we're saying no to.

When we compare ourselves to a composite lifestyle that doesn't exist, where the person has time to get married, raise kids, get a PhD, work 60 hours a week, keep up with every friend, and travel on the weekends, we always feel like we don't measure up; like someone else is getting more than we are. But despite how much society proclaims there are no limits to your life, trendy thinking can't change the fact that we live in a finite world with a limited amount of time. This clash between ideal and reality causes so many to live life in a state of constant discontent, always thinking they need more than they have. Driven by a "the grass is greener on the other side" mentality, they pursue trying to have it all, until they finally hit a wall of either exhaustion or discouragement.

The Alternative

So what's the alternative to trying to have it all? Foundationally, it starts with a change in your thinking: instead of wanting it all, or using God to get it all, God has to become your all-in-all. That's easy to say, but hard to live out. But when you begin to believe that a good life is about getting God, and not a certain career, lifestyle, or relationship, these secondary things lose their ability to define your life. And when you can find satisfaction in God, and not in having it all, it allows you to learn two key things:

  1. Trust God will give you enough: Instead of always focusing on what you don't have, you can appreciate what you do have, realizing how much God has given to you. Cultivate contentment with where you're at in life, and enjoy this stage in your journey. Don't fall into the trap of needing everything before you can enjoy anything. 
  2. Trust God will give you what is best: We all have things we think we need to be happy, but God knows you better than you know yourself. As I've learned more about who I am and how I'm wired, I'm so thankful God has steered me towards opportunities that actually fit my gifts and interests, instead of those corporate jobs that I would have found miserable. He promises that He is giving you what is best for your unique life. 

You may feel like you've missed out, fallen behind, or are even going in the wrong direction, but God is working out a plan for your life. When I clean apartments while my friends go off to their corporate jobs, I have to remind myself, this is the life God has for me and He's doing something through it, even if I don't always get what that is. Remember that God is working in your lousy jobs, lonely nights, and lost years, all to tell His story through your life. You have to believe that God, like an artist painting a landscape, will eventually bring all of the little brush strokes of your life together into one beautiful piece of art.

"But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

Read Lesson 1: God Loves You For You