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Relax. You don't need to have it all.

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Baz Ratner/Reuters/File

(Read caption) Children play in a fountain at sunset near the beach in Tel Aviv in this August 2011 file photo. A conflicting pile of desires and goals paints a completely unsustainable picture for most people, Hamm writes.

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There are so many dimensions of modern life in which people would like to see success.

They want to have plenty of money to spend.
They want to be in a financially strong state with little or no debt.
They want to have a challenging and fulfilling career.
They want to have strong connections with their family.
They want to have a strong marriage.
They want to be reliable parents who are always there for their children.
They want to be able to deeply engage with their personal passions.
They want to have a thriving social circle.
They want to look good and impress others.

The problem is that this conflicting pile of desires and goals paints a completely unsustainable picture for most people. They simply don’t have enough resources in order to make this happen. Time, money, energy, and other factors keep these things from being able to happen at the same time.

For a long time, I tried to have it all. So did Sarah. It doesn’t work. You end up losing on one aspect or another of your life. 

You succeed in your career, only to find that your marriage is struggling.
You achieve financial success, only to find that your family doesn’t invite you to things any more.
You build up a great circle of acquaintances, only to find that none of them are there when you need them.
You have a beautiful car and a beautiful home, only to find that the debt payments are incredibly punishing.
You look great when you walk out the door each day, only to find that your children barely know you.

You succeed in one area, only to fail in another. Even worse, you often find that to succeed in something important, you’ve given up something even more important.

At some point, you need to give up on “having it all” or you’ll find that some of the most important things in your life will slip right through your fingers.

The trick for me – and for most people – is stepping back and realizing that there’s a difference betweenurgency and importance.

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When something is urgent, that means it has to be dealt with quickly. Work tasks are often urgent. Getting supper on the table at a reasonable time is urgent. Answering your buzzing phone is urgent.

When something is important, that means it deserves your undivided attention. Time with your children or your spouse is important. Building a strong friendship is important. Doing something actually beneficial to your career is important.

The catch, of course, is that there is no standard of “important.” Things important to one person might not be important to someone else. You have to figure out what’s important for you. That often means separating out what’s “urgent” and what’s “important” in your life.

I took a long look at that list of things I supposedly needed to have it all…
… having plenty of money to spend.
… being in a financially strong state with little or no debt.
… having a challenging and fulfilling career.
… having strong connections with family.
… having a strong marriage.
… being a reliable parent who is always there for my children.
… being able to deeply engage with personal passions.
… having a thriving social circle.
… looking good and impressing others.

… and I started eliminating them.

I didn’t need plenty of money to spend. There are very few things I can buy that actually fulfill me in any way. A pocket full of money doesn’t really bring much of anything to my life.

I didn’t need to push my career as hard as I was. Sure, I needed income, but I didn’t need to be pushing forward a world-beating project and I didn’t need to take on so many responsibilities that I was developing ulcers.

I didn’t need to have a thriving social circle. I have a small handful of rock-solid friends.

I didn’t need to look good or impress others. I’m pretty happy in a t-shirt and jeans and I honestly don’t care much what others think of me.

From what was left, I picked out a few that really mattered to me.

I wanted, above all, to be a good, involved parent. I also wanted a very strong mariage, one where I always knew Sarah had my back and that I had her back. I wanted to be free from debt and have at least a little financial security.

The other desires still existed, but were secondary, like time for personal passions and strong connections with extended family.

The rest of those things simply don’t matter to me. Sure, I might not be dressed for success when I go out in public. I might not have a jaw-dropping career, but I do well enough. I don’t have a wallet full of cash, and I don’t have a party to go to every night.

What I have are the things important to me. Because I don’t waste energy on those other things, I have plenty of energy for my wife and my kids, with some left over for my personal passions. Sure, I might miss out on a few things, but I have a firm grip on those things that matter the most.

(Again, what’s important to you and what’s important to me might differ – and that’s fine. The important thing is to distinguish between what matters and what does not for you.)

I can’t have it all. You probably can’t, either. But you and I can have what’s important, and when you know that that is and manage to achieve it, everything else ceases to matter very much at all.


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