Friday, May 2, 2014

From the Archives: The Myth of "Having It All" Is Killing Us

I wrote this post over a long weekend in Idaho back in July 2012. It was something I had been thinking about a lot at the time... and something I still think about it a lot! It's easy to get overwhelmed with all these things that we think other people expect from us -- getting married, having an amazing career, having a family, etc. And while you definitely don't have to sacrifice any of those things for the others, it can be really stressful to feel like you have to hit all of these milestone moments at once! 

There’s been a lot of talk recently about “having it all” and whether we can "have it all." By “we,” people often mean “women.” By extension, there’s been a lot of attention focused on lifestyle, and in some ways, fashion, bloggers, because if any creative outlet on the internet focuses on “having it all,” really, these are the two blogging niches that tend to the most. 

I read a lot of mommy blogs. I can’t help it; they are strangely addictive. A lot of them are based in Idaho and Utah, by Mormon mothers of small, adorable children, which I think is what draws me to them. Those are women I could know, in the future. But mommy blogs are some of the biggest culprits for the “having it all” myth. The bloggers do a very good job at portraying their lives as perfect; their husbands work hard, they work hard, they have beautiful children, they craft and bake during the day and the kids always take long naps. I mean, perfect, right?

From experience, almost no one’s life goes like that, especially mothers. Say what you will about stay-at-home moms, but even that’s a hard job. Kids make a full-time career out of being stubborn and difficult at times. The baby refuses to nap, the toddler hides the keys, and mom just wants a few moments to herself, free of chaos. Forget making pillows or working on the scrapbook; the average mom just wants to make it through the day without scrubbing some kind of bodily fluid or food out of the carpet!

It’s not just mommy bloggers. Other bloggers do it too. It’s easy to only talk about the good on blogs: the good career, the amazing husband, the perfect weather. It can seem like bloggers have perfect lives, like the pieces just fall together for them. To any reader, the comparison is almost painful. When you’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s hard to read about someone buying six bottles of $8.50 nail polish, a new Coach bag, and a dress from ModCloth and then chat about how they went for a walk in the sun, went to a job where they only seem to work five (marvelous) hours a day, did some yoga, and then made a new set of embossed mason jar drinking glasses for themselves. All while their husband cooks dinner and trains their adorable puppy to do a few new tricks. Jeez, I consider my day successful if I don’t spill tea on myself.

Really, no one’s life is like that. We portray ourselves the way we want to be seen ultimately. A recent article suggested that we’ve all tricked ourselves into becoming braggarts. In a vague attempt to not look left behind, on all kinds of media – from Facebook to Twitter to blogs – we only talk about the good and we portray our lives, essentially, through rose-tinted glasses. Just like steak, life looks amazing when you cut out all the tough parts.

Let’s talk about Jennifer Aniston. You know her, right? She’s super successful. She’s beautiful. She’s talented. (Ok, she’s made some duds when it comes to movies – but don’t lie to me and tell me she doesn’t make you laugh as Rachel in Friends!) And yet, every week magazines come out with articles about: 1) how she’s in some kind of life war with Angelina Jolie; 2) how she’s soooo worried she’ll never get married again; 3) how she’s engaged again to some mystery man because, shock, she's wearing a nice ring; 4) how she’s pissed that Angelina and Brad have so many kids, so she’s desperately trying to get knocked up; or 5) the fact that she's so intensely jealous of women who are married and/or have kids because they have the perfect lives in comparison to her and she's worried she's becoming a spinster.

News flash: Jennifer Aniston is not old. She’s probably not going to magically transform into a spinster anytime soon. And even if she decides to never get married again, or never have kids, it’s none of our business and it doesn’t diminish her as a person anyway.

But what do these kinds of tabloids themes tell us?

That women should have it all.

Jennifer has a kickin’ career. She seems like a genuinely nice person who just wants to live her life without interference. She gave an interview a few weeks ago about how she always wanted kids, but it just never happened for her and it’s okay. She feels she's experienced enough in terms of success to feel like she's not necessarily missing out on anything. And yet, every magazine still is obsessed with portraying her as baby crazy and completely crazy-jealous that Angelina Jolie has babies with Brad Pitt. Yeah, Jennifer and Brad were married once upon a time, but Jennifer seems to be over it. I doubt she has any sort of lasting grudge against Angelina Jolie; I mean, she’s a grown woman. The idea that she sits in her house and worries about having babies because, gasp, Angelina Jolie has like 10 babies, is kind of ridiculous.

Jennifer Aniston has a great life, a good career, and seems happy. But because she doesn’t appear to have society’s definition of “having it all,” we all desperately try to find what she’s missing. And in the mean time, drum up some rumors about how unhappy she is. Because if it’s one thing society hates, it’s someone who seems okay with the fact that they aren’t portraying society’s image of perfect.

So what does “having it all” even mean?

1) You have a kickin’ career that you magically fell into that 2) pays you so much money you can basically just swim in it. 3) Your house is perfect and decorated ala any home decorating magazine ever – even Martha Stewart would be jealous. I mean, check out those vintage knick knacks. 4) You have a wardrobe bigger than most department stores, but you also make your own clothes, just… because. 5) In your spare time, you make things that people ooh and ahh over. Because you have so much spare time despite that full time job. 6) Your husband is perfect. He looks like a J. Crew model and also has an amazing job. 7) And neither of you ever have to worry about money. Ever. You buy expensive coffees just to take Instagram photos of them. 8) When you have kids, they’ll be perfect; they’ll never cry or cause a mess, and you’ll still be able to fit into all your clothes, and you’ll still have all the spare time to make a perfect scrapbook, dip dye little cut off shorts for them and yourself, and paint your nails twice a day. 9) You have a perfect body, that never causes any problems or gets sick or acts funny. 10) Your blog is massively popular and companies just cannot stop sending you free stuff and sponsor deals. 

That’s “having it all.” And it’s impossible.

But that doesn’t mean that a lot of people don’t pretend that that is their real life.

So what does this all lead to, you might be asking. Ultimately, studies show it makes us incredibly unhappy. The type of information people share online – to their friends, family, and strangers – is never going to be bad news; and for that reason, we’ve all started trying to one up everyone else. Your relationship is great? Mine is better! You love your job? Well, I make more money at mine! You’re having trouble finding a job? Look at this new dress! It doesn’t matter what’s going on behind the scenes – credit card debt from unnecessary purchases, unpaid student loans, marital strife, whatever – we only share what makes us look good.

And ultimately, when we log onto Facebook or read our favorite blogs, we can’t help but compare our lives to what is being shared by our friends and favorite bloggers. When they seem so happy and successful, and you’re, say, struggling to get a job or unable pay your student loans or feel unhappy with your job, you can’t help but become depressed and wonder where you failed. Ultimately, this kind of single-focus sharing makes us all depressed. 

We’ve become obsessed with having it all, with getting rich quick, with being fulfilled in every single area of our lives, that it’s driving us crazy. The truth is, we don’t have to be perfect and we don’t have to pretend our lives are perfect. Sometimes, jobs can suck, you can have a fight with your significant other, you can decide to never have kids because, well, that’s life. You don’t have to do everything and the things you do don’t have to be absolutely perfect. It’s okay to have a house that hasn’t popped right out of a magazine. It’s okay if your significant other isn’t perfect, or if you just don’t have one. It’s okay not to want to get married, or to have a marriage that takes work. And if you have kids, it’s okay that they are messy and stubborn sometimes; that’s what kids do best, really. If you don’t have a job that pays well, or one that doesn’t make you happy 100% of the time, that’s okay too. Jobs come and go.

Ultimately, we can’t have it all, because there is no “all” to “have.” We just need to be happy with ourselves, stop making comparisons, and stop trying to portray our lives as 100% perfect all the time. Bad things happen, unfortunately, and we all have things we have to deal with, whether it’s bad skin, a difficult child, or a crappy job. No one is perfect, no matter what their blog says.

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