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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Who Needs It All?
July 8, 2012 - 4:27pm

I have wanted to write about the "having it all" media flapdoodle, but the published responses have gone off in so many different directions I have had trouble keeping up. So I am grateful to Libby for her elegant distillation.

There is one small corner of this controversy (if an issue with so many sides can be accurately termed a "controversy")  that I have been ruminating about: why it seems so important to have it "all."

I have hesitated to write about this concern, because I'm afraid of sounding as if I don't think the ability to choose is important, or don't support measures that allow parents to compete on an even playing field.

But I am increasingly troubled by the idea that a worthwhile life necessarily includes the pursuit of the outward trappings of success.

I see clients in my practice who feel they are failures because their books have not been published, or published well, or have not won prizes; because they are not acting on Broadway and haven't gotten speaking lines in films; or because they are still renting their apartments while colleagues or siblings have purchased spacious houses.

When I point out their many achievements — this one's lovely children, another's brilliant if underappreciated novel — the response is often, yes, of course, but [insert name of celebrity in their field] has kids AND a big house AND a NYT bestseller!

When we unpack these expectations, it seldom turns out that the "failed" client actually wants all of these markers for his or her own enjoyment; more often, the ambition is a response to perceived pressure to achieve, and a sense that failure to hit them is an indication of worthlessness.

I have experienced this pressure, too. As noted here, I study singing, acting and improvisation, and occasionally perform. It is hard for some friends to take in that I don't aspire to go on American Idol or to star on Broadway.  At my age, it is unlikely that I will go farther than the occasional nightclub, senior center, or way-off-Broadway art production. My ambition, as an actor friend put it, is "to do good work with good people," and that is starting to happen in a very fulfilling way.

But, as another friend says, that doesn't seem to be enough: "Explaining that you put in all these hours because you are an artist sounds pretentious. But saying you want your own TV show is something everybody approves of. It's all backwards."

When NYC's Mayor Bloomberg proposed a ban on the sale of sugary drinks in sizes larger than 16 ounces, the backlash was enormous. But does anyone actually need a soda that size? Do we need supersized meals, or to own so much more stuff than we can use that we must rent storage units to house it all?

Is it possible that we need to let go of having it all, and focus instead on defining "enough"?

 

 

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