Can we have it ALL?
CAN WE HAVE IT ALL....?
In my late teens, early twenties, I always used to have an idea of what having it all figured out would look like. Married, 3 kids, great job, houses cars, and that’s me done.
As I consider what having it all means to me today, my answer is definitely not the same as it was back then… Ah the follies of youth, lol…
The question of whether we can have it all is becoming an increasingly pertinent one in the 21st century. We lead increasingly multifaceted lives where we're balancing spouses, kids, extended family, careers, finances, extra-curricular and doubtless more besides...
When we talk about the question of having it all, we're essentially talking about being able to experience fulfilment in ALL the aforementioned areas.
The key questions I want to address are:
1. Can we have it all?
2. Is it necessary to go after all in the first place?
Setting the scene - What does all look like?
Interviewers love asking this at ‘Q & As’ - especially when a very successful person is being interviewed during a panel session. They’re often asked how they manage to have the family, the career, aka THE WHOLE WORKS! I always listen to the answers, often wondering whether the responses would paint some crazily impossible ideal, or reflect a realness which completely obliterated the concept of having it all.
E.g. "I love my job but I wish I could spend more time with the wife and kids" or "I love my kids but I don't feel fulfilled in my career" or "I love my job and I'm successful and I love my family but I feel so empty and incomplete..." I think this is the underlying question that needs to be asked first. Is there a conceptualisation of ALL that is possible?
For me personally, (in no particular order) ‘all’ would equate in a roundabout way to the following; The amazing job, successful career, money in the bank, achievement and attainment, being surrounded by loved ones on every corner, excellent relationships all round, being physically healthy, being emotionally sound and last but not least, being spiritually whole.
1. IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE IT ALL...?
Now as I was considering what all might look like, I was thinking very hard about someone who on the face of it had EVERYTHING. Immediately I was drawn to King Solomon in the Bible. Not because I'm trying bible-bash my point, but because this dude was RICH, lol. This guy's estimated worth was $2 Trillion. (That's around the size of the UK economy, if you wanna scale that to modern times). Every year of his rule, his salary was billions of dollars a year - this guy makes Bill Gates look like a charity case. By many accounts he is one of the Top 5 richest men that EVER lived (If you're interested, top spot goes to Genghis Khan with the paltry sum of $100 Trillion... *gulps*).
So back to Solomon. This guy had the most dominant empire in the world at the time so in terms of career as a King, check! He never went to wars so had a peaceful time of it. Emotional and Spiritual soundness? Check! He's widely considered as the wisest man that ever lived with many people from all over the world coming to learn from this sagely guy. So wise in fact that he had 300 wives and 700 concubines - for him to have been able to have a relationship with 1000 women alone is quite something! Ok. Ok. I won't call this out as a quality...lol - In actual fact I'd say it was his downfall. But we'll leave that for another time. My point was that this man to all intents and purposes HAD IT ALL... So the question I now ask is, did he really?
You'd be surprised to hear that this same guy went on to write in one of his later works about the pointlessness of "attaining it all". One of his most famous works in the Bible is called "the futility of all endeavours". Solomon reached the conclusion that everything that he had, the riches, the accomplishments, the relationships all amounted to NOTHING. When it came to it, despite all he'd achieved, he still reached a place where something was missing...
Relating it back to us…
For all of us sufficiency is always going to be a moot point:
- What is considered enough money?
- What is considered to be the benchmark for great relationships?
- What is "enough time with the wife and kids?"
- What is considered a great career, what is the totality of achievement?
- What in essence can be the place I get to where I know I "have it all"?
I think what's immediately obvious at first glance is that all is relative and what is sufficient for me is paltry for another and vice versa. Our notion of 'all' will be in a constant state of flux so to limit all to a static benchmark can be dangerous.
Secondly, I think the essence of where Solomon was at and where we get to is when we realise the futility of having it all without direction. I’m constantly trying to get to a place where I realise that the issue is not about having it all. It's about having the necessary perspective over everything we have AND don't have and for me a belief in one who surpasses ALL as our ultimate source of sufficiency...
2. SHOULD WE GO AFTER ALL?
So for question number two, here’s my opening gambit: If we establish that there are fundamental issues with the concept of all, then there surely is an issue with "going after all" in the first place.
The key issue with the pursuit of it all is that we run the risk of ending up like poor King Solomon who "gets it all" and realises it was all for nothing. In essence - that the CEO title, the millions in the bank, the properties, the wife and kids and the loads of friends we have will not complete us if we have poor health, or we are not of sound mind. When we hear the stories of the rich and famous who commit suicide, people who seemingly had the world at their fingertips, we often wonder what drove them to such a tragic end and we find out that the underlying issue was that "all" was not enough...
Now I want to qualify and clarify here. Attainment, success and riches, families and good careers are all laudable. I am NOT, I repeat NOT saying "be broke and be happy". But plainly there's something to be said for the attainment of everything but losing myself in the process… I think what is being asked here is that are we willing to pursue it all at all costs?
Will we be so single minded in our pursuit of everything else around us that we will take no heed to the things that are less tangible but more critical? Could it be that rather than seeking all, we should be seeking balance...? The wisdom behind "all things are lawful but not all things are expedient" rings true here as we can pursue many things justifiably in this life but our good intentions may not reap the benefits if they were misguided.
Applying Economics to it all…
The concept of opportunity cost here rings true as the opportunity cost of rigorous pursuit of success in the workplace could come at the cost of the very important time you need to spend with your newly wedded wife to build that lifelong relationship, or to work on that difficult relationship with your dad, or to take time out to rest because of the effects it's all having on your health. The more and more I consider it, the more absurd a proposition I think it is to go after it all, especially when "it all" as we understand it still has its deficiencies.
If I want to drive a nail into the coffin of the "pursuit of it all" I'll part with the words of King Solomon himself: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its gain. This too is vanity (emptiness).” This is someone who has attained all and seen the emptiness of it all...
Essentially, what is said here is that the mindless pursuit of it all will lead to you attaining it and not being satisfied, and wanting more. Thus, the circle continues. 100k becomes insufficient, 1 million becomes a charity case, and 10 million becomes an increased tax burden. In the words of Biggie Smalls, Mo' Money Mo' problems...
CONCLUSION - WHAT DO WE PURSUE INSTEAD OF "ALL"?
I guess in a roundabout way, we're probably acknowledging the difficulties in pinning down what exactly we mean by "ALL". We're probably also seeing that there is a difficulty in knowing how to pursue "all" to a final resting point and being satisfied that we have arrived there.
At the start of this piece, I laid on a crumb trail towards grasping the essence of this entire conundrum... I spoke about an ultimate source of sufficiency. For me as a guy trying to navigate in this world, this is what I'm learning as a starting point: That God gives sufficiency to everything that I do, so that I can take pleasure and be content in all that I do through Him.
The times when I learn to not look at world notions of "all" are the times that I derive a sense of fulfilment in what I go out there and accomplish. It's a lifelong skill we are all in the process of acquiring but one we must grasp. That way our emphasis on ALL will be one guided by a belief in one who surpasses everything that we could ever hope to accomplish and thus prevent us from being limited by the futile "pursuit of it all".