If you ask a young child what they want to be when they grow up you might get answers like firefighter, policeperson, astronaut, professional athlete, musician, actor, teacher, scientist, doctor or veterinarian. Any of those careers – and the countless others not mentioned – are great things for a child to aspire to. However, the problem is when the child puts the conjunction “and” between these things instead of saying “or.” Most of us have been brought up to believe that we can be anything that we want to be. However, just because we can be anything doesn’t mean that we can be everything.
You wouldn’t expect Einstein to be a professional dancer. He’s perhaps the most influential scientist of the modern age, but that doesn’t mean that he’s great, or even good, at everything. When even very famous professionals attempt to transition from one sport to another, the results aren’t always stellar. Michael Jordan is famous for his basketball playing and his Nike-branded Air Jordan shoes, but his results with the Chicago White Sox weren’t great. By any measure, he’s a great athlete, but even he couldn’t reach for the gold ring in another sport.
We idolize some famous people, but we generally idolize them for one thing – not for everything. We instinctively expect that people will only be truly great at one thing, but we secretly expect that we’ll be great at everything.
You can want to be the world’s best parent, spouse, friend, and child. You can strive to be the best professional the world has ever seen in your chosen profession. However, somewhere, there will be a conflict, where one aspect of your desire will compete with another. Your parents will want you to come help them remodel a room the same day your son has a championship little league baseball game. Your wife will want to take a vacation when you’re set to deliver on a huge project at work.
It is unfortunate, but when you try to be everything, you’ll find that you don’t have time. You’ll have to prioritize one thing that you hold most dear. If you want, for instance, to be a pilot, you’ll have to accept that you’ll spend some time away from home, and that may put a strain on your marriage and your desire to be present for your children. If you prioritize your wife and children, you will have to adapt your career to fit.
Time is a Fixed Quantity
Like it or not, we all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. We can’t change that. We can change how we spend that time, but not its quantity. The result is that we can do anything we set our mind to, but there’s simply not enough time to do everything that we might like to do or even believe we should be able to do.
We see people who seem to have it all together. They’ve got a successful career, a loving family, and an Instagram following in the hundreds of thousands. What we don’t realize is that these are sequential rather than parallel things. When they’re focused on their family, all is well with the family, but the career seems stalled. When they’re focused on their career, their family feels the strain. Like spinning plates, it can appear that they have it all together by swapping from one thing to the next – right up to the point when it all fails.
Deciding What to Drop
The problem is we still want to do everything, and we don’t know what to drop. It’s not easy or comfortable. It can feel like you’re giving up or being defeated. However, you can also look at the process of letting go like you’re losing dead weight that is just slowing you down and isn’t helping you reach your goals. It’s not easy to tell a child, a parent, or an employer “no” or “not now,” but sometimes it’s necessary to keep the demands of life from completely draining your personal agency.