What Is All?
Years back I met a twenty-something new to our organization who told me she moved to town intent on “having it all.” Her statement was quick and decisive so I asked a clarification question, “What is all?”
Her answer was immediate and definitive. “Husband, house, picket fence, baby, all of it,” she said.
Generally, the sequence someone shares a list reflects its priority. I wished her well in The Great Pursuit and thought, “Some guy out there walking around minding his own business has no idea what he’s in for.” I am not disparaging love and romance, nor family design. Far from it. The key question then as now is, “What is all?” Perhaps her future husband was searching for the exact same things.
A tiny little collective noun, just three letters, ‘all’ defies common definition because the word means different things to different people. To prove it, ask some friends what ‘having it all’ means to them. I did, and the topic was interesting to research. Pulling the first thread—where a person’s definition came from (upbringing, life experiences, core beliefs, etc.)—loosened more to pull. Can a person have it all? If you have it all but it slips away, what caused that: personal choices, someone else’s actions, mortality, or something else? And if having it all somehow slips away, can it be regained?
Those answers stemmed from each person’s perceptions of what ‘having it all’ required materialistically and emotionally. A pragmatic balance seems to help. People too skewed toward material possessions are vulnerable to their disappearance or self-imposed pressures to keep up with the Joneses, Smiths, Browns, or whomever. They also ran the risk of having less than someone else diminishing their perception that they too had it all. More interesting were those who identified invisible things like intimacy, loving and being loved, spirituality, and owning life’s choices in pursuit of a hoped-for destiny. Hearing these things jostled from memory a quote I am fond of, “Never judge your inside by someone else’s outside.” Every family is dysfunctional in some derivative form, so gratitude and self-satisfaction seem to need to blossom from life between the ears. I asked, “If someone has more than you, can you have it all while they do not?” More often than not the answer was yes.
Once we discussed the ‘having it all’ components important to an individual, we talked about whether these things are clear-cut, or if they evolve or change over time. If they changed, why? What changed them? What role does money play? Rock singer Cyndi Lauper sang a popular hit song, “Money Changes Everything.” Does it? My work in the field of worry and happiness found that people without money think it solves all problems. Once money arrives, they learn rather quickly that it does not. In some cases, money creates new and bigger problems. Money by itself might not be key to having it all, but sometimes what money frees someone to do or worry about certainly may.
I was also curious about motivational drivers. Were pursuits propelled by individual desires, family, friends, or rivals? Where there secondary drivers too? Attitudinally, we also discussed whether ‘having it all’ is something you pursue or come to realize over time? If we pursue it, how do setbacks affect us? And what creates the energy to persevere?
From a self-awareness standpoint, do we know when we (or others) have it all? Is there a moment of awareness, an “ah-ha” feeling we recognize in the brain, heart, and in between? Or does that realization occur only when life forces us to pause and take stock of the life we are living? Age can trigger this, mortality fears can too, as can emotional intelligence. Regardless how it happens, when it happens, does a person’s perception of having it all change? If so, why? And when that feeling arrives, I asked, “Is enough enough? If not then, when?”
I was curious about parental and guardian viewpoints during the person’s formative years, and whether what their elders shared remains true today, or if our view has evolved into something different.
As I gathered information, I mapped what I was hearing against Abraham Maslow’s 5-step Hierarchy of Needs. An abridged version of Maslow’s pursuit of happiness advances from Survival to Comfort, then Love & Affection, followed by Respect, and eventually what Maslow called “self-actualization”, which he defined as doing what you were born to do. This was nice to examine, but the idea of happiness as a part of ‘having it all’ was another thread to pull. Must a person be happy to have it all? No, of course not. Some people have no need to be happy. They prioritize fulfillment.
I was not surprised by generational differences when discussing the merits of technology, and whether tech simplified or complicated the pursuit of ‘having it all.’ If tied to sourcing income or wealth, how important is tech’s integration as a barrier or enabler in a job or occupation?
A series of True/False questions finished these interviews, followed by the overhead question, “What advice about ‘having it all’ would you give your younger self?” As expected, their answers were far-ranging and thought provoking. Throughout these discussions, every answer I heard is correct.
I do think there are times in everyone’s life when he or she has it all; and that life seems to get easier when we are more grateful for what we have and worry less about what we don’t. I have traveled the world amongst billions whose finest day will never approach the toughest of ours, so having it all seems supremely relative. The awareness of having it all may come and go, or be fleeting with no guarantee of permanence, but when the stars align, recognize the feeling and cherish it forever.
When we reflect on life the way we have lived it and had it all (however long or short that time may be), and have loved and been loved, it’s easier to recognize that every life is truly rich.
Leave a Reply