A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about hav­ing a midlife cri­sis. In it, I trans­par­ent­ly list­ed all the things that cur­rent­ly make it hard to be an almost fifty-year-old woman in America. One line from that piece real­ly res­onat­ed with my peers:

We were told we could be any­thing. What we heard is that we should be everything.

I have rarely received so much feed­back from read­ers. So many women texted and emailed, all frus­trat­ed and exhaust­ed by the idea that we are expect­ed to not only have it all but want it all. 

Social media is espe­cial­ly insid­i­ous in help­ing to spread this tox­ic horsecrap­pery. Everywhere we look, we see the mes­sage that we should have it all, be it all, do it all, and all at once. We’re told we can man­i­fest health, wealth, fame, beau­ty, and healthy, lov­ing rela­tion­ships with the right mind­set, work eth­ic, and cat­fish fil­ter. That hav­ing it all is our birthright. Our #hus­tle and #girl­boss men­tal­i­ty sees over­work­ing as a badge of hon­or, a hum­ble brag that sets us apart from our lazier peers. My Insta feed keeps regur­gi­tat­ing a quote by Helen Gurley Brown: 

“If you aren’t over­booked or over­com­mit­ted, there’s a very good chance you aren’t get­ting half enough out of life or out of you.”

It’s prob­a­bly time for me to unfol­low a dozen or so trans­for­ma­tion­al life coach­es for my own san­i­ty. Here’s anoth­er social media meme that just exhausts me:

If you aren’t chang­ing it, you’re choos­ing it.

I think moti­va­tion­al speak­er Mel Robbins may have said it first, but it makes the rounds every new year, an insa­tiable need to make us feel as if we aren’t doing enough. 

We love being remind­ed that, if we are suf­fer­ing, we have no one to blame but our­selves. We aren’t try­ing hard enough or depriv­ing our­selves enough. Or pos­si­bly we just don’t want it enough.

A good friend’s father-in-law recent­ly died of COVID. He was ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed, spent the last few years say­ing no to social gath­er­ings, and duti­ful­ly wear­ing a mask when he went to the gro­cery. But he had a bad heart and when COVID came for him, it was no con­test. He didn’t choose it. My friend can’t change it.

I have anoth­er friend – the only female and per­son of col­or in her office – who was passed over for a much-deserved pro­mo­tion. She is con­stant­ly inter­rupt­ed in meet­ings and found out her raise was con­sid­er­ably less than her male co-work­ers. She thought it was because she was black until she over­heard one of her co-work­ers refer to her as “that bossy b****.” She didn’t choose – nor can she change – her gen­der or skin color. 

My own home is an alpha­bet soup of men­tal health strug­gles. OCD. GAD. ADHD. BP. These diag­noses can make the peo­ple I love feel as if they have absolute­ly no con­trol over their thoughts, feel­ings, and future. They did not choose this. Nor can they change it.

I’m tired of the relent­less idea that the only thing hold­ing us back from (look­ing younger, los­ing 20 pounds, earn­ing a six-fig­ure salary, fame, fill in the blank here) are our own shortcomings. 

At first blush, it’s a sim­ple mes­sage of empow­er­ment. But it fails to men­tion that many peo­ple in the world right now are strug­gling and it’s not help­ful to blame them for strug­gling. No one chose a glob­al pan­dem­ic. Ditto polit­i­cal tur­moil. Climate change. Inflation. Racial unrest. No one knows what the future will bring, but we’re all jus­ti­fied in feel­ing a lit­tle anx­ious right now.

How about we give our­selves a break? I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s not the idea that we’re to blame for our real­is­tic hurt. 

I would like to see us move from a cul­ture that tells us how to get it all to a cul­ture that encour­ages us to sit with the very real feel­ings that arise from dis­ap­point­ment and despair. 

No one gets it all. We can chant affir­ma­tions all day long, but we still might lose the baby. Or the job to the less­er qual­i­fied can­di­date. We might lose our job or house or spouse. We’re gonna lose our patience, our minds, our lives. That’s baked in the con­tract we sign as human beings. Being able to ful­ly feel into the inevitable dis­ap­point­ment will serve us bet­ter than any num­ber of social media likes. 

It’s okay to lay down the hus­tle. The word hus­tle, after all, orig­i­nal­ly referred to a swin­dle or decep­tion. Hustle was always a lie. 

It’s okay to feel sad­ness or regret for the roads not tak­en and still be hap­py you don’t have one more road to traverse.

And it’s okay to feel dis­ap­point­ed when you don’t get it all. Or for not want­i­ng it all. 

Thank you for attend­ing my (wild­ly unpop­u­lar) Ted Talk.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.