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.