A Real Life Is Not Always A Balanced One
Every day offers up an ongoing series of choices which require different responses from each of us
"Do you ever sleep?”
I get that question a lot, and mostly it is not out of genuine concern for my well-being and length of nocturnal shut-eye. The question mostly comes with a nose-squinching, exasperated rhetorical inquiry that is meant to show me that, because I do a lot of different things in my life professionally and personally, I must be, well, I must be sleepless and nuts.
No, I am not — nuts, that is. And for the record, I sleep about 6 or 7 hours. And because I do so many different things adding up to a career that I love, I am fine. Really, I am fine.
Anne Marie Slaughter reignited all this judgment of women in particular in the war on balance with her provocative piece in The Atlantic in 2012 claiming women cannot have it all.
The former director of policy planning at the State Department and mother of two sons, Slaughter commuted from Washington, D.C. during the week, to her home in Princeton, New Jersey for the weekend. Her husband cared for her boys in her absence.
After two years, she left the mad dash of Washington to return to her tenured spot at Princeton University, with no regrets and new insights into the fluffy paradise we call “all.” We cannot have it all, she declared.
What I maintain is that it depends on what you consider “all.” I have never believed we can have it all, at least not all of the time — men or women. We can have it all in bits and pieces. We can have all of it, yes,
but not all at once. And all is not the point.
The conversation about having it all and the questions I get about sleep seem to tie into our current culture’s preoccupation with busyness. Indeed, who is busier than whom has become the Olympic competition of our generation. And in the summer, it reaches a crescendo. Who is too busy to take a vacation versus who can have the longest vacation? Who can win the balanceathon? Who loses?
But what if we didn’t bother with all that nonsense? What if we concentrated not on perilous balancing, but on acknowledging the difficulty of carrying different plates? What if we believed that each one of us is faced with different choices and we are doing the best we can? What if, instead of constantly struggling for balance, we prioritized our obligations and simply swapped one responsibility for another without guilt, shame or judgment?
Swapping is the “Eat This, Not That” approach to life. Eat this brand of cereal instead of the donut or bagel and cream cheese. Eat this kind of pasta sauce — the marinara over the alfredo. You get it; one is clearly better for you in nutritional value, whether in terms of calories, sugar or salt. You don’t eliminate, you swap.
It’s the same with life’s tasks.
We forgive ourselves for all the obligations we have and we honor that sometimes, certain responsibilities take priority over others. You swap your teenager needing 10 more hours of driving with you, over your need to be a superstar in the office this week. Your ill mother needing you to be with her at the doctor, you swap over your manicure.
But you decide. Not society, not your boss, not your family, not your friends.
You understand importance and prioritize. I have trouble with the semantics of leaning in, balancing, having all of this, or none of it, or all of whatever. Balancing implies that you are always on the edge. It means there is a delicate, high wire act you are always performing. And you could at any moment plunge off the edge.
Swapping implies that you are faced daily with an abundance of choices. One view of the world — as a balancing act — is about risk and failure. The other —swapping — is about possibility.
Maybe if we think of our lives not as challenges and balancing acts that are treacherous, but as swap meets and incubators for our dreams, we would all be happier. Instead of seeing every day as a nightmare of obligations, let’s view every day as a dream of opportunities.Edit Module