One of the myths in our modern world that is sold to us is that we can "do it all" & “have it all”. Whether it be the job, the partner, the holiday, the house, the latest phone, the career, the family, happiness, eternal happiness.... well.... you get the picture. And if we don't, there's an underlying current of failure. Left unexamined, this myth can tap into the parts of us that feel that we’re not enough, and can quickly push us down the path of wanting, desiring and fixating on something other than what is.
And if we’re not “doing it all”, & “enjoying it all”, all the time; we may start to believe our thoughts that we’re failing, we’re not doing life right, and there must be something wrong with us. And this is the biggest lie of all. Coming back to this truth, for me, is the work. The simple yet profound knowledge, that we are not our thoughts & emotions. I worry, get caught up in my thoughts & can get swept up in my moods - because I’m human. We live in a world where other people’s expectations creep in at every corner. People are vying for our attention & dangling carrots of goals & dreams with every notification, email & screen we stare at; sometimes blatantly, other times sneakily. Closing my eyes daily, to tune out the external world is a powerful technique to return to that part of me that only I will ever know. It’s a practice that allows me to tune into the knowing that I’m not broken & I don’t need to be fixed. If we zoom out, perhaps and that's only a little perhaps, we can do it all - but only over decades and certainly not all the time. There's still this cookie cutter dream seeping into our consciousness, and it's only with awareness and work that we can stop measuring our life against a fantasy world. I’m not going to ever arrive at a point in life where I “have it all”. OR and this is where the real secret is, I already do - this is the kicker - because “having it all” includes the pain & discomfort as well.
One of the ways “having it all” is sold to us is by “making the most of our time” and “becoming more efficient’; which both can be a trap that I know all too well. The more efficient we become, the more tasks we cram into our hours, days, & weeks. And consequently fast tracks us to chasing a never ending list of things to do, achieve & accomplish.
In his book Four Thousand Weeks, Time Management for Mortals, Oliver Burkeman describes an anti-skill - sitting with the feeling of overwhelm, “busyness”, the discomfort of things on your to-do list that could be cleared by responding to them automatically to try & fit more things in. The key word here is automatically. As meditators, we practise short circuiting the automatic reactions. We stop. We stop to break the cycle of unconscious reactions. To increase the ability to consciously choose our responses and what to do with this precious time we have. Burkeman goes on to elaborate that the harder we try to fit everything in on our to-do list, the more of our time we find spending on the least meaningful things.
“Doing anything requires sacrifice - the sacrifice of all the other things you could have been doing with that stretch of time. If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, hour days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else.” Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks.
There are trade-offs in every decision we make. Realising this is where the magic lies. The only way to not make trade-offs is to not make decisions or take action. And even then, there is a trade off - it’s our time.
Seth Godin’s description below of Trade-offs has helped me take action & make decisions in my business. It's helped me pull myself out of procrastination.
The Magic of Trade-offs, Seth Godin
If you make a laptop more powerful, the battery life will suffer and it will get heavier too.
If you make a plane bigger, it won’t land at every airport, and it will cost more to fly, even if you don’t sell all the seats.
Another set of trade-offs.
Good engineers don’t whine about trade-offs, because they realize that they’re the entire point.
If there were no trade-offs, we wouldn’t need their help, there would be no interesting problems worth solving.
In our work and our lives, we can train ourselves to say, “oh, good, an interesting trade-off.”
When I’m in the middle of a passion project, I may not be the most perfect & attentive partner however my heart is full. When I’m flat out with my business & travelling a lot, I may not exercise as much as I should, or read as much as I'd like however my business is growing. Perhaps you’re exercising for a marathon (I’m not!); therefore time with the family is traded in order to accomplish a massive goal. Or you’re a new parent, so the house isn’t tidy as you’d like, but you’re doing one of the most important things in the world, looking after your baby. Perhaps you’re in a pivotal time at your work or business that requires more of your time & energy, which means you're not seeing your partner as much as you'd like for this chapter of life. Perhaps you're travelling internationally to really amazing destinations for work, however you're trading your energy & sleep as the long haul travel takes a toll on your body & mind. In all decisions we make there are trade-offs. Because time is finite. And that’s the thing with this work, we can intellectually know this - yup; got it - time is finite; but it’s the experience of life that allows us to learn this. Trade-offs are reality. There’s no way around them. And if we can choose our trade-offs consciously & drop expectations of a fantasy idea of what “having it all” looks like, and accept it includes discomfort, pain & work, then we may find that we relax more into the flow of life.