I Can’t Do it All: Learning to be Enough in an Ambitious World
It was as inevitable as those pesky crow feet that hopped on and off our faces in our 30s until they settled in for good. We Gen-Xers were destined to lose our minds.
We are the generation of Can-do.
We were the ones whose parents didn’t receive their daily helping of praise and adoration and then determined it was verbal affirmation that would push us on to greatness. We were the ones who were asked to draw in primary colors what we wanted to be when we grew up at school. The correct answers were President, astronaut, or doctor. God forbid someone list a blue collar job or strike out to be a creative type. There weren’t enough colors in the box for choices like those.
No, we were aiming for greatness, the greatness of our grandparents’ generation, except with this new fangled technology in hand (actually still on the desktop at that time). We could do anything.
And that’s why the reality TV shows make so much sense. The dance offs and sing offs and weight offs were inevitable. We were groomed to be people who thrive on affirmation, Likes, and proving ourselves to be the best.
That’s why our children’s extravagant birthday parties make sense. The ones where invitations are glossy and personalized, event locales grow more luxe, and the attendees leave with more presents than the birthday kid. We need to do more, be recognized for what we’re worth.
Oh and we need a side hustle as well. One stable job isn’t enough to meet our growing demands for Fixer Upper-worthy decor. Not to mention, going to the office doesn’t seem like a good fit for us anymore. We want both/and. We want to work and be at the beach at the same time. Why not? We can do anything.
We seem quite insecure on the whole.
We are also a stressed out generation.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. And this stress makes sense considering our appetites for busyness and achievement, and our humanity that puts tangible restraints on us.
But don’t worry. We will Can-do our way right out of it. We invest in self-care, therapy, wellness symposiums, and retreats. We spend a lot on creams and potions, whatever the next item is that will cure our ills, help us sleep, and make us feel more whole.
Maybe this is why minimalism has captured us in the last 10 years. Are we trying to Mari Kondo our closet or are we trying to wrangle some order and sense into our own heads?
Maybe we wouldn’t need so much self-care if we just took better care of ourselves in the first place, if we didn’t demand that our bodies and minds occupy two to three full-time jobs all strung together with iPhone apps and caffeine. Maybe we wouldn’t need it if our hearts weren’t constantly bombarded by the media onslaught of horrible news from around the world, which we consume with abandon, chastising ourselves for the work yet to be done.
When will it be enough?
I can’t do it all. I’m a driven, Type A kind of woman. And yet it is not my ambition that determines my limits. My watch tells me the limits. Now in my 40s, my body tells me what some of my limits are. My children, hungry for good food and proper attention, tell me the limits. My bank account tells me the limits.
The sky is not the limit, no matter how much I want to believe that. I’m a human and that comes with plenty of constraints, right here on planet Earth.
Maybe instead of “do everything”, we could tell our children, “Do something, good.” Find something that brings a smile to your face and helps your fellow man and pour your heart into that. Find a purpose, not a full calendar.
Thomas Merton said, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”
I want to live in such a way that I don’t constantly need more, of anything. I want to refocus my life around the few things and people that I’m supposed to be about, not the many. I can’t actually do it all anyway, and I’m going to be okay with that.