Today, we live in a world all-consumed with the idea of having it all. Whether it be in the work place or at home, our idea of a well-balanced life is nothing less than excellence and achievement in every arena - work, relationships and play, even if that means temporarily sacrificing our emotional and physical well-being. The extent of these achievements have been heightened by the ease of social comparison, causing us to be always dissatisfied with what we have, constantly yearning for everything we don't have. But upon closer inspection, it appears that grass is just greener on the other side.
So as I began to ponder my future, and what exactly it was that I wanted, I found myself drifting back to a fundamentally debated question: Is it really possible to have it all?
To begin, I began with the basics, thinking back to Econ 101.
Our capacity to produce the things we want in life is dependent on the amount of resources that we have, which can then be allocated among different things, creating essentially, a production possibilities frontier. Let’s simplify and say that for me I want a successful career and a happy family. My resources are many, but let’s say for now it’s just my time.
Just from this graph, we know that it’s not possible to have the maximum of both, but I can achieve a happy medium in between.
Having More like Marissa Mayer
Perhaps we are unhappy with this medium, because having both has decreased the amount of both career and family that I could have had. So being super power woman like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, I want to achieve the maximum of for both.
Unfortunately, for Marissa, this has required double the amount of time. Now, Marissa is using up so much time that she not only has to employ her time, but now her husband’s time and her nanny’s time. When used all these resources to the maximum, she has now created the perfect scenario in which she has everything. Notice however, that her husband and nanny’s production possibility frontiers look something like this.
Optimizing the Production Frontier
I remember now that in Econ 101 we were also taught something about complementary goods and well, non complmentary goods too. Thankfully, due to economies of scale and well, synergies I suppose, having two complementary wants in life can allow me to increase my production frontier without having to employ more resources.
Bloomberg uses his connections in politics to advance both his mayorship in politics and his real estate empire, because let’s face it - money and power are, well, let’s just say friends.
Bloomberg is not an anomaly. Picking two goals that are closely related and complement each other has proven successful for many people - in fact, most successful people have done such a thing - the academic that is also a consultant, YouTube celebrities launching their own product lines, fashion blogger who becomes a designer...the list goes on.
For these people, their production frontier look curved, whereby they are able to use the same resources to accomplish two goals that complement each other (e.g. for Bloomberg, more political power = more power to lobby favorable laws for his real estate business).
Unfortunately for most people, however, career and family have little to do with each other. They look more like enemies than friends, unable to work together to achieve any kind of economies of scale. And so our production possibilities frontier may actually looks something like this.
This explains why it is so difficult to not tend towards one or the other, because it is actually least optimal to have the exact amount of both.
In history, people have resolved this problem by combining the resources of husband and wife, creating an optimal scenario for the family, though it doesn’t feel so balanced for the individual. In today’s society where individuality seems to be valued more and more (in collective cultures like in Asia, the former scenario still remains), people are opting to achieve balanced lives for the individual, even if it means the less than optimal allocation of resources for the family as a whole.
So...can we really have it all?
No. Because life is about choices, and choices imply forgoing something for something else. Before you think that it's a terrible thing, remember that choices are what gives our life freedom, meaning and purpose.
Despite this, we can still align our career, family and other goals in the same direction, to create "complementary goals" that capitalize on our limited resources.
Perhaps that's why people say you should follow your passion, because at the end of the day, if your passion also happens to be your job, then you've managed to achieve two goals with the same amount of resources.
But it doesn't just stop there. The happiest people are those who can figure out how best to use their resources to efficiently generate favorable outcomes. From a career, to hobbies, to a relationship, it's less about thoughtlessly striving for everything to "have it all", but more about strategically crafting your life whereby your career, hobby and family can all perfectly complement goals that will satisfy you.