Nobody Can Ever Have It All

The sooner you stop trying, the better

Jessica Wildfire
Jan 24 · 5 min read

hat night I threw my laptop across the living room and screamed, “I can’t do this anymore!” It was 9 pm, and one of my bosses had just sent his fifth email of the day. The baby woke up.

My spouse sat on the couch, planning a trip home for his grandma’s funeral. He offered to take the kid with him.

“You need a break,” he said.

My birthday was coming up, along with the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. I’d just gotten a promotion, with a small raise. A day later our president announced a black hole in our budget.

So that weekend I stayed home, watched movies, and drank. It was the first Saturday I’d had to myself in years.

It reminded me how much time you take for granted before blooming into a real adult with nice things like a job and a family — and a house with repairs that chew up the little bit of spare money and energy you have left. It was like rewinding myself ten years.

Back then I used to get so much done in a weekend. I’d get high on caffeine and write a chapter of my dissertation.

I’d read two or three books.

If I were really on fire, I’d even squeeze in a first date. There were lots of first dates in my 20s. Like, so many…

This isn’t a humble brag. Obviously, the reason I kept going on those first dates was simple. Guys didn’t get me. Despite how “accomplished” I was, I had the personality of a lawn chair.

Not anymore.

These days I’m likeable — and loved. But when my toddler goes to sleep, the last thing I want to do is read a 30-page article on some obscure subtopic in a journal that costs $200 per year.

Priorities change, even when you don’t want them to.

You can only make yourself so productive. After a certain point, the morning routines and life hacks don’t help anymore.

What you have to do is just less.

You have to start whittling down your responsibilities and ambitions. You have to start learning how to use your weekends to relax, instead of writing reports that your boss pretends to read.

You have to start skipping some of those meetings and workshops you always thought were mandatory.

This is what I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, ever since I drove straight from my mom’s funeral to a conference — where I gave a presentation and pitched a book proposal.

A good life isn’t an easy one. A good life forces you to make tough choices between the things you want.

You can’t do it all.

You can’t be a great parent, a great author, a great boss, and a great spouse. Some of us want to be the best at everything. The hardest truth of all is that you can’t. Your life is not a Marvel comic book.

You are not a renewable resource.

You have to spend yourself wisely. You have to be willing to be great at a couple of things, good at others, and just okay at the rest.

You have to decide if you’re going to be an A+ boss and a C+ parent, or an A+ parent and a C+ boss.

Or not a boss at all.

You could probably be an A+ boss and parent, but probably a C- at literally everything else in your life.

And just forget about sex.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or a dad, or completely single. A man who decides to spend more time at home faces the exact same consequences as a woman these days. When you’re single and childless, you face different choices that feel just as hard.

Nobody gets to have it all, not the way things are set up now. Maybe we could, if we lived in Denmark or Sweden.

But we don’t.

Most of us live in an imperfect system where we have no choice but to make trade-offs. Hopefully it won’t always be this way. But for now, this is how we have to live. And in a sense, it’s inevitable.

It’s flat out natural.

Even in a completely fair world, we’d still have to choose between going to a kid’s soccer game and a few more hours hustling. That’s not capitalism’s fault. It’s just the ultimatum of Time.

You might think this is the part where I start telling you to spend more time with your family. Nope, not my agenda.

You can be a crappy mom or dad who makes mad cash and hires a nanny to teach your kid how to read.

It’s completely legal.

Your kid will probably live better because you killed yourself at a high-paying job. They’ll go to a better school, score higher on the SAT, and maybe even wind up at an Ivy-league university.

Your kid might resent you a little, but they’ll be doing it from loft in Manhattan or San Francisco.

You might get extremely lucky and make a fortune off some app, and not have to deal with any of the stuff I’m talking about.

For the rest of us, there’s choices.

See your choices.

Don’t remain blind to them.

Things have a way of outliving their usefulness — stuff, people, habits. Right now I’m completely redoing a part of my house because it just doesn’t work anymore. For a while, it did.

A few months ago, I gave up $20,000 in salary for lighter work hours. Now I’m happier than I’ve been in years.

I’m not throwing laptops at walls anymore.

I’m truly enjoying time instead of wanting to speed it up or slow it down. It’s a nice thing, to feel in sync with the minutes and hours.

It’s a kind of privilege I don’t take for granted, and a place where I hope everyone can get one day.

Don’t be afraid to quit something, like a job or a deadbeat spouse or a toxic friend. Quitting is scary. Giving up feels bad at first.

But then you realize how free you are.

You finally see all the hidden opportunities you were missing. You relish doing the things you didn’t think you had time for.

You re-become yourself.

So, no. You can’t have it all. Women can’t. Men can’t. Trying to be the best at everything is what gets us into huge messes. We can do it for a little while, maybe even a few years. But eventually we lose sight of our internal clockwork. We stop hearing our own tick-tock.

With enough pressure, everyone reaches the point where they throw their laptop against the wall and scream at all the impossible demands they’ve taken on. That’s when you do it —the less.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +720K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store