You shouldn’t aspire to ‘have it all’.
Michelle Obama has recently (and finally!) launched her new podcast, and the first guest on her show was Barack. They shared their thoughts on the philosophy of “having it all”, and as someone who’s ambitious and driven to be successful in a range of aspects, their conversation really resonated with me.
The podcast is all about ‘relationships’, and in this first episode, the Bams discuss their relationship to their community. Whilst their childhoods were different in many ways, not least in terms of their family structures, they both had one thing in common; they were both raised in tight-knit communities.
The norm at the time was to live amongst extended family and friends, who would all collectively raise each other’s children and support each other through tough times. They discuss how children were raised to help their neighbors and be mindful of what other families were going through so that they could show empathy and provide support where it was due.
“When everybody was looking out for everybody, then the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.Everybody gets a little bit more; kids have more role-models even if their families aren’t doing as well because there are people with some clout in their neighborhood” — Barack Obama.
Increasingly though, societies are becoming more and more individualistic. We raise children with the “you can have it all” philosophy, and we promote this as though “having it all” is something we should strive towards. The model has shifted from “you should learn to sacrifice” to you should have it all, and if you’re not getting it then something’s wrong.
“That was the opposite of how we were brought up. You were never supposed to have it all. In fact, if you had it all, you were being greedy, because if you had it all, that meant somebody didn’t have anything” — Michelle Obama.
Rather than looking out for each other, we’re living in a world of increased competition where we’re only looking out for ourselves; it’s dog eat dog. It’s no longer ‘us’, it’s ‘me against them’, and we’re all constantly concerned with where we are in the pecking order.
Having worked in the corporate world for a few years, this is definitely a pressure that I felt, and one that I sensed and discussed with others. In every role I held, I was often involved in conversations along the lines of — “did you hear about how much he makes?”, “how many years do you think you’ll be at the company for?”, “When would you ideally want to be promoted by”? It always came down to, how much money can I make, and how quickly can I make it?
The pressure to hit the ground running and begin to climb the career ladder is rife. Here is one example — Women as young as 21, freshly graduated from university are discussing whether to freeze their eggs because they want to give themselves the best chance to “have it all”; they want to have a career and a family.
Thankfully, if women want to have it all, they can, and freezing your eggs is certainly a worthy consideration. But I’ve had this conversation with people who aren’t even in a relationship, or have a single full year of work experience under their belts. It’s great to plan for the future, but it’s somewhat alarming that the pressure is rife to the extent that this would be a major cause for concern at that time.
This increasing trend towards an individualistic society is leading to more loneliness, anxiety, and mental health problems.
“We weren’t built to do this thing called life in a vacuum. It is much more hopeful, more gratifying, much more effective to live this life as a we” — Michelle Obama.
It’s also translated into politics; instead of voting by thinking about what’s good for ‘us’ collectively, we’re prioritizing ourselves.
Perhaps things need to get really really bad before we start to realize that we just can’t do certain things individually. We can’t overcome a pandemic individually, build infrastructure individually, overcome world hunger individually. As opposed to focusing on ‘having it all’ ourselves, we should strive for more inclusivity and nurture our communities. We can already start these conversations on a local level; in our dinner tables, and in our communities.
“As young people are starting to shape their paths, I would really strongly encourage them to think about building lives that are selfless. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it truly is the better way to live. It’s more fun.” — Michelle Obama