How many of us actually believe that we can have it all? Successful careers, designer homes, charming families, fit and healthy bodies, exotic holidays, involvement in the community, and so the list goes on. The expectations many of us place on ourselves seem to pile ever higher as we get older, especially as we reach that stage in mid-life where both the younger and the older generation are leaning on us.
While we know in our hearts that something must give, we often kid ourselves into thinking that if only we try hard enough, somehow we will manage to have it all. We thus never confront the difficult decision that something must give way, and the price for avoiding such a decision is continued stress and frustration.
Writing in this month’s Harvard Business Review, Eric Sinoway throws down a powerful challenge, providing an important variation on the well-known ‘Wheel of Life’ exercise beloved of many life coaches. He invites the reader to consider the following seven areas: Family, Social/Community, Spiritual, Physical, Material, Avocational (hobbies), and Career. He first asks the reader in respect of each area: “Who do you want to be?” and “How much do you want it?”. Second and significantly, he asks “Given that you have a finite amount of time, energy and resources, how important is this dimension relative to the others?” Yes, you the reader are forced to rank these seven dimensions; forced to identify what matters most and what matters least. This is the vital step that many coaching exercises overlook. It is the step that acknowledges that you cannot have it all, and that you will need to choose!
If you are anything like me, answering Sinoway’s questions will be a challenge. And yet, the process of identifying as a ‘lower priority’ things that until now you have defended as enormously worthwhile and important, can be enormously liberating. Yes, the result may be that you have to make some phone calls you would rather not, such I have done this week, handing in my notice on various commitments and community involvements, but in my experience the benefits start to be felt immediately.
As the playwright Goethe put it, “things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least”