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On Having, and Wanting, and Doing

14 comments | July 30th, 2012

(by Mir from here)

Like a lot of people, I suppose, I'm spending a lot of time right now watching the Olympics. I can't even explain it, as I'm not much of a sports fan in the first place, and I'll find myself riveted by, say, competitive kayaking, which is something I've never even heard of before. (I had no idea you could basically run a slalom course through rapids in a kayak. Couch potato me always assumed that if you took a trip in a kayak and didn't drown, you won!) But the Olympics pull me in every time, despite my normally "meh" attitude towards most sports.

Maybe it goes back to the "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" commercials from my youth (am I dating myself with that…?), and the thrill of knowing you're watching the best of the best, the biggest contest there is. Maybe some of it is that I've been watching Olympic ice skating for as long as I can remember, despite the fact that my own ice skating was limited to the zombie-shuffle, run-into-something-solid-to-stop variety. Maybe it's simply the vicarious thrill of watching people who care so much about a single thing relentlessly pursue that goal.

This year I find the timing of the Olympics particularly interesting from a self-reflection standpoint: Before the Olympics began, we had the entire Internet reading and dissecting Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in The Atlantic on Why Women Still Can't Have It All. I think there was a solid week where my Facebook feed seemed filled with nothing else save for discussion of Slaughter's comments. It was a giant feminist panty-wad party. Because we're supposed to want it all but we can't have it all… or can we… or should we want it or not? With all due respect to Slaughter and the tremendously important topic she tackled, it all mostly made me want to take a nap.

And then… the games began. Cue the schlocky commentary to go with it: This athlete has been training since he was a toddler. That athlete had to leave home and go to a special training center, away from her family, to pursue her Olympic dream. The competition is fascinating in terms of sporting prowess, of course, but in a world where we seem to place tremendous value on "having it all," how interesting to see Prime Time television suddenly filled up with young, driven people who only want one single thing. In-between actual sport we hear the same message delivered a hundred different ways—this was the only thing that these competitors wanted. The most important thing, and many other things have been sacrificed for this single goal.

I found myself between the much-discussed Atlantic piece and the "big shocker" of the weekend where USA gymnast Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify for the women's all-around competition wondering where normal, regular women fit in. I have never assumed I could want it "all," as Slaughter discusses. Neither can I wrap my brain around a single-minded drive towards such a specific goal that your dream could be over in the space of the time it takes to stumble out-of–bounds during your floor exercise.

Where's the sweet spot? How do we want what's attainable, work for what matters, and accept what we can't have? How do you know when pursuing the seemingly-impossible goal makes sense, and/or when giving up other things makes sense?

I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that while I pondered some of this, I came across Marie Mung-Ok Lee's piece in The Atlantic about what her son's disabilities taught her about 'having it all.' She concludes that the goal should never be to have it all, but to have enough. And she points out that most of us probably do have enough, if only we can stop pining for what we don't have for long enough to realize it.

The philosophy is sound, but putting it into practice could prove tricky. On the other hand, watching Olympics hopefuls face defeat tends to just make me grateful that I've never hung my whole life on a single goal—while the rewards may be great, the potential for failure (and no "backup" life fulfillment) seems like a huge risk to someone as risk-averse as me. I'll never be a decorated athlete, or the best in the world at… anything, really. And I'm okay with that! I just want to have enough. So far in my life, it feels like the best path towards having enough is to have a little bit of lots of different things, rather than "all" or the "ultimate" of just one or two things. Is that me being balanced, or me being someone who sits on the couch and eats potato chips during the Olympics?

So tell me… what do you think when you watch the Olympics? Is it better to try to have one thing than to try to have it all? Have you found that sweet spot in your own life between the two?

(for more Mir, go to wouldashoulda.com)

14 comments

  • Megan

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    I keep trying to come up with a non-cliched way to say that to me the secret is learning not to pin happiness on a particular thing or goal but to enjoy right here and now.

    That doesn’t mean not having goals – not by any means – it just means slowing down enough to recognize that something cool is happening today too.

    Now… putting that into practice…

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    I watch them thinking, “Dang I’m lazy” because maybe I could do something like they do, but I don’t have the “umph” to try that hard. I guess I acknowledge that I am a bit lazy and I accept that I get what I deserve…generally. When I get my panties in a wad (you said it first) I find a drive I forgot I had, and I can make dramatic changes in my life. But most of the time, I’m fine as is. Life is pretty good. Usually.

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    Well, it does take skill to balance chips on one’s lap (or stomach, what?) while watching the Olympians, so, you’re fine. I haven’t been watching, but I do believe it’s better to have more than one thing to strike a good even keel than to have it all. What is all anyway? My all is different from your all is different from his, hers, theirs, and probably Imelda Marcos’ all (if all was measured in shoes). I have not found that sweet spot yet, but I know that I’ll know it when I do. And I’ll be good with that. It doesn’t mean I’ll become complacent and no longer have the desire to achieve, but it will mean I am just comfortable and satisfied.

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  • Bob

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    I tried to write a short answer – and failed. I wrote a novel and deleted it. There is no easy answer here. Do what makes you and those around you happy. If that is a single-minded, life-long pursuit of a single goal, then so be it. If it is the pursuit of having it all, then so be it.

    but I suspect that for us ordinary mortals, life is somewhere in the middle. It is a compromise between what we want and what we can achieve. I used to want “the best” audiovisual equipment. Then we had kids and they feed pizza to my $500 VCR. I learned to live with the $40 version.

    the real answer, if there is one, is learning to be happy with who we are. If we can do that, then no matter what we do we’ll be happy.

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    • Laurie

      Posted on July 31, 2012

      I agree with Bob. “Having it all” is relative and means different things to different people. Some have single pursuits and some have many, and some never figure it out. Success is different things to different people, and as long as you are doing supports your vision of success, or at least the path to get there, then you’re probably on the right track.

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  • Lynne

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    I heard someone say a long time ago (I have no idea who or I would credit), women can have it all…we just can’t have ‘everything’. That has always summed it up for me. There are limits in this life and choices we make. Each choice we make, eliminates the other options.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    The daughter of a friend of mine was actually training for these here Olympics, has been training for them for years, in fact, and suddenly (for reasons yet explained) decided to take a step back and finish her education. Maybe because she does want it all.
    Mostly I agree with ^Lynne^ up there–it depends upon how we define all: Everything? All that I want? All that I care about? All that I can handle? All that I’m willing to make sacrifices for? And DearBabyJesus, please don’t let someone else define what “all” should be for me.

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  • Pris

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    As someone who’s still single-mindedly trying to attain a goal that’s probably unattainable…I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve sacrificed a LOT and I even feel guilty for trying. Because I should be the level-headed adult with a normal life. But that’s just not me. I’m doing what feels good, where I feel right in my skin. I guess that’s all you can do.

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  • dad

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    As the person who set the example that has manifested itself in your love of sitting on the couch and eating potato chips during the Olympics (an art form I have refined with religious fervor over the years) I must admit that a philosophy of life which holds that the secret to happiness is low expectations is not the answer.
    The expectation for each individual is different and the goal should be should be to just get a little better every day.

    Besides, the year that Mens Reclining Potato Chip Eating is an Olympic event, I’m going to be ready.

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  • pharmgirl

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    After being extremely career driven for many years, I’ve finally found that it’s much nicer to be a “strong contributer” than it is to be a “high potential”. The higher you rise, the more that is expected – and taken – from you. I’m at that stage now where I’m throwing out or giving away things that I once coveted. In the end, it’s really just stuff. And stuff can’t love you back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    w.r.t. having it all – I just want my means to suffice. I’ve read that once you get above $70-$75k per year, more money doesn’t make you happier. Makes sense to me. I’ll be happy when I’ve paid off my credit cards and student loans and (sooner than that) when I will have an emergency fund so if my car breaks down, I’m not dead in the water.

    It thrills me when I see some of the older athletes, which, really, skews to be anyone my age or above (30s).

    I watch the swimmers and think about when my brother got sick for months in middle school and lost his edge because he lost so much muscle mass.

    I think about taking a Rec. Dept. gymnastics class when I was in middle school and being terrified to do a somersault on the beam. The bars were fun, I love flying.

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  • Daisy

    Posted on July 31, 2012

    “Having enough.” I like that idea. I’m still defining what “enough” might be for me and my family.

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  • HeatherHPD

    Posted on August 1, 2012

    I think the following sums it (it being multidimensional i guess)

    Balance
    Flexibility
    contentment which is summed up in the lyrics of a Kentucky musician named Chris Knight, ” I am thankful for the things I’ve got and for the things I don’t”

    It took a couple of years to really grasp how “profound” being “thankful for the things i don’t means” and how to live it.

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  • Tracey

    Posted on August 6, 2012

    All too often, “You can’t have it all” is hurled at women to punish them for thinking they are actual human beings with skills and desires. I am an American but grew up mostly overseas and travel a lot for work. I see how much easier life can be for women, for families, when there’s not the constant conservative drumbeat to heckle American women into being barefoot, pregnant slaves tied to the stove just pining for her pat-on-the-head for enslaving herself, which is all she can ever hope to receive.

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  1. Because where would you put it? | Woulda Coulda Shoulda - [...] read more in my post over at Feel More Better today—I’m using the Olympics as a springboard (get it??) …
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