On Having, and Wanting, and Doing
(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)