Nobody Can Have It All

8:00 AM

The biggest difference between childhood and adulthood is that children are mostly possibilities and adults are mostly actualities. As a ten-year-old, I dreamed of being a professional movie star. As a thirteen-year-old, I dreamed of being the next C. S. Lewis. As a twenty-year-old...I don't know what I'm dreaming anymore, but I need to be something pretty quick.

I graduate almost exactly a year from now. I'm facing life-altering decisions. Marriage. Children. Career. Part-time job. My education affects the kind of jobs I can get. The kind of jobs I get affects future goals. Who I marry changes a lot. Whether I have children or how many children I have will alter job opportunities, lifelong dreams, and future projects.

Obviously, life has always presented me with open doors and many options. I'm just conscious right now that every door I walk through may slam shut and lock another door.

If I say "I do" to my chemistry-minded, quiet, athletic-but-bookish boyfriend, I close off all the alternate universes where I'm the wife of a pastor or a philosopher or an extrovert or a romantic. Not that those options are even available practically, but theoretically, I had those opportunities, and now I don't.

If I get married straight out of college, my choices of grad school and work shrink. If I add a child to that mix, those options pretty much get wiped off the table for quite a while.

This is what it means to "make a life," right? To make decisions and face the consequences, good or bad, that stem from them.

It's incredibly exciting to do this life thing, to step into fuller being, to window shop the myriad of lives available to me. And it's also ridiculously scary. What if I make a stupid decision? What if I get into a job field I hate? What if my marriage brings less happiness than I wanted? What if I end up hating motherhood? What if I can't have children or don't get married or end up working retail for the rest of my life? Even as a college kid, I know: it's hard to make dreams happen when you've got bills to pay and lives to love.

It helps to remember that nobody can have it all. The more conservative side of Christianity likes to remind women of that, to trap them into an either/or of marriage and children or careers and hobbies. And they're right that nobody can have it all in an absolute sense: nobody can embody three different lives and do all those things that three different lives can do more fully. Nobody can. Not a college girl, not a mother, not a grad school guy, not a husband. Nobody can have it all. 

Whether in the blink of now or in the eternal time scale, yes to something means no to something else. Yes to the Shakespeare play means no to sleeping in Saturday mornings. Yes to this internship means no to unlimited writing time. Yes to marriage means no to independent living. Yes to children means no to sleep, sanity, and almost everything else in life. (I exaggerate. I hope I exaggerate? I have a lot of young fathers as professors who make me think I'm maybe not exaggerating.)

I really do get to make a life...a singular, finite life with a definite past, a quickly-ending present, and future of possibilities gradually limited by that past and present. I'll grab on to this life I alone can live -- grab on and hold on for dear life. I've got one shot, after all. No second drafts. And that's okay. I'll celebrate with contentment the life I live and cheer on the lives everybody else lives. . .because while nobody can have it all, we can have all of it right now. 

Are you facing big life decisions? How do you handle them?

Image credit from Buzzfeed, of all places.

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10 impressions

  1. Whew... you really said it here. I've always been a dreamer and thus it is not uncommon for me to dream of being an independent diplomat, extraordinary teacher, cat lady and writer, solo traveler, and full-time wife to some amazing man ALL IN ONE DAY. Growing up is hard because I have spent so much time living inside each one of my many dreams. But like you said, saying yes to one dream, or taking a step in that direction, means stepping away from many many other dreams. It is tough, but I hope that we can learn to follow the inner sense of peace from our dear Lord. He has planned each one of our lives perfectly, and so we can have faith that it will be better than any of our dreams.

    Plus, if we are too scared to step away from one of our dreams in the direction of another, we will never go anywhere.

    1. I love what you said at the end ---- the thing is, we CAN'T just sit around and dream. Eventually, we have to step out and LIVE. And thanks to God's plan and grace, we can step out confidently, without fear that we're missing out. I mean, we ARE missing out on many, many things.....but we're also going somewhere. And that's a good thing. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!!

  2. I found this to be a very interesting and thought-provoking post. And after all my thinking I have come to the conclusion that I must view life's big decisions radically differently. I honestly don't think I have ever made a major decision with the slightest thought to what I might be giving up by not choosing it. I walked through the examples you gave one at a time:

    There was a point long before my husband proposed to me when I was talking to my parents and I said that when/if he asked me I would say yes. There was a point when I started dating him that was slightly scary, but I reminded myself that I was not committing myself for life right then, I was just dating. And then I can't remember anytime after that when I had any doubts about whether or not to take the next step. Not about moving in with him, not about saying yes when he asked, and certainly not about saying "I do". When I actually got married it was wonderful and significant and important, but it didn't feel like a decision. It was more stating in public what I already knew to be true: that I was bound to him forever.

    I graduated from college not really sure what I wanted to do. I headed toward teaching and in the process of getting my M.Ed. learned that I wasn't cut out to be a teacher. I got a job working for a publishing company because I love books and I needed the money. In that position I was given an opportunity to try programming because I had shown an aptitude for it. I joined the IT department of the company and that was it. I made a decision for the moment and then, once I got there I knew that after some fumbling I had found it. Programming was what I was going to do. Now, more than 20 years later I am still in IT and just as confident that I am doing what I was meant to do. I made some individual decisions that eventually led me to where I am now, but there was never a time when I agonized over a decision of what to do with the rest of my life.

    I always knew I wanted to have children because that feels like part of a complete and fulfilling life to me, for whatever reason. The only question was when, and while I waited until I felt ready to be a mother, the specifics of when are not really in my control - I don't get to decide that. Then, the decision to only have one child was another one that just sort of happened - there was never a time when it seemed right to have a second.

    Whether or not to go to college was never a decision to be made. Everyone around me and myself always knew that I was going. And I knew since I was a little girl that if I got into Harvard that's where I wanted to go. I got in and I went. Decision made.

    I tried to think of some other major, life-altering decision that I had agonized over, but I couldn't really. This makes it sound like I never have trouble making decisions at all, and that's certainly not the case. I think long and hard about individual jobs and which house to buy and hundreds of other things, but I pretty much focus on what I AM choosing and give very little or no thought to what I might be giving up.

    Maybe I am just odd . . .


    1. No, I think you just make decisions more intuitively and internally, whereas I think more externally and logically. My boyfriend thinks like you: he just knows, he just gets up and acts, and it's not like he hasn't thought about's just that he hasn't sat down and decided it. It's like what you said about getting married: changing your actions or declaring something that's already a reality --- not a decision.

      Notttt me at all. I'm really bad at letting things happen, even after I've decided on them. I'm in touch with how I feel and think about the matter, but that's rarely on what I base my decision.

      I'm also incredibly aware of the "rightness" of things --- rightness as it fits in with God's grace and God's law being more important than rightness as it feels to me (even though, tbh, I oftentimes want to just do what I want). If I'm not aware of it, everyone else is aware of it, especially with relationships. I feel so much pressure to not "settle" according to people's standards. People make love harder than it is --- so much scrutiny and interference and explanation. Even I, Queen of Explanation, hate explaining to people why I love Erich. I just can't. But I'm always on my guard against people's requests for explanation and justification.

      That's just how I've always thought. I hate it, really --- I'd much rather make decisions as you do. :)

    2. I do score extremely toward the intuitive side on that Myers-Briggs test. Even more extreme than I am Introverted over Extroverted. I didn't think about that in connection to your post on decisions, but I think you are right. :)

  3. I love your take on this idea--giving up all other possible options. I hadn't really thought of childhood being a stage of lots of possibilities and adulthood being where you narrow those down, but it really is like that. If you're interested, I wrote a post about this topic (well, making decisions, anyways!) just a few days ago and would be interested to hear your thoughts on it (insert shameless blog promoter face here):

    1. I approve of shameless blog promotion. I'll check it out sometime today and leave a comment! :D

  4. Thoughtful insights. I think though, sometimes in making big decisions, we inadvertently close doors that don't altogether need to be closed. Here's a thing I'm currently learning: everything is subject to change. And that means circumstances, people, and preferences. Up until as recent as when I turned 18 (five years ago) all I wanted was to be a stay at home mum and raise kids. However God radically changed my priorities over time to the point where, if I were to get married any time soon, I'd want to go into full time ministry first and serve on a team (something a bit like YWAM) before having children, and when I have children, raise them in an outreach setting. It's is a long way removed from what I thought I wanted, just five short years ago.

    Whilst I totally agree and get that saying yes to certain life choices is also saying no to others, I think we should be careful about slamming doors shut that God could allow to stand open for a bit longer. I mean, look at how my dreams and aspirations have changed in such a short time. Who's to say that you won't gain an extreme passion for a specific area of education, and throw yourself into that without a single regret? Who's to say that your boyfriend never get's called to preach the Gospel? Who's to say that as soon as you become a mum, you were hooked and never wanted to leave your kids? Who's to say romantic tendencies can't grow, or confidence can't extend to extroversion? You truly never know.

    And the thing is, you can't mess up. We all make mistakes, sure. But God actually isn't concerned with where you end up, who you're with, or what you're doing. He cares about those things, but His primary will concerning you is not what you do, it's who you become. And so long as you use every big decision in life to draw close to Him and grow to know Him more, it's never wasted. :)

    1. This is so good. I think I (and maybe even our culture in general) define myself by what I DO....but it's WHO YOU ARE that makes the ultimate difference. Thank you, thank you for sharing this!

  5. By the way, I am still coping with this post. In fact, I love it so much that it inspired me to write a post about a similar topic on my blog today (I gave you a shout out):


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