This summer Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, topped The Atlantic’s most popular charts and ignited a discussion in chatrooms and talk shows alike. While the conversation continues about the cultural and socio-economic implications of Professor Slaughter’s piece, I believe that this blog – written by female clergy – can be an excellent forum to continue the discussion concerning the spiritual aspect of this.
Many assume that “having it all” entails working in a meaningful career, enjoying a loving partnership, and mothering wonderful children. But, don’t forget about having an ever-clean, neatly organized home. And the wide variety of powerful, well-maintained friendships. And upholding important relationships with immediate and extended family. And creating a daily practice of study and personal growth. Plus cultivating physical fitness, eating healthily, and occasionally reading a good book. And maybe making space for a guilty pleasure. Or two.
I am not saying that these are not desirable goals. What I am saying is that this idea of “having it all” is misleading at best. (Or as a parent raising a toddler and a 8 month old who is “experimenting with solids” and maintaining even a semi-clean home is laughably unrealistic.) To be frank, “having it all” is the type of phrase that sells appliances; it was crafted to be appealing, even sexy. In the meantime, it engenders self-loathing in any individual who cannot do everything all at once (read: everyone).
On a spiritual level, I believe this discussion is less about time management; it really centers around the search for happiness. In essence, I think that the phrase “having it all” breeds a deep sense of dissatisfaction with one’s own life. While the idea of “having it all” can be motivational for some, when the definition of “it all” becomes too wide, the pursuit breeds discontent. “Having it all” acknowledges that every person is a multifaceted being; no single label truly defines an individual. This is true and good; but the problem arises when our desire to “have it all” overfills our lives with activities and becomes an all-consuming pursuit, without any opportunity for rest and appreciation. It is really hard to make the mental space for thanksgiving when we’re worried about trying to pushing towards the next great thing.
In Pirke Avot, Ben Zoma asks “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot. As it is said, “When you eat of the labor of your lands, you are happy and all is well with you.””(Pirke Avot 4:1)
Ben Zoma quotes from Psalms 128:2 as his prooftext; Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno notes that Ben Zoma means “that when the labor of your hands suffices for all your needs, and you do not seek more, then you will be happy in this world….”
However, in a world where we (generally) no longer eat the labor of our hands, how do we define what suffices for all of our needs? How do we know when we do not need to seek more?
Do not get me wrong; ambition is important. Pursuing meaningful goals gives one’s life vitality. The question is what is which goals do you want to prioritize? And how can you do this without feeling like you are constantly missing out on something else? How can we create a sabbath of the heart; one in which we can say “this is very good” and be satisfied (if only for a day)?
Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her wonderful husband in Ramat Aviv, Israel, where she alternates between being grateful for her two amazing children and dissatisfied with the cleanliness of her floors.