Why 'Having It All' Is Impossible

Thursday, August 02, 2012

'Having it all.' It's the phrase of a generation who fought for equal rights in the workplace. Earning an income, raising a family, and maintaining a social life became the ultimate standard of balanced success in the modern era.

But who's to say when you have it all? What standard are we measuring against? And who says there's an ideal life, anyway? In June, Anne-Marie Slaughter spoke to The Takeaway about her piece in The Atlantic called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." Within a week, it had garnered over a million views online, and is now the most-read piece in the magazine's history.

But Marie Myung-Ok Lee thinks we're missing the point. In a world that throws so many curveballs, uniquely challenging each of us, why are we comparing our lives to anyone else's? Her family history, her son who has a variety of medical problems, her career, and her observations on modern culture make her wonder who, exactly, ever promised us 'it all.' "The way society works, we have to have a judgment with [anything]," Lee says. 

Lee sees how people could look at her experience as a mother of an autistic child with severe behavioral problems and wonder how she could ever cope. For her, however, her experience is just that — hers and hers alone. From her perspective, she has everything that she needs in life. "I definitely have enough, and I'm grateful," Lee says. "I have more than enough." 

"America is founded on this self-help, 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' [mentality]," Lee says. "You can always improve yourself, you can always improve your life." Lee thinks that people are pulled along by societal demands and expectations to be more successful in every aspect of life. 

"It's the inwardness that we're losing," Lee says. "Instead of taking a moment to sit in your garden or do whatever you want to do, it's sort of like, 'Oh, I could go on Twitter, or there's something [else I could do]. [People ask themselves], 'What can I worry about next? What's missing for me? What am I missing out on?'"

Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Marie Myung-Ok Lee's son with Surfers Healing.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Marie Myung-Ok Lee's son at a friend's farm.

Photo by Karl H. Jacoby

Marie Myung-Ok Lee on a walk with her son.


Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Brad Mielke

Comments [7]

Julie Ackerman

I like reframing the question from "do I have it all?" to "do I have enough?" A friend of mine has a mantra - "I have enough, I do enough, I am enough." The more I say that, the more I believe it.

Aug. 04 2012 07:25 PM
John A from within practice

"You can have it All" is a marketing construct, ramped up a short time after "God is Dead" hit the headlines. Connect the dots? One fixes the other perhaps.

Aug. 02 2012 04:03 PM
NBE from northeast

I don't think life is about "having" or "wanting." What matters is what we do and who we are. The whole question about whether one can "have it all" makes no sense. Why should anyone want it?

Aug. 02 2012 03:43 PM
Peggy Murphy Mercado from Queens, NY

I just have to say that I appreciate this conversation and the actual article that Marie Myung-Ok Lee wrote. She makes such important points, especially in terms of those of us imposing our own fears and transferences on people who are living with 'difficult' situations.

Aug. 02 2012 01:04 PM

Nevada Barr is hardly your average park ranger. She is the author of many books.

Aug. 02 2012 12:03 PM
Donna L Barlow-Steeves from Halifax Nova Scotia Canada

Your lovely conversation this morning was extreamly timely to my own life situation. I have battled depression all my life and the view from that world is a tar-baby that keeps one stuck.It is hard not to ruminate on all that I have missed out on,and forget all that is present. Gratitude is the key. I have the sun in the morning and the moon at night. Truth is , life is suffering but there is an end to suffering to,and there is a way to end that suffering and many wise and gentle people who have come before you and who are with you know are traveling that path, so listen,learn and celebrate. This morning a lovely old gentleman complimented my smile and gave me all the reason in the world to keep doing so

Aug. 02 2012 10:50 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Maybe "Having it All" includes the difficulties of awfulness...

I am a non practicing Buddhist, no meditation, occasionally I read a book by an old Punk who became a Buddhist Monk named Brad Warner. He is an edgy kind of Monk...

Anyway, perhaps I was blessed to have grown up under difficult circumstances. The stress of growing up with Holocaust Survivors; people who were traumatized by what they saw, and how they survived, makes my day to day living not seem so significant. Thanks Hitler!

I don't buy into "Having it All" as some dream life. I know everybody struggles, and I try not to compare my struggles with anybody else' s.

I have my kids, I have my girlfriend, I have my friends, I have my dark comedic world filled with terror. What more could I possibly want...

I really do want that garlic slicer. I spent a lot of time missing company when I have dinner parties because I am peeling garlic.

Aug. 02 2012 09:21 AM

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