Is It Possible To Have a Successful Career & A Happy Family Life at the Same Time?

Is It Possible To Have a Successful Career & A Happy Family Life at the Same Time?

Choose Wisely, Grasshopper. This Is Your Life We’re Talking About

The Choices We Make And Why They Affect Our Health

The last year or so has produced a few editorials and blogs about choice, success and how we spend our time. They struck a chord with us and went viral. And they may help us be healthier and happier, even on our deathbeds.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Why Women Still Can’t Have It All from the July/August 2012 Atlantic Magazine become the most widely read piece in the Atlantic website’s history. It was a thoughtful exploration of the difficulties that remain for women who “want it all.”

Slaughter suggested that women are not both able to have a successful career and a happy family at the same time–and won’t be–until our social structure changes.

Even if we are not able to have it all, most of us—women or men—spend an awful lot of time trying to get it–something New York Times’ Tim Kreider pointed out in The ‘Busy’ Trap on the June 30, 2012. This also went viral, widened the net to include men, and spawned missives like “Stop the Glorification of Busy,” which began to infest the pages of Facebook. Kreider pointed out how enthusiastically busy we all are, and how this M.O. is applauded, even revered in our culture. He makes the old-fashioned point that time may possibly be more important than money and that having it may be as essential to wellbeing as things like Vitamin D.

When reading Slaughter’s piece, I am struck by her interpretation of “all.” “All” seems to mean “successful career” plus a family—presumably a happy one. But Kreider’s piece suggests that family and career may really not be everything.

What about physical fitness? Spiritual welfare? What about play? And, if we can’t even expect to enjoy both a career and family, then what is the hope for success in these other areas?

In modern day society, and particularly in the United States, we like to think that, if we just work long and hard enough we can have everything, whatever “everything” means to each of us. In Eastern medicine we see that sometimes that is not the case. We have limited energy and resources and the more we devote to one pursuit, the less we have for others. Sometimes, the harder we work for one, the more damage we do to the others. If I work 40-60 hours a week on my career, will I really have time to cook healthy food for myself? Devote a little time to nourishing my spirit? Exercise a little? Throw in a family and the chances of personal health dwindle and the possibility of success in all areas drops below the horizon.

Why would these editorials go viral unless they resonate with something in us as a culture? If we are indeed longing for more time and space to nourish our spiritual and physical health, why don’t we just slow down?

I think it is fear. We are afraid that, should we slow down and live the lives we want to be living, that everything will fall apart.

And maybe it will. I certainly couldn’t promise that it wont. But what I can say is that I’ve never seen it happen. Not to myself, my patients, students, friends, colleagues. Not to anybody I know. On the contrary, when people take steps to slow down their lives and enjoy them more, their lives tend to improve.

Ironically, it does not take courage to stay on the treadmill. It takes courage to step off the treadmill and live the life we want to be living.

Why should we?

Because, if we don’t, we always have a nagging suspicion that we are living the wrong life. This creates a backdrop of tension on the stage of our lives. This stimulates increased production of stress hormones, which then irrigate and tax our organs and tissues. This chronic imbalance increases our chances of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, auto immune disorders, digestive disorders, reproductive disorders and just about anything else that can go wrong.

When health suffers, we have less of what it takes to go after anything, what to talk of “everything.” We have to prioritize our desires.

We might consider what will be most fulfilling in the end. Bronnie Ware is the author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. What began as a blog, flew around the world and internet, and grew into a book. Here are the top two regrets:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

If we slow down and make more conscious choices about where to spend our emotional, physical and financial resources, we may more fully enjoy our lives, our health, and our final scene on this stage.


Published first in A Distinctive Style in 2012

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