What Does ‘Having It All’ Mean to You?

by Laura Berger

Do you have it all? Or perhaps you feel trapped in a cycle of your own doing that could lead to your undoing? I am extremely thankful for my clients, but not for the state in which they come to me, as it is often the latter.

Helping women “have it all” is my professional passion, and I discuss and research the topic whenever I can. Recently I facilitated a top discussion called “What do you define as having it all?” for Forbes Women, and the insights were quite compelling.

1. Do we really know what having it all means to us? Perhaps the title of the discussion needed rephrasing for an online forum. Without the benefit of previous context from a conversation, many of the answers sounded much like the Hollywood dream. And who can be blamed for it, with the most celebrated TV shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad having the theme of living out a life adorned with all life’s toys proximate to their core themes. Even Modern Family, a masterful show that has two fundamental purposes—to have us examine our relationships with ourselves and others and have us laugh in the meantime—shows families with big houses and all the modern toys, with one spouse stay-at-home. I quickly suspected that if the question were asked a different way, the answers would be less Hollywood and more real. We quickly reframed the question to “what do you think determines your success?” We began to receive what one responder called varied “snowflakes.” We then added one word: “what do you think determines your life’s success?” Then, the answers then became even more compelling and personal, as respondents quickly shifted to what was truly important to them, in a less cliché frame.

2. People who practice gratitude regularly are more aware of their core values. My on-and offline surveying constantly reconfirms that gratitude is critical to getting what we want. Of course, there is the mystic factor of placing an energy of gratitude into the universe, but merely stating that for which we are grateful forces us to constantly reiterate and have top-of-mind that which we value most.

A colleague told me, “success to me is being able to work and be a good mom. But I am not the kind of mom who wants to be with my kids all day long. I enjoy my work and time for myself. I do not want to spend all of my time playing with my kids.” For the most part, this is already the life she leads. And yet, something was holding her back from feeling successful years ago? She, too, was plagued by Hollywood images and expectations of others. She felt inadequate. Now she manages the inadequacy through gratitude. When she is with her children, she is 100% present and thankful for those precious moments. Time she has for herself includes deliberate moments of gratitude. What’s more, she expresses appreciation for her clients, as she delivers stellar service. And now she is less exhausted, with the extra pep and focus gratitude adds to everything she does propelling her forward.

3. Having it all (at once) is often not the best thing. Far be it from me, of all people, to discourage truly having it all. Yet in reality, striving to have it all—as in ”Poof! Then I’ll be happy.”—can be dangerous. I, personally, quickly learned this when my husband and I took a jungle adventure years ago featured in the upcoming book, Radical Sabbatical. We pitched our jobs, put everything in storage, and lived in the Costa Rican rainforest overlooking the ocean where things would be perfect. We’d take a break from our break-neck jobs, waking up to a morning swim with the ocean in the backdrop and the greatest coffee on Earth wafting in the background. Toucans would fly from tree to tree as we read, meditated, and emptied our heads. We would go jungle hiking, waterfall rappelling, deep sea fishing, paragliding, and horseback riding.

We got all that—everything we wanted. But we left a lot behind. We didn’t have the conveniences of downtown Chicago, reliable phone and water, or our blessed friends and families nearby. It became the most challenging good fortune of our lives. So often, we pay the price to get what we want and don’t envision the true cost. You may say you do, but often when I bring clients through exercises that dig deep, they truly realize that having it all has flipsides we don’t see. For those who achieve their goals, reality becomes tangible and ever-present. We must truly sort through what we are striving for, considering objectively the good and bad, and taking time to confide in and heed the observations of others we love and admire.

With all this in mind, take 10 minutes to respond to the question, “What does success look like to me?” Write it out, and talk in feelings so you are true to yourself and not external influences. I’ll often use metaphors and images to describe the scene in my dream and how I would feel—a color, texture, or temperature. Then write about what you are grateful for in your current life. Do the themes line up? If not, you may want to tweak your vision of success. And then again, you may not. That’s the magic of dreams—they are all ours, and at the end of the day and with enough strength, the only thing holding us back from achieving them is ourselves and the choices we make—over which we also magically have complete control.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll realize that you actually do have it all! For that, I couldn’t wish more.

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