In the course of a life, can we really have it all?
The YouTube video above — featuring a song from the 1980s Broadway show “Baby” — captures our wishful thinking, especially when we’re younger. In this scene, three women of different ages and life circumstances — but all on the south side of 40 — meet by chance in a doctor’s office. In a sweet and clever number performed by Liz Calloway, Catherine Cox, and Beth Fowler at the 1984 Tony Awards, they share how they want it all.
Way back in 1985, Norman Redlich, the dean of NYU Law School, referenced those Broadway lyrics in his remarks at our graduation convocation. His message: It sounds great, but most of us can’t have it all. There are choices to make and realities to navigate in a life that moves all too quickly.
So there we were, sitting among family and friends in beautiful Carnegie Hall, feeling a bit heady about ourselves, while thinking that the world was ours to conquer — and here’s our dean throwing cold water on us and suggesting that it’s probably not going to happen in the way we’re imagining it.
Among the sea of forgettable graduation speeches that I’ve heard over the years, I guess it means something that I remember this one.
Instead…how about a meaningful life?
Rather than chasing such an elusive goal, let’s focus on what makes for a good and meaningful life, while respecting the fact that we’re not able to control everything.
For some, that meaningful life may be grounded in raising a family, caring for a loved one, or pursuing an avocation. For others, it may mean devotion to a career or a cause, or perhaps creating something artistic or delicious. And still others may find meaning in overcoming significant personal or family challenges.
A lucky few may achieve a zen-like blend that allows them to check all the boxes. But for most of us, it will involve some juggling, choosing, compromising, and hopefully succeeding more than failing.
And if we are fortunate and play our cards well, we will get to do a lot of good things during the time we’re here.
Sorting through clutter
For some, sorting and tossing clutter — objects, emotions, experiences, what have you — may be a key to that meaningful life, especially when we reach a certain age. (Fill in number here.)
Okay, I’m the last person in the world who should be talking about reducing clutter. I’ve been a saver and collector all my life. (I’m a classic Cancerian in that sense.)
But that’s what I’m doing now, tossing a lot of stuff. You wouldn’t know it from the current look of my office or condo, but believe me, this year I’ve been offloading!
And you know something, it feels good. I have a pretty clear sense of what brings meaning to my life, and I am jettisoning or recycling the stuff that doesn’t connect with who I am and where I want to go.
These thoughts are especially pertinent to many Gen Jonesers. As I’ve written before, for our generation, it’s game time. As a group, we’ve still got a lot of fuel left in the tank, but we need to be open to how we can create really great years ahead and define our personal legacies.
This is a considerably reworked and augmented version of a 2011 post from my professional blog Minding the Workplace.