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All The Things.

Oct 17, 2023

I don’t know how you do it.

Chances are you’ve heard a similar statement. For me, it was at least three times per week for most of my adult life. And I get it. I was pursuing advanced degrees while growing a career that came with huge responsibilities, expectations, and relocations, all while pursuing family goals. But I always found it to be a peculiar sentiment for someone to express to me.

Growing up as a Generation Xer, society made it clear we could be anything we want to be. Our generation would be the one to crack the code on “having it all.” A stellar career, thriving family, wealth, power, beauty, “success.” Yet when we reached adulthood, thick in the pursuit of having it all, people seemed surprised at the magnitude of the juggle. The struggle. The never-ending balancing act. Was it really so surprising?

Those who know me know that I banned the word balance from my thinking years ago, replacing that ridiculously impossible concept with one of integration. It helped not only as a response to the apparent collective baffle as to how I was doing life, but it was also a necessity. All the things weren’t possible without each being entangled with the other. Did certain things take priority? Of course. Did those priorities shift often within the hour? Yes. But no matter what, each facet was never truly independent. Work overlapped with family. School overlapped with personal time. Family overlapped with everything.

Maybe that’s how it was supposed to be. The opportunities afforded to me personally and to a generation of other women in particular, are extraordinary and should be celebrated in the context of forward progress. Or maybe, “having it all” was mistakenly conceptualized as a final destination, rather than an ongoing pursuit. A pursuit where circumstances change, priorities shift, extrinsic and intrinsic forces dictate decisions, choices are made. Ada Calhoun captures it perfectly in her 2020 book, “Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis.” Many Gen X women feel they have no right to complain about their circumstances, when millions of women before us fought for the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy.

But oftentimes gratitude comes with complexity. Similar to the mess that is made while producing a masterpiece. I’m grateful for the freedoms, access, and encouragement I’ve had. At the same time, I’m frustrated that nobody ever talked about WHY we wanted to pursue “it all.”

As I wrote about last week, when you invest in yourself and quiet the noise, your purpose not only becomes clear, but you also create space for an abundance of the things YOU actually want. As opposed to all of the things that you should have just because you can have them.

Your purpose is unique to you. It is your personal “why” for showing up every day. And the amazing thing about it is that it can change as we change. It always remains the north star guiding the decisions we make along our path, pulling us forward. Yet at the same time, it has the power to simultaneously push us from behind.

In philanthropy and higher education, many of us share a similar “why”, which is anchored in serving others. The reasons behind it might look different. The methods by which we serve might look different. But people are at the core. They pull us into fulfilling, rewarding, and worthwhile career paths, while pushing us to keep going when it becomes overwhelming, discouraging, and exhausting.

It’s a beautiful display of the art and science behind our unique professional field. I’m privileged to be part of it. But not because I have to chase the next big title or reach the next rung on the ladder. Instead, I’m privileged because I’m able to fill the space I’ve created for my purpose with an abundance of service, stories, and accomplishments, knowing I’m not trying to reach a destination where it “all” magically appears one day. Collecting everything I’m meant to have along the way sounds like a much better idea.

Michael Macrae can help you easily navigate the steps to simplicity.

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