I Give Up on Having It All

04/09/2015 04:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015
Claire McCarthy, M.D.

Recently, it hit me that I really can't have it all.

For the past few years, during Lent, what I "give up" is working on Sundays. I can do housework and errands, but no professional work -- no catching up on projects or patient charting, no writing blogs. The day belongs to my family.

This year, it really didn't work.

I'm not sure what was different about this year. I think that other years I managed to do outrageous amounts of work on Saturdays -- but this year, I was busy doing other stuff on Saturdays (like grocery shopping and swim meets). So I got a lot less done. I did everything I needed to do for my patients, but the extra stuff, like writing blogs, working on projects or presentations, networking and otherwise "furthering my career" -- I did less of that, and did it less well.

It's not like my family and I made memories on those Sundays, either. We had a couple of fun museum outings, but mostly what we did was ordinary: chores, shopping, hanging out. Which didn't seem a great offset to the plummeting page views on my blog. In the social media world, you're only as good as your last blog -- and there's always someone ready to take your place.

Then, one Sunday afternoon, I played a game of Uno with my 14-year-old, Natasha. Everyone else in the family was out somewhere, so she pulled out the bag of "Glee" Uno cards, and we played it on the living room couch. First, we talked about nothing in particular, and then we started talking about boys and relationships and some birds and the bees stuff (the fact that we could stop talking and concentrate on the game whenever we needed to made it easier). It was a great talk. A great, ordinary talk. One we never would have had if I'd been "allowed" to work that afternoon.

It was an "aha" moment that would have been highly convenient to have had about a decade ago. Although, I'm not sure I would have seen it that way then.

Maybe it has taken living longer for me to realize that some of life's best moments are remarkably ordinary -- or start out that way. It's certainly true in parenthood. Relationships are built out of ordinary moments, beauty catches up to us in ordinary moments -- and every great accomplishment is built out of innumerable ordinary moments and tasks.

Careers are built that way, too. But the harsh, inescapable reality is that attention and time are finite, no matter how much coffee we drink or multitasking-enabling gadgets we use. We are ultimately human, and the sun sets and rises no matter what we do.

I was listening to Harry Chapin's song "Cat's in the Cradle" and I thought: I don't want to be that parent, the one who doesn't have time for his son -- who, when he grows up, doesn't have time for him.

I've worked so hard, and I want it to add up to something, to lead to something. I want to be able to be proud of my accomplishments. That's not a bad thing. But accomplishments don't keep you company, bring you cocoa or laugh at your jokes. Or play Uno with you. And they don't care if you are exhausted or sick (I took my first nap in years this Lent).

Now, I'm not saying that I've given up multitasking or that I'm not going to keep working hard or taking on new projects (I wrote this blog while supervising homework before running out to a meeting at church). I'd be lying if I said that I'm not happy Lent is over.

But I think I may take Amy Poehler's advice from her new book and practice some ambivalence. "Learn to let go of wanting it," she writes. "Career is the thing that will not fill you up and will never make you truly whole."

Your loved ones might, though. And there's a lot to be said for taking care of yourself, too.

I'm looking forward to the many extraordinary ordinary moments to come.