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Lucy Mangan “We need a new definition of having it all”

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God knows, I’m knackered. I’ve never known fatigue or stress like that involved in looking after a young child. My son is now two and it’s supposed to start getting easier now.

I certainly hope so. But you know what? That’s just two years. And two years of doing a thing I chose to do and went into with my eyes open about what it involves. I am still nowhere near the chronic levels of tiredness and stress I see in my friends.

Anyone with a ‘proper’ (ie non-freelance-journalist-workingfrom- home-in-her-pyjamas-andmanaging- a-shower-every-other-day) job is grey with one and jittery with the other by the middle of the week. And two days of weekend – even if they weren’t intruded upon by emails and text messages from bosses unfamiliar with the concept of days of rest – are no longer enough to restore them to health and vigour.

They are, in the terms we all understood it to mean when we (yes, even me back in the day) first started our proper jobs, succeeding. They have money and power within their chosen fields. But at what cost? Living to work instead of working to live is a bizarre state of affairs, when you stop and pull back long enough to consider it properly.

Which is why Arianna Huffington, the 62-year-old creator of news website The Huffington Post held a conference to launch a global discussion about our need to redefine success. As a woman who has succeeded so plentifully on almost any terms you care to name, she is now free to consider these things more philosophically and has stated that we should measure our true success in life in terms of, ‘wellbeing, wisdom and our desire and ability to give back’.

We need to find, as she puts it ‘a third metric’, in addition to the traditional corporate markers of achievement – money and power – that will allow all of us to ‘succeed’ in a more humane and sustainable way. In specifically female terms, I’d suggest we need a new definition of ‘having it all’ which doesn’t involve believing in the mathematical impossibility that you can fit a full measure of professional achievement, a full measure of personal achievement and a full measure of flawless caring for children/husband/ageing parents/all three into one little life.

Why do we work towards goals that won’t make us happy?

Euclid said it first – the greater into the less won’t go, and he was talking about the neat and ordered world of numbers. Imagine him faced with the sprawling demands of a modern human life. Something does indeed need to change. It’s time we all asked ourselves why are we living in an impossible struggle towards goals that won’t necessarily make us happy and who is benefitting from it?

The first answer is simply inertia. This is how the modern system was first set up and so we have continued with it, until the creaks and groans of machinery buckling under the increasing weight it is bearing have become too deafening to ignore. And who stands to gain from this (it surely isn’t the workers)? The elite, those in government and at the head of big business and banks, who legislate (overtly – or covertly, by means of personal nudges, donations and back room deals) to maintain the status quo.

You busting your hump day after day, sacrificing your personal wants, needs and quality of life to fill their pockets via tax revenues or profits is only good news for them. There is no reason on earth for them to care about you as a person, fulfilled or otherwise. Perhaps if something would attack them right in the profit glands, where it most hurts, things would change.

But it would be a big and doubtless expensive undertaking and I wouldn’t bet on it. There needs to be a revolution in individual thinking. We need, en masse, to start believing that we are worth more than we receive and, owe our employers nothing more than a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

We need a definition of success that privileges activities that feed our souls as well as our employers’ coffers. Of course the recession – that governments and employers of various stripes essentially caused – makes it a bad time to call for any kind of gentler, more rounded and fulfilling existence. But let’s at least start the discussion. Then, perhaps, when there is enough work to go round, we can start to have some life outside it too.”

(Image: Rex Features)

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