If having it all is an issue that we are grappling with, then a natural corollary to that should be the doing it all debate. To have, one must do. Or some one must. One cannot consume without producing. Even diamonds have to be mined.
Those who feel the need to have-it-all are the ones who know that they have it in them to do well in many arenas simultaneously while feeling the constraints of their circumstances (or just mother nature). The others who seek to have it all and not put in the work, are just plain dreamers, or let us say optimistically ambitious.
Those who seek a chance to have it all, are then, logically, in a position to make the attempt. Those who yearn for it most are those who are within touching distance, and even those – who for a while – had it all.
A house of cards, that once built, must collapse. Only to be built again and again. To build this, one must have the skills, the patience and the environment.
The one competence at the core of the effort to having it all is multitasking. Those who have learnt to do this well – whether simultaneously or sequentially in tiny units – are the ones who have often had moments of having it all. It is a skill, and like other skills needs both the know how and the practice.
For many of us, circumstances or tradition have trained us in multitasking. In traditional male dominated communities, the girl will be taught to cook, sew and serve while excelling at school. All in a day’s work. With competitive pressures, I often come across girls who can not only look after entire households, but paint and play and top their examinations too. The tiger mom comes to mind – she too is training the children in multiple skills and working towards this utopia where they will clearly be prepared to have it all.
Many men learn these skills too, but it is not common practice embedded in tradition. Often in societies and families where men and women are seen as more equal than not – neither boys nor girls are taught living (not just life) skills. Learning to focus only on one thing at a time, they do not hone the skills to achieve multiple ambitions. Maybe they find happiness in other ways, seeking not to have it all, but to focus and obtain the one thing that they prioritize. But they don’t belong here with our angst.
Those who have done this know that the challenge is not in multi-tasking. Once something has been reduced to a task, it is merely about specifications and delivery, the theatre of pure operations. Even a machine can do a task – if not now then soon. Now, it is about assigning responsibilities, negotiating boundaries and controlling the range of aberrations. Of course a back up or two does help. This is the stuff of which management sciences are made – delegation, assembly line operations, specialists, outsourcing. It can be done with a fair degree of accuracy. But that is not enough.
The challenge is in multi braining. How many things can one keep in mind, keep tabs on, keep planning ahead for.. simultaneously. Many brains in one. Some of them social, some emotional, some critical and others simply operational, amongst others. This may sound like a version of multiple personalities but it is not so, for the various brains operate in tandem, with a common core of values and of constraints.
Many CEOs do so – the successful ones certainly. They have the capacity to remember little details about the operations of various plants while having the vision to pen the future of the firm in broad strokes, the social skills to be an ambassador for their firm, and the emotional skills to take all the employees of the organisation in the direction they indicate.
Multi braining is more than a skill. It is a bit schizophrenic in nature, but not really. It is of a higher order than multitasking, more like a parallel processing brain. It may even be a step in our evolution, as we reach out, giraffe like for higher feed. There does not seem to be a term for this in science (do tell me of the terms that you find), but all working mothers will tell you about this. When one part of their brains bakes, organises and drives, other parts work and socialise. These are separate channels, all working together. The challenge is to keep them all alive and ticking, while not allowing any to dominate.
Those of us who seek to have it all are aspiring to this level of mindfulness in multiple dimensions which is why we struggle. We know it is possible. We do not know yet if it is sustainable.
A secondary thought: this must have an impact on the evolutionary ladder. Those who have more skills, and work them simultaneously must be achieving higher order efficiencies. Those who do not exercise multi-brain muscles must then be lower down in the evolutionary lottery than those who teach their brains and bodies to upskill themselves in multiple contexts. For those who do not try to have it all, does it make them insecure that they do less?
Next Time: Then the liberation of women will come from the upskilling of men