But you can have what's most important. I remember when I was little, my Dad would come home on a Friday night after work and a quick stop at the local for an end of week round. He’d always bring home a brown paper bag with 3 chocolate covered toffee bars from the dairy in it for me and my two older brothers. He was never very late, always home well before dinner.

No, you can’t have it all

My parents would then catch up with friends for dinner parties or a night out over the course of the weekend. Dad played squash and we water skied in the weekends. He was fit and active. My mum worked too. They seemed to have it all figured out. Work, family, fitness, relaxation and an active social life.

I can’t help but wonder what changed between the baby boomer years and now. Myself and my husband both Gen X’er’s have come to realize that you can’t have it all.

But here most of us are, living our uber connected lives, never switching off, trying to do all and be all to everyone, all the time. We want to kick butt and be role models. We want to pay off mortgages, prove ourselves to the world and live meaningful and rich lives that will allow us to reflect back with a sense of pride and legacy. But we can’t have it all.

Randi Zuckerberg posted a tweet a few years back that talked about the Entrepreneurs Dilemma. But this could easily be suggestive of work life balance in general. There is a fundamental list of priorities that are important to us that makes us complete, Randi’s  suggestion was that out of these five things you could only ever pick three.

  • Maintaining friendships
  • Building a great company
  • Spending time w/family
  • Staying fit
  • Getting sleep

This list doesn’t feel quite complete and you could easily add self development, spirituality and giving time to others to this. But she’s right. You do have to choose.

Balance is a tricky mistress, who doesn’t play nice with the pitfalls and pathways that our lives find us on.

Telling us that we “can” have it all is not the elixir it once was in the 1980’s when we adorned our shoulder pads and power suits, baby in one arm, briefcase in the other. It’s not just about women either, men are equally afforded the task of making tough choices when it comes to balancing their lives.

We do have to choose. But we don’t have to settle.

Life’s not just about balance. It is about choice. It’s about prioritizing the most important things to you at any given moment and giving them your best.

Daily, weekly, monthly we are all served up a smorgasbord of choices. But we can’t be all or do all. In order to be truly happy, successful, content, we must make our choices around those things we consider the most important, in the here and now.

Right now for me, my family and my career comes first. That leaves little time for a raging social life, but for now, that’s OK with me. I would rather finish work and spend time with my kids doing the small things like homework on the sofa or running a bath and catching an early night in. If I am going to be the best mum and team member possible then I have to make sacrifices.

Working with a company that puts family first and strongly believes in offering a flexible schedule allows me to sneak in a third most days, and since I have an extraordinarily cute dog she gets her walk while I get some vitamin D and exercise. A win-win. Perhaps this is the way forward for companies? Offering alternate work practices that encourage and exemplify prioritization over ones most important things as they come up. Companies like Automattic, 37signals, HelpScoutBuffer are at the forefront of the remote working movement and showing what can be done when we think about what work/life should look like.

Life is not a linear curve and often times we find ourselves re-jigging that list. It’s a smart employer who gets that and allows for wriggle room.

Companies that take a considered approach to building and nurturing their culture around core values that are most important to them will attract and retain those employees where there is a distinct fit. Providing gym or health club memberships as part of remuneration packages, offering day-care facilities or subsidized childcare and catering year round healthy option lunches in work cafeterias are ways in which a company can communicate their values.

Thinking about the culture you are developing and what sort of employees you want to attract means thinking about an individuals top 3 choices. Do you make it easy for mums and dads with small children by offering a flexible work schedule? or do you provide on site workout facilities? Thinking about your culture and about the decisions your employees make around priorities is a great predictor of cultural fit and eventually staff morale and fulfillment.

How terribly un-PC of me to say that in 2016, you can’t have it all. But the sooner we stop the madness and realize that we have to choose, the sooner we are forced to examine our lives and their meaning and steer ourselves towards a life that befits a sense of pride and legacy when all is said and done.