The Life-Changing Magic of Shifting Expectations

Angela Larkin

Angela Larkin is a graphic designer, illustrator, and half of the husband and wife team at Extra Small Design in Phoenix, Arizona. She is also the mother of a shark-obsessed three-year-old.

Are we still talking about “having it all”? The mind-blowing concept that moms (and dads) will both work and parent is pretty much a given these days — over 70 percent of moms work in some capacity. And there’s no shame in wanting what “having it all” has always promised: a great job, thriving kids and a loving partner. It doesn’t seem like a crazy ask. So why does it all feel so hard?

It’s hard because it’s not that simple — maintaining each area of your life takes a million mini-tasks. The expectation that we can juggle motherhood, a career, relationships, home life, extracurricular activities and whatever else we’ve got going on with some kind of grace feels like the crazy part.

Having it all really means doing it all, and it’s an unrealistic expectation that with 24 hours in the day, anyone can keep all of those balls in the air with a smile on their face. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. So today I’m going to share with you two ways I flipped the script — to change my thinking and redefine what having it all means to me.

Do Your Own Thing

It’s really easy to judge yourself for not being perfect. Just take a quick scroll through social media — a highlight reel of your friends’ lives and achievements. It can seem like everyone’s out there living fabulously, and that your life doesn’t measure up. One friend has a gorgeous, trendy home (how does she keep it so clean and minimal with two toddlers???). Another is rocking her career and speaking at a major event (how did she land that gig???). A third cooks magazine-worthy meals for her family, made from her homegrown organic kale (how does she get her kids to eat kale???). “Having it all” has started to feel like we need to measure up to all of these women, in all the ways they’re crushing it — but there are two really important things to remember about all of this:

  1. You’re seeing only part of the picture. I’m that third lady, with the organic kale pesto from our garden. First, I’m sorry, and second, my 4-year old is eating Target chicken nuggets because he would never touch a vegetable with a 10-foot pole. It’s important to remember that we’re getting an incomplete picture. The mom with the gorgeous house might feel like she’s at a standstill in her career, or the woman who is speaking at a conference might be stressed out about the time away from her family.

  2. Everybody has a Thing, and everybody likes to showcase that Thing that pumps them up, and that they enjoy doing. For me, it’s cooking; for others, it’s yoga handstands, or planning amazing vacations, or really knocking it out of the park with their kids’ Halloween costumes. But just like you, those other ladies aren’t great at everything. You’re seeing the best of them. And that’s awesome, but let’s support one another’s successes without feeling like we have to have the same ones. We’re all great at different things.

Redefine Success

The other important shift in my thinking happened several years ago, and it was a major lightbulb moment for me. I read a blog post about understanding and managing the roles we play in life, and the pull we feel to excel in all of them. The author hypothesized that although everyone’s key roles in life are different, we all have five or six important ones in which we have certain (high) expectations for ourselves. Instead of expecting constant achievement in each of these areas, the writer of this article said she focused on just two per day. Two! And this life-changing way of thinking is my gift to you. Just like keeping your daily to-do list to a manageable number, thinking of your life in this way redefines success.

I think of these areas like cups that need to be filled. Mine are Mom, Partner, Designer, Home, Food and Athlete. In a perfect world, I’d be a firm but kind parent, a loving wife, a great designer and business person, maintain a beautiful home, cook all of our healthy, nutritious meals, and kill it at the gym five days a week. And I think sometimes I am all of those things, but never at the same time, because: life. And tradeoffs. I used to try to fill all those cups every day; not doing well at everything meant I wasn’t doing well, period. Frankly, I was kind of a bummer.

With nothing but a change in thinking, I feel a lot better these days about the balance in my life. If I have a day where my focus is on parenting (the Mom cup) and I also make a decent dinner (Food), that’s a great day for me, even if I didn’t get much work done. If I have a heavy workday (Designer) and my husband and I work together (Partner) to meet a deadline, I might feel great about the work I created, but my son probably had more screen time than I’m willing to confess here. But as long as a bad day in one area doesn’t become a trend, it’s empowering to focus on your successes, rather than your failures. You’re still looking for some kind of balance, but it doesn’t come in a single day; it comes over weeks and months. Every day, I have things to be proud of. Every day, I am successful in some parts of my life.

It sounds really simple, but thinking like this really changed how I evaluate my days. It’s easier to let go of the negative and focus on the positive. I hope it helps you too!