You Can't Have It All

Dear Millennial Women:

You can’t have it all, not even close. This is a message that is difficult to swallow because it flies in the face of the cultural lies that have been imposed upon you. More importantly, it runs counter to how God created you. Misconceptions around what we can do and what we should do convolute our understanding of our role and purpose in the world.

I think the modern feminist movement has led us a bit astray here. It’s one thing to say that women should be able to try to be anything a man can be. It’s another thing to set expectations that women can be anything they want. That is simply untrue and runs counter to how God created us.

This is why you need a biblical view of your calling and abilities. As Hugh Whelchel has written, it’s a lie that you can be anything you want to be. It’s a lie that distorts the biblical idea of calling and success, and sets you up for disappointment and failure. The Bible teaches something far different. Whelchel writes in one blog post that,

“Followers of Christ are called to find their unique life purpose in order to use their particular gifts and abilities for God’s glory. If we as Christians employ our real gifts through our vocational callings, we should find a rich sense of joy – and even adventure – in knowing that we are moving in God’s will for our lives.”

We can only be what God created us to be. I am an economist because that’s how God made me – I am by design not a star athlete, an engineer, or an astronaut. I could never have been any of those things because of how God specially made me. This is true for all of you.

There are some important economic realities underlying all of this:

  • Scarcity: None of us can have everything we want when we want it. We live in a world where scarcity is our reality. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, what college you went to, or how organized you are. You still face scarcity. All of your choices bring costs and tradeoffs. Nothing is free.

  • Diminishing returns to scale: This is an economic concept that helps us understand how scarcity manifests itself in our daily lives. Have you noticed that the first consecutive hour on a project is more productive than the 4th, which is likely more productive than the 8th? It’s because we grow tired as we direct our efforts and energy into something. We are finite beings with real limitations.

  • Comparative advantage: This is an economic principle that helps us understand the benefits of trading with others. We can’t produce everything we need because we have specific gifts and skills. I don’t make my own clothes because I’m not very good at it, so I outsource it to people who are experts in sewing. This frees me up to focus on what I am good at. When each of us focuses on our gifts it allows us to truly be the best that we can be.

I think comparative advantage is the most difficult for millennial women to accept. It’s easy to accept that we are gifted and skilled at certain things and that we can and should be experts at them.

The flip side of this is the reality check. You can’t be anything you want to be—because you are inherently limited. It also means that you probably won’t be the best in the world. That’s okay too. God didn’t promise that we would be the best in the world, but he did promise that we can be the best he created us to be, and that is fulfilling.

For up-and-coming millennial women, recognizing limitations can be a devastating blow because it runs counter to the rhetoric that you can manage it all. The culture suggests that if you can’t manage it all, you are somehow doing it wrong. What you are actually doing wrong is trying to do it all.

The best we can do is to equip ourselves with godly wisdom about what our lives are supposed to be. God’s view of success is much different than the world’s definition. You are uniquely created and your job is to do the best you can at being who God created you to be. Think of the Parable of the Talents: we all have different types and degrees of talent, but our job is to steward them wisely.

It may not be glamorous — I am reminded of this when I’m changing diapers at 3 am – but it is glorious. Living out who God has called us to be is the very best we can do, and we should do it proudly.

Dr. Anne Bradley

Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley is the vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and she also teaches at The Institute for World Politics and George Mason University. Additionally, she is a visiting scholar at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Connect with her on Twitter.