Last summer I was at a panel on vocations that included married, religious, and priests. They basically talked about being called to their particular vocation, the challenges in it, etc. At one point, someone had asked the Franciscan sister about all that she had to give up to be a sister or something to that effect. She replied, “You can’t have it all. You have to choose.” She went on to say that she saw millennials stalled in life because they were afraid of choosing. Choice means cutting off possibilities, and we want to keep all our options open. We were raised to be whoever we wanted to be, to have it all. But this sister was saying that that was impossible. You can’t have it all. You have to choose.
Her words have stayed with me for months, because I’m one of those millennials she was talking about. I’m afraid of heading down a path I’ll regret. I want escape routes and backup plans. I want to keep my options open, just in case. Which is another way of saying I want it all; I want all the choices.
But if you have all the choices, all you have is choices. There is no commitment, no purpose, no sacrificial love. You can’t have it all; why would you even want it all? “Have it all” became a rallying cry for many women who wanted to climb the corporate ladder and still manage the home. There are dozens upon dozens of movies about women learning how to balance the two worlds. “You can have it all” became “You should have it all.” You should want career advancement and a stable family. You should work 60 hours a week and keep the home clean and wear heels and buy a house and update your Instagram and get a bonus and pass on worldly wisdom to your children. You are entitled to whatever you want in life. But what if life has limited time and resources? What if some of your dreams conflict with others? What if what you want isn’t what you need? What if your plan and your purpose aren’t the same thing?
Modern individualism shuns the idea that you can’t have or be exactly what you want. (Yet at the same time, the trope of the chosen hero, fulfilling his destiny, remains inexplicitly popular.) But if our hearts are set on God, we should be what he wants us to be, who he made us to be. It’s not about settling or giving up on a dream. It’s about finding true fulfillment by making the choice and making a commitment.
We have free will. We can shape our lives as we please. But fulfillment will come from commitment, not achievement, from ordering our lives toward the single goal of serving God, not the varied life goals we place on ourselves. Life isn’t about checking off a list of achievements; it’s about journeying toward God, becoming a better person and bettering the world around you. You can do that in any role: a working mother, a religious sister, a doctor, a wife, an artist, a combination of the above. But you have to slow down long enough to understand and commit. By letting go of some of the options, closing some doors, waking from some dreams, we are left to find our purpose exactly where we are. Choose, commit, and live a life of intention and dedication.