Peter McWilliams, LIFE 101, You Can Have Anything You Want, but You Can't Have Everything You Want

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Peter McWilliams, LIFE 101, You Can Have Anything You Want, but You Can't Have Everything You Want

When I ask people that simple yet profound question, "What do you want?" they sometimes answer, "I want it all!" I often wonder, "If they had it all, where would they put it?"

    I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man.


There's an awful lot of "all" out there. And there's a lot more "all" to be experienced inside. The people who say they want "it all" either have not taken the time to explore what they really want, or don't realize one simple fact of life: "You can have any thing you want, but you can't have every thing you want."

Living on this planet has some down-to-earth limitations. First, we can put our body in only one place at a time. Second, there are only 24 hours a day, 365 (or 366) days per year. Third, the human lifetime is only so long (150 years seems to be tops).

The limitations become even more severe when we consider the time we spend on maintenance: sleeping, washing, eating--and some of us even have to make money to pay for all that.

We can't have "it all" because "all" is more than our "container" of time and space will hold.

Before you cry, "Foul!" consider: You can have anything you want. Pick what you want most and--if it's available, if it doesn't already belong to someone else (who wants to keep it)--you can have it.

The history books are full of people who said, "I don't care if everybody thinks it's impossible, I think it's possible, I want it, and I'm going to get it (or do it)." And they did. You can, too.

The catch? The more unobtainable the "want" you want, the more you must sacrifice to get it. It's not that you can't have it, it's that you'll have to give up many--and maybe all--other things.

I was once on a talk show and a woman called in. She said she wanted to be an actress more than anything else. She was quite upset that she hadn't succeeded yet. Our conversation went something like this:

    The Wright brothers flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.


— "How much time do you spend on your career?"
— "I spend all my time."
— "You don't sleep?"
—  "Of course I sleep."
— "Are you in a relationship?"
—  "Yes, but I only see him four or five nights a week."
—  "Do you have a job?"
—  "Of course--I have to work to support my two daughters."
—  "How old are your daughters?"
—  "Four and eight."

As you can guess, this woman spent about an hour a week on her "career." What she meant to say was that she spent all of her free time pursuing acting. Unfortunately, it's not likely that an hour a week will give her the success she craves.

My advice to her? After establishing that she loved her daughters and loved her boyfriend and considered them more important than show biz, I suggested she be grateful for the choices she had already made and her successful implementation of them. I told her there were any number of successful actresses who wish they had two healthy children and a loving, romantic relationship. The acting? Make it a hobby.

The phrase "spending time" is a precise and accurate one. We all have only so much time this time around. Spend it well.

Who begins too much accomplishes little.


It's as though you were in a large store (Earth). You are given enough money (time) to buy anything in the store, but not everything in the store. You can fit a lot of things in your cart (projects you start). When it comes time to pay, however, if your money runs out, that's it. And this store does not give refunds. At best, the store may reluctantly buy something back as used merchandise--at a fraction of what you paid for it.

Some people put a "want" in their cart--a new career, a relationship, a car, a house, a project--and fail to consider its cost: the time it will take to obtain and maintain the want.

They like to quote Edna St. Vincent Millay:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light.

While reciting it, however, they are secretly worried about the wax dripping on the new rug--which hasn't yet been paid for. At some point, they find themselves "out of time," quoting Samuel Hoffenstein: "I burned my candle at both ends, and now have neither foes nor friends."

Some protest: "Time is money, and with money you can buy time." Up to a limit, that's true. But you can't hire someone to do all the things you want to do yourself (flying a plane, ballet, race car driving, reading, watching videos). And do you plan to hire people to spend time with your friends, eat your pizzas, or to entertain your lover(s)?

At a certain point in most everyone's life--rich, poor, organized, or scattered--the wants outnumber the available hours in the day. At that point, a want must go a-wanting.

The solution is preventative: choose carefully at the outset. Be grateful that, although you can't have everything, some very nice anythings await your selection.
« Last Edit: 22 Jan, 2010, 01:23:37 by spiros »


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