One of the key ideas underpinning the American Dream is a puritanical belief in the merits of hard work. On average Americans work longer hours, with fewer days of paid leave than almost any other developed country.
On top of that, wages have stagnated for almost 30 years and there is not a single county in the union where someone working a 40-hour week at minimum wage can afford to house a family. Yet still the myth endures that material well-being is accessible to all by dint of hard work and perseverance.
Conveniently ignoring the socioeconomic realities faced by the majority of America’s labour force, the fallacy that “You Can Have It All” is central to the theme and title of Randi Zuckerberg’s self-help book – even if it is qualified by the parenthetical proviso that forms the crux of the subject manner.
Zuckerberg breaks It All into five basic headings: “Sleep”, “Work”, “Friends”, “Family”, and “Fitness”, insinuating that each of these categories is essential to leading a fulfilling and meaningful life. As such, it seems antithetical (or cynical – take your pick) that she lists FOMO (fear of missing out) as one of the elements preventing Americans from realising whatever idealised state of beatitude she assumes they perceive as their inherent birthright.
“Whatever situation we find ourselves in, there is one common denominator: we all feel incredible pressure to balance everything we need, have, and want, and to get it perfectly right,” she writes.
Her book is inspired by a realisation that came to her during a panel discussion. The moderator asked her how she balanced it all. She replied, “I don’t.”
“In order to set myself up for success, I know I can only realistically do three things well every day. So every day when I wake up I think to myself: Work. Sleep. Family. Friends. Fitness. Pick three. I can pick a different three tomorrow, and a different three the following day…. As long as I wind up picking everything over the long run I’m balancing my imbalance. It’s solving the entrepreneurs’ dilemma.”
To the uninitiated this might not seem like such an earth-shattering revelation, and perhaps it isn’t, but in the age of sound bites and short attention spans, it made for pithy press.
“And almost immediately I was quoted in business publications around the world,” writes Zuckerberg. “‘Pick three’ had gone viral.”
Not one to let an opportunity go to waste, and seeing publications filling column space with her words and ideas, she decided to get in on the action and convert her idea into cash, namely by expanding and expounding on an idea that could easily be encapsulated in the short space available for a social media update and turning it into a book.
She looks in some detail at each of the five categories, allotting chapters to each, and discusses their relevance and importance in a clear and simple-worded manner designed to be not too overly intellectually taxing to those struggling with the underlying concepts behind such lofty subject matter.
She gives sample calendar days to show readers how they might better allocate and prioritise their time, with helpful to-do lists to further illustrate the complexity of her arcane system – eg Monday, September 4: To Do: Family, Sleep, Fitness. Tuesday, September 5: To Do: Work, Friends, Family. Wednesday … well you get the basic idea.
She even provides handy chapter summaries that encapsulate and reinforce the content and further bolsters the book’s meagre substance with worksheets containing blanks to be filled in, so the reader can track goals against actual achievements and rate and rank themselves under headings and titles like Passionista and Super-hero, to mention two (albeit reluctantly, but not without a certain amount of disingenuous glee).
Experts are consulted and quoted to give a semblance of depth and rigour. “… forty hours straight is as much as I’m willing to do,” says one Dr Adam Griesemer, a paediatric organ transplant surgeon, when talking about the number of hours he is prepared to go without sleep. “After that, I don’t think it’s ethically correct to stay awake longer.”
Zuckerberg lionises the doctor for his work ethic, writing, in characteristic repetition and paraphrasing, of him “routinely staying awake for thirty to forty hours straight to ensure safe pickup, delivery, and operation.” Though she qualifies this by pointing out the obvious, saying that he is “literally sleep deprived.”
The book is interesting, both as an insight into the thought processes of an inveterate overachiever, and in how it reflects on the mind-set of a certain privileged sub-section of the American population. But where it excels is in its almost compellingly fascinating ability to convey so little in so many words.
Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day)
Author: Randi Zuckerberg
Publisher: Dey St, self-help