Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

Have you ever felt like you are just barely keeping your head above water? Like the number of chores and projects on your to-do list are growing at a faster pace than tasks can be crossed off the list? Like you are emotionally, physically, and mentally stretched beyond your capacities? Like, no matter how hard you try to make progress, you are on a never-ending treadmill of obligations and responsibilities that can only lead to disappointments and malfunctions? Like you are somehow in some way neglecting someone – whether it is your kids, your partner, your parents, your friends, your colleagues, or yourself?

Ever-mounting pressures, expectations, and ambitions can weigh upon us until we are just barely keeping our head about water. It is easy for me to become overwhelmed with daily obligations, relationship needs, and personal aspirations. There are relationships to maintain, nurture, and enjoy. There is laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning to be done. There are playdates, carpools, swimming lessons, and t-ball games to attend. There are freelance writing projects to finish, book goals to meet, and blog posts to write. There are books to read, hobbies to explore, and places to visit.

Sometimes it seems like my shortcomings and uncompleted responsibilities far outnumber my successes and completed tasks. It feels like my head is barely above water. Just barely.

But the amazing thing is that there is a certain beauty and grace that can come with just barely keeping your head above water. The water is actually an utterly delightful place to be – cool, refreshing, cleansing, and restorative. In fact, it may be unrealistic to expect – or want – anything more than our head just barely above water.

You see, despite the current hullaballoo surrounding whether women (or men, for that matter) can or cannot “have it all” (whatever “it” is), the reality is that no one can have it all. And, more importantly, we shouldn’t expect to have it all. Time and resources are limited and life is full of trade-offs. Rhetoric about “having it all” can only set us all up for disappointment when this unachievable standard is left unmet, making us feel like having our head just barely above water is a regrettable place to be.

Perhaps the key isn’t whether our head is just barely above water or not. Perhaps the key is whether we are able to move through the water with grace and confidence, whether we can appreciate and savor the cool, cleansing, and invigorating stimulation that comes with being completely immersed in the currents and tides of a full and well-lived life. Perhaps that is having it all.

This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge.  Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her fabulous photos.  Make sure to visit her website or facebook page.



  1. I read the Atlantic piece. I think the wording is unfortunate, “have it all.” However, I think she makes some good points about women’s integration into all areas of politics, business, positions of power and authority. We’re heading in that direction, but still have a long way to go. When our society becomes more accepting of dads caring for our young, and allowing women to run the world, it will be a better place. I’m not being facetious. I believe that.

  2. i really like your interpretation of the picture. that seal’s expression (if we can call it that) resembles my dog’s when she sits, basking in the sun, her face turned to the breeze. i’m sure in that moment she’s not wondering why she couldn’t have another dog treat! That Atlantic article troubled me. I thought she was incredibly brave, but I too worried about the premise of having it all and the idea that this isn’t also a struggle for men (she mentions this, but i thought it got a little lost). you’re right, we can’t have it all, and I think the article shows what men and women (and their families) sacrifice for power. it’s not women who need to change, it’s the culture of the workplace and the culture of dads (as the previous commentor said). I think this idea is something positive women can bring to washington and to board rooms–not so that we can have it all, but so that we can have better choices as we all seek our own version of balance. that would make it easier to enjoy the swim! thanks for the post!

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