Measuring time

Measuring time (Photo credit: aussiegal)

Is there a way, using math or science, to measure whether you “have it all,” as they say? Is it quantifiable?

I mentioned back in this post, Having it all: finding a balance between work and life no matter your gender, that I don’t put a lot of stock in the (almost always sexist) concept of having it all. I also don’t really believe that how much money you have a good indicator of how well you’re doing. (See: Is money the best way to keep score in the game of life?) But I thought it might be an interesting experiment to consider whether it’s possible to measure whether you, indeed, have it all. 

Now, before we begin, in my own opinion, if you’re happy and you feel like you’re mostly getting to do what you want in life with only reasonable sacrifices, you have it all. The ultimate measure of it is how you feel and, if you’re happy and surviving, boom, you’re winning. But, for the sake of science, let’s see if there’s some kind of way we could measure it, just for fun.

The media seems to define having it all as having time to spend with your family and still have a fulfilling career. I would expand this to say that it isn’t just family, it’s anything you want to do with your time away from work. For the purposes of this, having it all is the point at which the cost of doing what you want to do is in line with how much you need to earn from doing it. We could totally calculate that!

I’m going to use myself as a guinea pig here. What would represent having it all for me? Being able to stay home with my daughter and getting to spend as much time with her and the rest of my family as I’d like, working on things I’m passionate about such as my company and my writing while still earning enough that we stay at our same financial level as a household as we did before we had a kid. But how would I measure that?

While I can’t put an exact number value on the time I spend with my daughter, there are some real world numbers I could use. For instance, if I wasn’t home with my daughter and running a small business, what would I be making a year? I could use my actual income by averaging the last few years of running my business but instead I looked up the average household income in NJ for last year and divided it in half to represent what the average individual in my area makes a year. Of course, if I was in a normal full time job, my daughter would have to be in daycare so I have to figure that in. Then I looked up the average cost of day care in my area for her age (and, damn, NJ is an expensive state) and subtracted that from the average income.

So now I’ve got an actual number in front of me and I know exactly how much the average person in my area would be making if working full time with a toddler in full time day care. But what do I do with it? Why not compare it to the amount of income I’m actually bringing in as a work-from-home parent?

If I make that amount or greater each, can’t I safely say that I have it all? We’d be able to stay a two income home AND still have a stay-at-home parent with the little one. If I have a fulfilling career that I love , get to spend that extra time with my daughter and the numbers work out financially, haven’t I just shown with good old math that I’m winning?

Of course, it’s not as simple as that for everyone.

What if you’re a working parent or someone who loves their career? What would your equation look like then? Well, it depends on what’s important to you. If you don’t have kids, it’s finding the right balance between what you have to do and want to do. For parents or caregivers, maybe you don’t care how much you make, you just want to make sure that you make enough that your children/parents have the best possible care while you’re doing what you love. Or maybe you just care that the job you like well enough and allows you to make ends meet, leaves you enough time to do what you want with who you want to do it with.

I used money as the measure in my equation because my main concern was making sure I could have my fun while still contributing the same to the household income. For you, the equation may be about time or a percentage of good days or bad. You can come up with any measure you want. The point is to figure out, in quantifiable terms, if you do indeed have everything you want so that, if you don’t, you can adjust accordingly.

It’s an interesting mental experiment to run. Because the idea of “having it all” is so loaded and is often something many of us (especially women) feel guilty about, this is a way to make it feel less personal and reason it out with math. I’ve actually been running this little experiment on myself so far this year (comparing my income by the method outlined above) and it’s really pushed me to work harder than ever because I really want those numbers to work out. It’s also oddly made me much more at peace with my work/life balance because, no matter what my inner guilt monsters may say, the numbers show I’m not doing so badly after all.

What other ways can you think of to figure out, analytically, if you really have it all?