August 11, 2006

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Trying to do it all

Do you think Kelly Ripa takes Prozac? Do you ever scowl over your coffee at that ultra blond hair and that ultra white smile?

Ripa is starring in two TV shows while raising three children—while charming groggy Americans coast to coast.

And she makes the juggling act look effortless. Magic. As if there is no gravity tugging at her body or her mood.

Ripa reigns over the magazine covers we gaze at in the grocery check-out lines, feeling disheveled and dreary. She appears unwrinkled and unflappable.

The stars of today’s workaholic society are forging superhuman careers. Their resumes are airtight, leaving no space for vacation or indecision. They are always performing, networking, improving.

And while I cheer on the women breaking boundaries, I also wonder about the consequences of careers that never cease.

The toughest life lesson I’ve learned so far sounds obvious: You can only be one place at a time. Gain requires sacrifice. Investing here means losing there. Trade-offs are the currency of life. So choose wisely, guided by priorities you’re proud of, accepting the expense of your success.

Periodically, I deny this inconvenient truth. I try to do it all. And then my mother buys me books about the art of saying no.

As a single student, I feel like I’m being suspended, bursting with ambition and waiting for that gunshot to signal the start of my career and my family.

Technology poses as a magic wand, telling us we can carve more out of 24 hours, that we can be smarter, swifter and more successful.

Consider this sales pitch for a multi-function cell phone: “The Palm Treo 650 Smartphone makes it easier than ever to stay connected. It simplifies your life by combining a compact, full-featured mobile phone with e-mail … an organizer, messaging and Web access.”

Held up against different values, the same phone yields a different pitch: “The Palm Treo 650 Smartphone makes it easier than ever to stay disconnected from your family and friends. It complicates your life by bringing work into your home with e-mail … an organizer, messaging and Web access.”

The pressure to achieve is unrelenting. That’s why I appreciated the moral of the new film The Devil Wears Prada. An earnest young adult chases Life in the Fast Lane. In her high-heeled haste, she drops the pieces of herself that seem to slow her, but actually make her unique and prone to success.

When Anne Hathaway’s character comes to that realization, tossing her Treo into a fountain and flashing a huge smile, the audience rejoices.

From my perch in class, I have a great view of Lake Michigan. During lectures, I make a point to look at the water once or twice.

Last week, I walked along the shore. I watched a seagull trotting in the sand. I listened to the rhythm of the waves. And I searched for agates smoothed by the lake’s steady sweep.

I felt small—and restored.

Sometimes it’s good to dwell in silence, to toss the Treo and utter an “Alleluia” into the sky. To “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).

Even our Creator rested on the seventh day. So if your shoulders are aching, set down that backpack crammed with heavy books and weighty expectations. Give yourself a break.

(Christina Capecchi is a graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. E-mail her at †


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