Having It All Vs. Having What Matters

Kate Northrup (Business Heroine Magazine)

My girlfriend sent me an article about the four burners theory. The idea is that you have four burners in life: family, friends, health, and work. The overall idea is that in order to be successful (whatever that means), you have to cut off one burner. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.

The idea that you have to cut off an entire area of your life, or even two, in order to be successful brings into question our very definition of success.

As a word, success is vague, at best.

Before we consider whether it’s possible to “have it all” and whether we have to cut out entire areas of our life, we first have to define what success means to us.

For me, I know I’m being successful when I feel like I’m being true to myself and that I’m making a contribution. I also feel successful when I have choices and I feel free.

It turns out none of these aspects of my definition of success has a monetary value applied to it. Success is a feeling, not an income level.

I haven’t talked to the originator of the four burners theory, but based on the fact that he thinks you need to cut off parts of your life in order to have success, I think it’s safe to say that he and I don’t agree on what success means to us. And that’s fine.

I sat this morning around a picnic table with a group of nine remarkable women at our weekly coffee hour.

Each of these women has carved an unusual life for herself based on making a choice to leave the structures and systems that told her that what she knew to be true wasn’t true and that she couldn’t have a career and a life that she loved at the same time.

We talked about how the pursuit of balance is bullshit, how we never feel ready for or capable of the things our souls are most calling us to do, and how we really can’t have it all.

But we can have the things that matter to us.

No one actually wants it all. We simply want what matters to us.

The pursuit of having it all will make you crazy. The pursuit of balance will likely leave you feeling like a failure.

Yet I have to believe that it’s possible to create our version of success without completely cutting off any of the most vital parts of our lives: our family, friends, health, and career. (Not to mention our spirituality and sexuality, which didn’t even make it into this theory. No surprise there as these tend to be the most mysterious and powerful, and therefore the most feared, areas of our lives.)

In fact, this is not a belief. This is a knowing. I have built a life that meets my criteria for success and all four burners (plus a few more) are cooking with gas. Are they all at the same intensity? Nope. But they’re all on.

Here’s the key that’s worked for me:

I strive for integration rather than compartmentalization.

How does that work/look?

I take walks with girlfriends and our babies. Health? Check. Friends? Check. Family? Check. Sometimes we even talk business during these walks. Career? Check.

I work with some of my friends, my husband, and many members of my family. Check and check.

I’ve built beautiful, close relationships with the people I work with who didn’t start out as friends, but have become friends over time. I consider them my chosen family. Check, check, and check.

Part of our business is in the wellness industry. Being in integrity and growing our business from a point of authentic attraction requires me to be actively participating in my health journey. (Notice I didn’t say it requires me to be in perfect health. That’s unattainable and puts way too much pressure on me or anyone else in the wellness industry.)

What if we lived so that there weren’t such clear delineations between the different parts of our lives? What if we moved towards integration instead of compartmentalization? Would we still feel like we have to cut entire parts of our lives off in order to attain “success”?

I don’t think so.

A life well lived can contain all the things that matter. The key is that each of us has to decide what matters and then be willing to let it run together so that we don’t always have to feel like we’re cutting something off when we choose something else.

I get that there are trade-offs and that we can’t have it all all at the same time.

But if we blur the lines more between the things that are important to us, I think we’d find that we can have more than we ever thought. Take the things that matter to you out of their little compartments and let them play together. Then watch as your beautiful, successful life emerges.


Kate Northrup (Business Heroine Magazine)

Business Heroine Magazine


We’d love to hear from YOU…

What do you think of the four burners theory? Do you compartmentalize or integrate your life? What does success mean to you? Leave your answer in the comments below!





, , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.
We like you! Do you like us?