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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Can Have It All, Part I

I wrote in a recent post about my desire to figure out a way to "do it all." I know I'm not alone in this. Most of my friends have a similar feeling, as I think many creative, intelligent people with wide interests do. And when it comes right down to it, I know that I can't do it all and that it's probably a recipe for insanity to really try. But I'd like to do most of it.

I've been thinking on this perpetual desire I've had to do more than I can really do, something I've been struggling with since I was in college, but which has gotten a lot more pressing since I've become a mom. Lately I find I've made a certain kind of peace with the limited but still pretty massive amount of stuff I do manage to do. I have a very full life and play many roles, most of them reasonably well, and in my clearer moments I feel proud that I pull it all off in spite of the fact that I'm not naturally very organized or efficient (it's amazing how long it takes me to clean my desk, for example) and the fact that I insist on trying to get eight hours of sleep a night (and actually succeed at getting seven most nights).

In my clearer moments, I look at my life and think I'm really lucky to have a lot of different cool stuff going on and so much stimulation in my life, and I know that even if I'm not able to spend as much time doing any one of the dozen or so things I really care about, still, I manage to spend a decent amount of time doing most of them and some time doing all of them. And, hey, that's really not too shabby.

In my more befuddled moments I think Shit! I'm not doing (or I'm hardly doing) X, Y, and Z thing I want to do! And on top of it all, I think my life is on the verge of being totally out-of-control!

Those more befuddled moments tend to become the norm rather than the exception during periods of my life when I suddenly have something new and time-consuming added to the already precariously balanced load that is any given week of my life. Like last spring when I found myself heading up a contentious search committee at school and when O. joined a little league team that had two ninety-minute practices a week, plus games. That put me over the edge and I really felt like I was losing my mind for about six weeks there. And during that period, I had to give up many of the things I usually like to do at least a little bit each week; my guitar gathered dust, I wrote no poems and read few, I neglected my journal aside from the occasional five-minute pen-scrawled kvetch, I allowed my typically somewhat messy house to devolve into domestic disaster mode.

That was bad, and I felt very harried and harassed for an uncomfortably long stretch. In my normal life, I feel harried and harassed on a pretty regular basis, but usually for about five or ten minutes (in some scenario involving one or both of my children) or occasionally for an hour or two (in some scenario most likely connected to adults at my school). And I can handle those short periods.

But suddenly, just as I've begun to feel that I'm making peace with what I manage to fit into my life and what I can't really fit in to the extent I'd like to, I find myself taking on new stuff, or (perhaps more accurately) reincorporating stuff I'd either consciously chosen not to do or things that had fallen by the wayside. And a meditation on those things, their allure, and my inability to give anything else up in order to accommodate them will follow in a future installment of this post.

In the meantime, tell me your story of balance or lack thereof. (Then watch an adorable performance of the song to which my post title alludes.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jinx! I've really been wrestling with this topic recently, too, though kind of from the opposite side of the coin. I have absolutely no solutions yet, as am thick enough to have just recognized this as an actual problem.

So far I've got:

1) I, Ellen, cannot. For whatever reason, I just can't pack as many activities into my life as other people seem to be able to do. It makes me tired and crabby and want to crawl into a hole, and yet I often feel shame when I hear others describe all the things they've done on their weekends. (I'm lazy! I'm missing out on LIFE!) Part of it is that, despite what I think others often perceive, I'm pretty much an introvert at heart and I find it all a bit draining. I NEED lots of alone time and... that's just how I am. I now know and accept this. HOWEVER!

2) However, I may be too tired for extra stuff for a good reason. I have given up too d@mn much of my life and time to work in the past few years, without enough to show for it. Early in my career I had fun working a lot and was truly doing what I wanted to be doing. The point of diminishing returns snuck up on me a few years ago, though, and I didn't realize it soon enough. I'm trying to make a major change in work-life balance going forward - and it's not coming easily.

3) My time management sucks, especially when I get excited about something. I'll work myself sick - though I am getting better about recognizing the signs this is happening, if only due to advancing age and not being able to get by on 5 or 6 hours a night for a week. This weakness I've known about for a long time, but could always power through with - longer work times! But I must fix it if I want to move forward and maybe get some of that time other people seem to have to do all of their fun things.

4) A new position in which I can be a "new me" is on the horizon shortly (hopefully), and I only know this: I need to be vigilant about wise time usage, saying no, and giving realistic due dates or things just won't change.

Other thoughts: In a way, it's a *good thing* that you assume you CAN do so many non-work, non-family things. I think one short-coming in my upbringing (that I also didn't realize was don't quite normal, or at least what others were doing) was to only focus on one thing. E.g., in high-school, no extra-curriculars unless my grades were good and I "really, really" thought I could handle it (I, perhaps mistakenly, took that as, "Ellen, you can't handle that.") In college, no job - focus on your school work. Well, life just isn't like that and I struggle trying to fit things in now. Or perhaps it's just an excuse. I think there's at least a little something to it, though...

12:13 AM  
Blogger E. said...

"not being able to get by on 5 or 6 hours a night for a week" - it took me a really long time to just accept that I couldn't live like that anymore. So hard to admit, b/c you're basically handing over another hour or two of your day!

One thing I realize that I have sort of given up in the last year or so is (for the most part) alone time. And that has to change, or I'll go nuts at some point in the not too distant future. But good luck with a job that's more amenable to having more you in your life. More on all of this soon. (When I can find the time!)

8:20 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I constantly struggle with this. And then I get even more annoyed because what excuse do I have? I'm not working. Yet I have many unanswered emails, the Sunday paper doesn't always get read, blog posts don't get written, knitting projects take forever. I know my health situation definitely influences how productive I am. But still it's very frustrating. I feel like I was able to do more when I was working full time. How is that possible?

9:06 AM  

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