How Do I Do It All? I Don’t, and Neither Does Anyone Else

A few weeks ago lovely reader asked something along the lines of: “How do you do it all?

The question felt surprisingly jarring. First, because, quite honestly, it was a bit of an ego boost.

Do I look like I’m doing it all? Does it seem like I have everything pulled together?

As someone who scrounges for gold stars, it feels good to think someone believes you’re “doing it all.”

But, second, there is also a wave of shame and insecurity because, of course, I know – I don’t do it all.

Months ago – when I was the only one reading any of the content on this site – I wrote the following observations about a particular DIY blog I follow (this falls squarely under “aspirational reading” as I am decidedly unhandy). I’m going to repost what I wrote because the words still ring true:

[This blog] provides spectacular eye candy: gorgeous wallpaper, custom closets with colour-coded clothing, modern-rustic exposed beams. For good measure they might throw in a steaming latte sitting next to a flickering candle on a spotless countertop. With nary a coffee table book, Persian rug or chambray throw pillow out of place – their home (and thus their life?) looks practically perfect. Some days it’s inspirational to view this content and, other days, when my floors are littered with discarded socks and cookie crumbs and when dated light fixtures reveal a sink full of dirty dishes, my life all feels too imperfect.

Last week I happened to zoom in on one of those perfectly staged photos. The lighting was stunning, the distribution of objects within the field of view provided maximum impact. But viewed at 150%, I could see that within this aesthetically “perfect” stairway vignette there was actually cracked caulking at the bottom of each step. And scuffed treads. Another day, new photo. Dream kitchen. Zoom. Dirt and dings on the cabinets, crumbs all over the floor.

From houses to food to bodies to children (and everything in between), we’re inundated with images that suggest perfection. It all seems so…attainable. If we only could find a way to dress our family in coordinating outfits and make it to Machu Picchu for the golden-hour sunset shot – then we’d reach perfection.

But perfection is an illusion. When we’re struggling with our own basket of anxieties, foibles, and griefs, it’s so easy to look at something – or someone – else and see perfection. Perfection could be: a number on the scale, a figure in the bank, a street address or a particular type of car in the driveway. If only we could get that, life would be perfect.

I have scuffs on my stairs and crumbs on my floor (counter and table, too). And I often wish them – will them – away. But those crumbs don’t make me a failure, don’t reduce my value, don’t make my life less beautiful. They just make me a person with scuffs on her stairs and crumbs on her floor (proverbially and literally). Nothing more or less.

Some days I rail at the kids to eat over their plates and take off their shoes, but on the good days, I zoom out: I ignore the crumbs (or take the time to sweep them up without complaint) and say: Today isn’t perfect. But today is good.

Later in the summer, I wrote about how we tend to present our “highlight reel” – those events that either brought us joy or made us feel productive. This is the image we want to present to the world and, sometimes, to ourselves.

And to a point, I think this is good.

We need to seek joy and positivity. But that can come at the expense of authenticity. Because, no matter how much we might try, our highlight reel is never going to match our “real.”

So how do I do it “all?”

I don’t.

I’ve posted before about good things I don’t do (Thanksgiving edition; Christmas edition). Here are some more…

things I don’t do:

  1. Volunteer. For years I was active in church activities – helping with youth groups and singing in worship teams. But this all stopped (pre-COVID) and we’re now at a new church where I’m a small fish in a much bigger pond. I’m supposed to start helping in the nursery. Once a month. For an hour. I’m not on PTA groups, I don’t fundraise for any charity or chair any boards. At this point my focus is on our young family, but I know a lot of people devote significant time to volunteer causes which is wonderful. But I don’t do any of it.
  2. Work full time. On paper I work/am paid for 27 hours a week + as much time as it takes to fulfil my responsibilities in the small business I co-founded; in reality, actual working hours can vary from 10-40 hours. While that range can be frustratingly hard to plan around, I have tremendous flexibility in my work which so many do not.
  3. Spend time on fashion, hair, or makeup. My wardrobe is laughably small. I’ll show you my makeup collection sometime soon…if you can call my 5 items a “collection”. Other than twice-weekly washing, I may have spent 20 minutes on my hair in January. Seriously.
  4. Exercise. Aside from daily walks outside (which are usually relatively short and/or occur in tandem with spending time with family and friends), I have not been exercising. No pushups, no yoga, no strength training, no Peloton, no running.
  5. Cook elaborate meals. Most of our food is made from scratch, but I make simple meals on a rotating basis. I love trying new foods, but that’s just not a priority right now. As long as things are relatively healthy and palate-pleasing, I’m not aiming for anything fancy. I don’t make my own bread or my own kombucha or my own yogurt. That is what supermarkets are for, and I am happy to outsource the making of those products and many, many more.
  6. Read every word. My secret is out. My reading is significantly expedited by skiming books.
  7. Use social media. I don’t have Instagram. Or Facebook (FriendFace as John and I jokingly call it). I don’t have a Twitter account, or TikTok, or Vimeo, or Snapchat. I do have a LinkedIn account and I have signed in exactly twice in the last 2 years and have spent maybe 10 minutes total in those 2 years updating my work history.
  8. Enroll our kids in programs. They don’t take piano or violin or tuba lessons. Until summer, there will be no sports (each summer the kids play a summer sport and take swimming lessons). Abby has taken ukulele lessons off-and-on from school and some cooking classes in partnership with a local university and a few week-long drama classes. And that is it. No dance, no archery, no badminton, no ski lessons, no art class, no after-school programs, no math enrichment, no choir (we did a brief stint with this, but COVID shuttered that).
  9. Home renovations. I can’t/don’t paint rooms. I can’t hang blinds. We practically need to hire someone to hang up our pictures (and yes, there are extra nail holes behind a number of pictures; it would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic).

Below is our ensuite bathroom. We had a leak two years ago (as in 730 odd days ago) and have still not patched the hole in our drywall (and by patched I mean outsourced this patching to someone qualified to do this; I haven’t even bothered to hang up another picture to cover this hole). See also the 1970’s salmon tile, beige fixture covers, wood trim, and horrifically toothpaste-spackled mirror – I don’t think Apartment Therapy will be knocking down my door asking to do a feature.

And the hair straightener on the counter was actually NOT for my hair (see above regarding the 20 minutes spent on hair in January) – it was to straighten the collar on one of John’s shirts because among the things I do not do is iron. That is what my dryer is for; and, shhhh, don’t tell but I also machine wash all dry-clean-only clothes.

Side note: I look moderately hateful in this shot. I have clearly not mastered the art of a “neutral” selfie (see above re. no social media accounts).

Or remember these pictures from Christmas (aka: life in the renovation zone).

But I do a lot of good things too.

I’ll leave you with something I wrote months ago about everyone having their “thing”:

I don’t do crafts with my kids [ice wreaths and confetti aside]. I have no skills in makeup or hair design. I can’t paint a room, I rarely make bread from scratch, and I will stall a 5-speed car every time I get behind the wheel. Even worse – in a house full of fanatics – I can’t even solve a Rubix Cube.

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were reserved for cartoons. This was before binge-watching was a verb and forget about Netflix – we didn’t even have cable. If you didn’t get your butt out of bed by 7 AM to watch Bugs Bunny, you were out of luck. Aside from happy hours spent with Inspector Gadget and Looney Tunes, I vividly remember the Saturday morning service announcements put out by Concerned Children’s Advertisers. They came up with witty numbers like: “Don’t you put it in your mouth. Don’t you stuff it in your face. Though it might look good to eat, and it might look good to taste.” Does anyone else remember those furry little blue creatures?!

But the commercial I remember best depicts a series of kids demonstrating their “thing.” There’s Aiden, waving his magic handkerchiefs (against a backdrop of the same wood paneling we had in my childhood basement), while his sister shouts “Mom, Mom. Aiden cut me in half again.” Classic (to Canadian’s at least).

From bug collections to tap-dancing, skateboarding, martial arts, and dinosaur sound effects [the ad was clearly targeting a particular age demographic], the takehome message: “Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?”

Opportunities for comparison are everywhere. Power up your computer or swipe your finger and you have access to a world of women we perceive to be better: better workers, better wives, better mothers, better daughters, better friends. Few people are immune to this comparison game.

We know. These are curated snapshots and they don’t actually represent realityThese women have insecurities too. I’ve heard it. You’ve heard it. Yet that photo of the smiling family in matching outfits on the beach, or that impressive law school degree, or that sunset shot from a yacht off the coast of Greece make it pretty tough to ignore the messages we tell ourselves. 

You’re not enough. You’ll never be enough.

We live in a world telling us to embrace our strengths while it subversively asks us to recognize our weaknesses. We are, directly or indirectly, made to feel less-than if we haven’t mastered all the categories. Women – and I’d argue mothers all the more – are expected to: have a fulfilling career, be a good cook (healthy, organic food for bonus points), be physically active, and volunteer in numerous capacities; extroversion is a must, and don’t forget to prioritize self-care in the form of a yoga practice, meditation, and regular massages.

Amidst the drone of outside chatter, what if we could all say, with confidence, “This is my thing.”

[At the time I concluded books were my “thing,” but I think being a Memory Keeper is also my thing via big family updates and photobooks].

I haven’t read a book on how to paint a room, drive a stick-shift, or make sourdough. And that’s okay. Life is short and I’ll let painting and driving and kneading be someone else’s thing.

And I’ll keep posting my highlight “reel” of joyfinding with pretty pictures and discussing all that’s good. But let’s all keep posting about the “real” too – lamenting and discussing our hard.

Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?

Header photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

19 thoughts on “How Do I Do It All? I Don’t, and Neither Does Anyone Else”

  1. I loved this! We are so very similar. I am not handy at all. I usually have some college friends over when I need things hung on the walls and provide a meal and wine. And I would never paint a room again because I am awful at it! And I have blow dried my hair maybe 3 times since March 2020! And don’t wear make up. My office is reopening on 3/7 with the requirement to test weekly. So soon I will need to look more presentable. I was looking in the mirror this weekend and asking myself if I can continue to not wear make up! Or just wear mascara? I have had the worst skin problems but have barely had a blemish in the last 2 years, even though I wore clean beauty products and very light coverage combo foundation/lotion.

    Things I am good at though… I am good at connecting with people and keeping in touch, making friends in small settings (I loathe big gatherings – I prefer small gatherings of 10 or less but really more like 5 – except our wedding. I loved our wedding!) I’m an upholder so am good at achieving things I set out to do. And I am a good mom, even though there is always a little voice telling me differently, like last night when I warmed up cauliflower tots and Dino chicken for the toddler (he did end the meal with a ton of berries so it wasn’t allll processed foods). I never envisioned feeding our kids processed foods. Phil and I very rarely eat processed foods. But in this stage of life, they have a place and I am trying to let go of that guilt. When our kids have a more broad pallet, processed foods will be few and far between.

    1. My kids ate cereal for supper last night (and then cereal again for breakfast). It’s been that kind of week + weekend. Pretty rare for me (Levi actually said last night – you know what would be easy for supper – cereal, and I had to agree)…but it had to be done. So absolutely no judgement on the cauliflower tots and dino chicken. We are going to have egg and bacon wraps for lunch (moderately nutritous), and they are going to have boxed Mac n’ Cheese for supper (their third round of Mac n’ Cheese this week – once baked from frozen, once homemade at a friends, and tonight boxed). I might give them raw veggies on the side. I might not. They will survive and it’s what I currently need to do to survive.
      Tomorrow I’ll get back to more substantial fare (made another batch of Pinch of Yum’s Creamy Tortellini Soup this morning and it’s ready in the fridge for tomorrow).

  2. I do a lot of your “do nots” (volunteer, DIY, cook dinner every day, decorate, organize, etc.) but I do it for me… Because I’ve suffered from intense weltschmerzen since I was a teen, and if I don’t do ALL the things, the abyss is waiting for me. And of course there are consequences–filling my days with multiple small, non-urgent tasks does mean I’m not where I “ought to be” career-wise. Life is a toughie, for sure.

  3. I really love your blog BECAUSE you share the low moments, as well as the joyfinding. To me, the whole underlying purpose of having a blog is to form connections and help other people. Sharing our imperfections helps us feel connected (because no one is perfect!) and then your joyfinding helps by reminding us to find the joy in our own lives.
    I also don’t do a lot of things on your list- work full time, volunteer, and I DEFINITELY don’t spend time on fashion, hair and makeup. I feel guilty when I read about people doing volunteer work all day on a Sunday- why am I not doing that??? But then- and I’m not using this as an excuse- I’m an introvert. I need some solitude in my downtime, otherwise I’m exhausted when I have to return to work (for my job I’m forced to put on my “extrovert” hat.) So…. everyone is different.
    Great post! I hope you’re having a great weekend.

    1. Thanks, Jenny!
      I’m also definitely an introvert and I think it does really impact how society perceives people. Susan Cain’s book about introverts talks about our prejudice against introverts…yet as one I definitely think introverts bring SO many strengths to the table.
      In addition to introversion, I’m also very low energy (some of this because of health, and some of this just because of my natural tendencies – I’ve always needed a lot of sleep and preferred curling up with a book to just about any other activity)!
      Everyone is different, though, and I think we assign value to specific things (things that result in making money and/or maximizing physical fitness) while devaluing things like leisure, fun, and community. I don’t necessarily have any answers, but think these are very important questions to think through as a society, and I think of it in particular with regard to my own children and their future…

  4. Oh, boy. I read and take care of my pets. I mean, honestly, it’s what I do. I do the bare minimum at my job, the bare minimum at my volunteer gig, and housework is just a thing that happens if I’m listening to a good podcast and don’t want to stop. I show up, but that about the best I can say.
    I tell myself that it’s all about priorities and try not to beat myself up over my own. I prioritize what I prioritize and other people make different choices. It’s what makes the world go around!

    1. Hear, hear.
      We all have different priorities and I think society tries to tell us certain things need to be priorities that…don’t actually need to be universal priorities and can, ironically enough, derail us from doing what SHOULD be our own unique set of priorities…

  5. Great post, Elisabeth. That comparison game is a true joy killer, but we’re all guilty at times. Best example for me are the shots that compare “what you see on Instagram” (and what the actual situation looks like)…. amazing landscape pictures of a single person in solitude (and just outside of the photo frame, a long line of people waiting for their turn to get “the shot”!) or a perfectly curated shot of a living room (and just outside the photo frame all the things that were piled up outside of view to get “the shot”!). It’s so obvious/predictable… and still!

    1. Ha! I had one such shot where I posted on the blog our Christmas tree and then behind it a wall piled HIGH with renovations. I remember when I posted it someone said it was their favourite picture they’d seen on my blog…maybe because it did just show how from one angle it looked put together…and then from another angle just a few steps away…it wasn’t quite so neat and tidy after all.

  6. This is such a great piece! You have skillfully articulated many of my thoughts and observations of social media. It’s tough cherry-picking what we choose (and, also what we choose not to). I try to keep my “shared posts” authentic, but also a great deal of my family life is not disclosed because I want to respect their privacy. I especially loved your analogy of zooming in/out 😉 The big picture, I believe, is where it’s at…knowing we have a grasp on the general notion of doing alright, even if some of the finite details are a bit haphazard upon closer observation, LOL.

  7. I loved this post, I totally agree that we should all be saying with confidence this is my thing and furthermore supporting each other in that too.

    I hear you on social media, I think there is so much chatter going on that we can easily ignore, tune out off or simply not engage in the first place. I am on FB but I only use it to keep track of home ed groups, I reluctantly joined a few years ago as we were missing out on some great activities and I didn’t feel it was fair to ask friends to keep me informed. I am not on any other social media except my blog. I don’t read any blogs where the emphasis is on ‘life is perfect’, they are not the full picture, like you say, and I don’t think they are healthy for the writer or the reader. Like you say they can leave us with the impressions that we are ‘not enough’ as we are not meeting this weird standard that comes from who knows where.

    I also don’t like the ‘you should be doing this’ type of blogging either. We focus on what we are good at and if we want to try and improve on something we are not good at it should come from our own head and heart not because some else has decided it is ‘the thing to do at the moment’. That is another unhealthy aspect that can creep into social media.

    It also depends where we are at in life too, when our children are young you don’t have the headspace for much, that changes as they get older so your life can change too but without the pressure of others telling you what you should or shouldn’t be filling their time with.

    Thank you for your thought provoking post, it is wonderful to read all the lovely thoughtful comments too.

  8. Ahh. I skimmed this post the first time and didn’t have time to comment but this post has stayed with me. I really appreciate you sharing and bringing up so many great points. It always for an exchange of expressions of how we all feel this (although I’m off on my timing commenting now).
    Through my life and through 11 years of parenting, I’ve had so many times where I have felt paralyzed by the pressures. A lot of that pressure was self imposed as I would compare and feel the need to do or be a certain way. It’s been the last couple of years and some rough parenting patches where I have started to try and do things based on what’s important to me and my values. Those societal messages never stop talking! But I’m going to keep working at hearing my own kind voice. Tonight is pancakes – I will put some pumpkin in them (that’s a vegetable, right?!)
    Great post Elisabeth!

    1. Thanks! It really is a learning process of slowly trying to meet societal pressures and learning to understand that really we need to prioritize what really matters (and what “really matters” is so individual)! We can try to fill a one-size-fits-all mold, and that simply doesn’t exist.

  9. I love this so much! I know I am guilty of thinking that people are doing so much and forgetting that to do one thing means to not do something else. And we all spend our time in different ways! My priorities are always my family, my friends, reading, and blogging. I spend my free time engaging in those four different areas of my life and I am most happiest/fulfilled when I feel like I can give equal attention to all of them.

  10. There is so much truth here. So much. None of us do it all. And yet, we all do so many things well!

    I think it helps to know that most if not all of us compare ourselves to others, and find ourselves lacking. But knowing what we do WELL can go so far in counteracting those negative thoughts. I think this is why it’s almost more powerful – and productive – to have OTHERS tell you what you rock at.
    To me, you are an amazing human being who is balancing severe pain and fatigue with being a wonderful mother, wife, and friend. You bring joy by sharing your writing and your thoughts with those of us out in the virtual world. You bring your all to everything – your family, your writing, your engagement with life. And you just seem to be, well, a wonderful human being.

    I couldn’t care less if you wore makeup while doing it. 🙂

    I know – or strongly suspect, since obviously I am not in your head! – you didn’t write this to get a self-esteem boost from others. But it’s so clear to me that our self-perceptions and the perceptions of others are so often in misalignment. We are all so hard on ourselves… so just trying to do my part to remind you that hey, you’re pretty darn awesome. <3

  11. So good to read all the things you decided not to do. I have a few on my own and I its very freeing to just not do a few things. But Those things can also change.
    I sometimes wish I didnt do social media but as this is my job I can not sign of. And then I find a lot of inspiration there. I am not sure what “my thing” is though. I guess I would need to think more about it.

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