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?”
things I don’t do:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Read every word. My secret is out. My reading is significantly expedited by skiming books.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 reality. These 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.”
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.
Nobody’s good at everything, but everybody’s good at something. What’s your thing?