“How do you do it all?”
I am pretty regularly asked this, or a variant of it, by colleagues, students and friends. No matter how often it is asked, it always surprises me because, truth be told, half the time I feel like a whirling mess, going from one chaos point to another!
Interestingly, it is always women who ask this question of me. I remember going through a desperate phase years ago, asking the same question myself of every woman I encountered who was achieving an awful amount while I felt like I was floundering, trying to do it all but doing nothing particularly well. I was convinced these other women must have a magic formula or that one game changing tip that would see me achieve capability-overdrive.
When I am asked for my “how to do it all” tips, my response is usually a garbled nonsense because I am always so taken aback at the question. I was asked a variant of it again a few weeks ago and, after fumbling for an answer, my mind went back to me asking the same thing years earlier and always feeling somewhat disappointed in the answers I got. I determined I would get clearer about my response and explore what “doing it all” means to me. So, today, here is part one of my own personal recipe for doing-it-all-success.
Step One: Heat Your Oven to 180 degrees. Acknowledge the bulls*%t that is “doing it all”:
Hi, my name is Selina and I am a recovering over-doer.
I grew up with the utterly atrocious “girls can do anything” advertisements playing on telly screens and adorning bus stops throughout New Zealand in the 70’s. Before my fellow feminists throw their hands up in horror, I acknowledge the ads were likely the result of considerable research and feminist think tanks into what will effect cultural change about traditional notions of careers for women. I am also extremely grateful that I had career opportunities that my mother’s generation and earlier generations didn’t have open to them. Those ads were part of that. They helped me think and dream big and contributed to doors, in all sorts of fields, creaking open for women.
Ultimately, though, those ads set me and my peers up for failure. The trouble lay in that those images of women mechanics telling us that “girls can do anything” bolstered us so much that we somehow ended up believing “girls can do everything”. It was then only a short jump to concluding our worth lay in doing it all.
We ended up doing the work of our mothers and grandmothers as well as the work of our fathers. We set about working like men rather than embracing that, as women, we are wired to work differently. That doesn’t mean we are less capable or less proficient. Often, it means we are more of those things.
Most of all, it has meant we are bone tired most of the time. For about 30 years, I have carried a “push through it and work hard” mentality. I have run myself ragged, believing “if only I can get my to do list done then life will be grand” or, even more appalling, “if I do it all perfectly, I will be enough”. The reality is that doing it all (not to mention , doing it all perfectly) is a moving mirage. The ‘all’ is a never-ending carousel ride with no clear start and end. I did and did and did, often at the expense of joy – mine and others - and my own wellbeing.
Of course, the cause for this doesn't lie solely at the feet of those ads. If it did, this situation wouldn't be as wide spread among women beyond the reach of that particular marketing campaign. The ads were just one distillation of a wider, prevailing zeitgeist. They were one of many cultural references to, and portrayals of, women forging more liberated work lives. Those ads were just the particular reference that had an enduring impact for myself and other women of my generation growing up in NZ.
Doing it all is impossible. It sounds so obvious now yet this was a truth that escaped me for so very long. I can’t recall when the futility of doing it all hit me. Rather than being a sudden epiphany, it has occurred as an evolution since the birth of my son. Slowly, I am recovering from all the doing. I suspect this step in my recipe will feel all very unhelpful because, at first blush, it certainly isn’t the single silver bullet that I was looking for years ago. However, until I started challenging my thinking about “doing it all”, I could never start moving past being that floundering mess, trying to do it all but doing nothing well. Just as most baking recipes start with an instruction to "heat your oven", this first step in my recipe was essential to me being able to cook, open and ready to implement the other parts of my recipe.
What's your experience of "doing it all"? I'd love to hear in the comments below or over in The Law Lighthouse Group's private Facebook page.