A dear, thoughtful friend of mine bought me a book called 'For The Love' by Jen Hatmaker for my birthday. Jen's writing (blog and books) have sustained me when I felt like I needed a good dose of straight talk, a space to laugh away from the heavy stuff and the opportunity to cut to the heart of things and nod my head as she addresses the struggles we face as women with jobs, families and other assorted life things we are expected to see to all at the same time. This book has been a breath of fresh air, with the tag-line hooking me in from the get-go: "Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards". PHEW. Sold. Sign me up.
True story: There is this one chapter where she deals with 'Fashion Concerns' that had me shaking the entire bed and in tears as I tried to contain my laughter with Dave trying to get to sleep beside me. I could not get it together, it did not end well for poor Dave. No amount of me trying to read it back to him so he could understand the hilarity of it in the cold light of the next day worked either. He actually got me a book light for our anniversary the next week so there was no love lost, but it was a close call. The roommate struggle is real.
Anyway, the first chapter in particular got straight to it for me. Jen opens by talking about the relentless pursuit that we have for balance - one that is about as realistic as riding a rainbow coloured unicorn. She says:
"Listen to me: No one can pull this off. No one is pulling this off. The women who seem to ride this unicorn only display the best parts of their stories. Trust me. No one can fragment her time and attention into this many segments. The trouble is, we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane."
And it is. It is bonkers for us to think that it is healthy and normal to be all things to all people, achieving gold standards in all areas of our lives.
How wonderful that we can pursue all of the things we love and desire as women - our opportunities have never been so wide open - and we shouldn't take that privilege for granted but we should take it with wisdom. Wisdom - not just for our own sanity - but wisdom as we carefully model these fulfilling lives in a healthy, realistic way for the young women coming up behind us. I am learning how beautiful it is to be in the company of women who know their limitations and model a healthy way of life for me - it is a new kind of confidence with nothing to prove.
Jen encourages us to think about this crazy balance beam of life and begin to decide what tricks belong on the beam (the stuff that gives you life, energises you) and what can be dropped or delegated (the stuff that makes you feel exhausted and guilty). I'll tell you, I've been talking this through with my best people and I reckon we could all do with liberating that balance beam some. The beam-load might look different this year than it will 2 years from now, because we all know that some commitments, activities and pursuits are more seasonal than others - and that's ok. We need to feel free to adjust to the different seasons of life without the guilt, resentment and comparison.
Jen shares some of her own beam adjustments in the book, so I thought I might do the same here in a bid to open the conversation and shed a little light on the reality of not being able to do it all.
ON THE BEAM:
- Weekends with the family: going to new places, eating together - not scheduling in work stuff, thinking about work stuff or sneakily checking in on work stuff. This is our bubble, our reset button and our most protected space. Most definitely forever on the beam.
- Coffees, lunches & dinners with friends and family that genuinely care about how we are doing: Being around the table with people who are invested in our lives, are willing to ask us difficult questions, support us through stuff and celebrate with us when the going is good is live-giving to me and not something I could ever see coming off the beam.
- Blogging & connected creative pursuits: This space, the urges to write and journal and share - it is a release to me; a creative outlet in the midst of my heavy day job. The same goes for taking pictures, documenting my day or our family through Instagram, even - it is an art form for me and a way to flex my creative muscle - it is a snapshot of the best bits, please don't be fooled by the filters. I love that these outlets are places I can explore the important or the straight up frivolous and they stay firmly on the beam.
- Phone calls/FaceTime with family and besties: This one is hard, but I cannot answer the phone and shoot the breeze with just anyone like I used to. Remember those 2 or 3 hour phone calls with just about anyone when you were a teenager? That sounds like hell on earth to me these days. Phone calls and facetime are reserved for the deeper relationships only - the rest can happen over a less precious means. VIP's only on the beam these days.
OFF THE BEAM:
- Aside from my job, any more projects that involve organising other people: The refugee donation appeal that I organised almost broke me in two and was not sensible of me to take on at this stage in pregnancy - I can admit that now. The activator part of my personality tends to trample over what my body is telling me sometimes. I am learning to listen to my body more. No more projects on the beam.
- In a similar vein, saying 'YES! WOULD LOVE TO!' to all the conferences, speaking engagements, and workshops that I'm invited to or interested in: I do not need to do it all to prove that I care. I do not need to qualify my support or interest by saying yes to all of the things. The spirit is willing but the flesh has been up 3 times in the night to pee.
- Engaging in relationships both personally and professionally that feel unequal or that cause me to feel unappreciated or used: I am learning that it is OK to create distance with people. That doing so does not make you cold - the beam is just not the place for them.
- School-mum pressures: The all-rounder in me wants to get into this, to sign up to help with the Parents Association and Sponsored Walks and Bake Sales but my beam is too full and that stuff can wait for another year (or 3). I have at least 18 more School years left to step into that world.
So tell me - what stays on your beam and what can you allow to drop off? What is essential for you to feel alive and what are you doing out of guilt and duty? Let's support each other in being awesome and being wise.