“You can do it all. Just not all at the same time and not right away.” – Cat Grant, Supergirl
My ambition has the patience of a two-year-old. “But I want it NOW!” it screams, regardless of my rational self’s attempts at talking it down. It’s not that I’m unwilling to work to achieve my goals. In fact, that’s one of my defining traits. It’s that I feel driven to work on all of my goals – personal, professional, relational – simultanously. Small wonder my mental to-do list is the length of the Oxford English Dictionary. But in December, I started to change that thinking, with the therapy session, Stratejoy’s Holiday Council, and of all things, the Supergirl TV show, illuminating an alternative approach.
While “You don’t have to do everything all the time” seems like an obvious statement, it’s one I’ve never allowed myself to believe. But hearing it from the therapist (or at least words along those lines) poked through that mental blockage. I realized that, societal expectations aside, I’m the only one in my life who actually expects me to do that.
To shift away from this thinking, the therapist suggested that I pick a couple of areas to focus on at a time. “But I can’t give anything up!” I cried, “They’re too important.”
But in the midst of saying that sentence, I saw a middle ground. I could continue to do things without going full steam ahead on every one of them. Thinking aloud, I said, “I don’t want to give anything up, but I don’t have to get an A in everything, right? I can get Bs in some things.” Now, while grading your own life is not exactly healthy, just the idea of letting myself purposely “get a B” was radical. Obvious stuff to the non-overachievers, but I had never framed it like that before.
Appropriately enough, the Holiday Council addressed many of these issues as well. Molly Mahar, who leads the calls, reinforced the idea that “I am enough,” no matter what my accomplishments list reads that day. She discussed the idea of seasons of life, where some aspects of our life fall back and others come forward. “You can have unlimited dreams and goals, but not unlimited priorities,” she said. Again, the distinction between dreams and priorities was one I had never connected the dots on.
Appropriately, amongst the exhortations to dream big, there was only space in the workbook for three major goals for the coming year. (Despite my newfound realization, I cheated and added a fourth. But before, I probably would have had six, so it’s an improvement.)
In needing to narrow my focus down to four areas – one of which focuses on improving my mental health – I could pick out my true priorities for the year. Now, rather than worrying about “not doing this or that,” I can look at my goals and if it isn’t on there, say with confidence, “Nope, that’s for next year.”
Of course, the hardest part is actually carrying out said goals. While some of them are big ones with many steps, others don’t have long to-do lists but will actually be more difficult. For example, even though it should be simple in theory, I haven’t actually fulfilled any resolution to regularly get seven hours of sleep a night in years.
But just as I’m learning to have patience with seasons of life, I need to have patience with myself with the goals I have taken on. While there are many cliches about this topic, my favorite reminder is from Anne Lamott. She talks about how writing can be radically discouraging if you try to think of it as a whole. Instead, she tells a story where her brother had to do a huge report on birds that he didn’t start until the night before it was due. Her father, advising him on how to approach it, said he just had to go “bird by bird.”
And that’s life, isn’t it? Even if you don’t know what’s ahead, writing is done sentence by sentence, parenting day by day, community building meeting by meeting. All are important, even if you never get to the goal. The moving forward needs to be enough.
Being satisfied with that forward movement while also being able to dream is ultimately what I’m struggling with as I back away from cramming “too much” into my life. It’s not coincidental that these themes keep arising in different, seemingly unrelated aspects of my life. As quoted at the top, media mogul Cat Grant, tells Kara Danvers (aka Supergirl) exactly what I needed to hear yet again. At one point in the Holiday Council, Molly Mahar quoted (from Lynne Twist), “Once we let go of scarcity, we find sufficiency.” That sounds a lot like the permaculture idea that there is no such thing as excess, only things that need to be used in a new way. Nature provides what it needs to function. My own life will too, if I only let it.