It's a phrase I have banded about for quite some time now. I used to say it to a colleague when she was stressed and clearly up against it. I meant it to be helpful and understanding, but looking back, in that environment, it probably felt judgemental and facetious!
But, there was so much truth in the statement, for me anyway. I was struggling to manage a demanding job with childcare, school runs, hubby away working, housework, life admin, health issues, dog care etc. I couldn't keep up and I felt like a failure, for well, failing!
The story isn't a new one. Working mums have to juggle so much. Everywhere women describe the mental load that comes with the we can have it all generation of 30-40 somethings who would have a nervous breakdown, but they simply don't have time! IT'S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO MAKING THE SCHEDULE!
They dream of empty houses to themselves. Actually, they dream of their empty house in an alternate universe where everything is done. Not a work from home day either ~ that's code for extra guilt day.
In my case, on an extra guilt day my mind goes something like this:
1. Must achieve more than a normal work day because everything needs to be caught up on, including thousands of emails, 5 million conference calls and an agenda to write.....oh and yes, there's a board report due in by 5pm as well as outstanding admin.
2. Must walk the dog and must be mindful when doing it (not catch up on calls!)
3. Could I take an actual lunch break and go to lunchtime yoga? Probably not....gives me a bit more time.
4. Must get laundry done - no more shirts for school - haven't seen a matching pair of socks in weeks!
5. There's nothing in for dinner - should cook properly really - need veg.....pop to shops later..
6. Could do with a nap - isn't that the point of flexible working? No chance!
7. Should really phone sky/broadband/council/water/gas/care insurance etc and sort out all those niggling problems once and for all.
8. Meditation is a must. Must do it for only 10 mins a day - the results are amazing apparently. Can sort my whole life out then.
9. Oh shit, I forgot to shower and it's end of after school club.
10. Have I drunk any water today?
In most cases my husband would arrive home (if in the country) to me, a half-dressed wife (not in a sexy way) glued to a laptop, with dog and cat eyeballing me, wanting food or a walk or something. Kids staring at screens - picked up in a mad rush between conference calls, no dinner to be seen..... Then, if he even dare to hint at uttering anything close to "what have you been up to today?" the dragon would rise in fury and he would be engulfed in flames! (x100 if he says he's had a hard day/wishes he was home/is going for a lie down/asks what's for dinner....)
I don't know why I did it for so long. Survival? Ego? Ambition? Madness? Material gain? The problem is you end up pleasing nobody. You are not happy because you are so tired and stressed. Your kids want to see more of you. You are so tired and stressed you forget things. You get in a workathon mode and achieve loads and bathe in the glory of success, only to mess up a week later when you can't make the early meeting cos of childcare. You are far from a domestic goddess and your kids and husband are crying out for attention - when did you last take your daughter to get her teeth checked? So, you play supermum. You invest in the kids - playdates are organised and early pick-ups - you take the time to be with your kids. You don't catch up on work at the weekend because you want to be present in the family. But then you notice you've left things slip at work again, your hair is a mess and you've put on weight. So you join a gym, start swimming and paint your nails....But then that means you start neglecting your family and job again as you selfishly try to carve out 'me-time' HOW COULD YOU BE SO SELFISH!!!
It's an impossible task. It really is! I think I could manage it at peak fitness levels as a young mum. But as a 43 year old, slightly overweight, sleep-deprived, full-time working mother, who is responsible for meeting deadlines in every direction, it is NOT POSSIBLE to keep all the balls in the air at any one time. So you are ALWAYS letting people down. For me, I have developed an underactive thyroid - I believe I've brought on by living on adrenaline - and gum disease and various other bits and bobs that I am certain are stress-related.
So, I quit. Eventually. I quit, but first I tried to live by the mantra 'why do today what you can put off to tomorrow' in a way to survive and enjoy parts of my life. Lunch at Leon also helped, as did loads of holidays, meals out, presents to myself generally. The odd retreat to try and regroup and an excellent relationship with my husband (although often fractious).
Can you relate? Does your mind whirl with things to do 24/7? Is your mind on aquest to be perfect and so driving you round the bend? The problem is when we assign the same importance to everything we do, it all becomes urgent and necessary.
One of the best ways I have found to create the illusion of control around my daily life and the tasks in it is by writing down EVERYTHING that's playing on mind or I need to do. Could be pick up bread, call mum, join an art class, go to Australia one day! Then, I seperate a piece of paper into 3 columns - a) b) and c) (I got this from a very popular time management book Eat That Frog!: Get More Of The Important Things Done Today by Brian Tracy | 31 Jan 2013)
a) column contains only what you absolutely have to do that day
b) what you'd like to get round to in the short-term future
c) forget these things for now, these are for the future but good to remember.
Then, you edit the list every day. It helps you to put things off that aren't immediately important, while still getting the urgent things done.
It works! It takes away the panic sometimes. The feeling of not being good enough. You can put things that are important to you on the a) list too - like go for a walk (because you know it's going to benefit you and all other aspects of your life). But even this technique had started to let me down lately. I just lacked the motivation. I wanted to just be. And that to be okay - even if just for a short while. It's like my sister-in-law said to me, 'you're not a machine!"
I was lucky. The universe opened up and gave me the opportunity to change things - finally. And now I am practising every day to surrender to whatever life has in store for me.
I hope and pray I get to continue along this path. I want to share with others what i have learned. I want to coach people to happiness, to show them a better way....and to heal myself and create space for others to heal around me too. I want to bring joy to the the world and wisdom and to be supported in this new way of being.
I still have a massive to do list! And I am still a workaholic. I am currently working on TWO businesses and if I don't work hard enough I feel guilty, same as before. But I am loving my work and I am grateful for how life is opening up. And I am learning to do more prioritisation via intuition and based on where my energy flows for that day.
So Monday I had energy and a full on day of social media and meetings and planning, yesterday I made space for an afternoon/evening with my daughter and a nap. Today I went slow shopping, slow walking, lots of meditation and now I am writing this! I am focusing on the present more than I ever have before and I am awakening more and more every day.
So, what do you do to keep on top of things? What tips do you have for juggling life's challenges? How do you think you could benefit from putting off today what you could do tomorrow? I'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. If you're based in Surrey come along to one of my sound meditations in Godalming soon! Or come to a Spring Retreat I am running with The Mindful Diva in London. See events for more info.
P.P.S. I also provide a free first session to see if coaching could benefit you. We can do this on the online or face-to-face.
Please contact me for more information.