Recently, I had young woman approach me after a speaking engagement and ask with admiring eyes, “How do you do it all?”
When I prodded more, I learned what all meant: she liked the things I taught about, she thought it was wonderful that I have two young children, and she hoped to have a job that looked somewhat like mine in the future. And she thought I had the whole work-life balance thing down.
I get asked this question often enough that I have developed a regular response. I looked the young woman squarely in the eyes and gently told her the truth: “I don’t do it all. Not even close.”
Over time, what I’ve learned from conversations like this one is that it is normal for people to use the limited information we have about other’s lives to piece together a picture of what we want our own life to look like—as if we are assembling puzzle pieces. We are especially prone to do this with people we admire from afar.
Even though it’s normal to admire people, I think fixating on the things we find inspiring about others can limit our own way forward. Let me give you an example.
One of the things I sense God’s called me to do in this season is write. In fact, I am working on my first book right now. As part of trying to figure out the way forward in this project, I’ve dug pretty deep into the work of other writers I admire. I’ve read everything they’ve ever written. I’ve watched their videos. I’ve researched their publishing journeys. And then I’ve taken these small pieces of their lives and formed hopes and visions for my future.
That’s when the fear creeps in.
That’s when I sense the angry gods of comparison gnawing at my creative confidence and my sense of God’s calling in this season. I start spiraling into an insecure mess, fearfully asking questions like: What if I think my ideas are great, but everyone else is confused or disinterested? Will I have sacrificed trips to the park with my kid only to write a bunch of unhelpful thoughts? Then I definitely won’t be someone who “does it all.” With each fearful question, the volume of intensity increases and I feel paralyzed. I do nothing. I certainly do not write. I am unable to do the work that’s right in front of me—the work that probably has the best chance at helping me respond to God’s calling.
I reached out to my friend Angela. Angela is a writer and a good friend whose life I know beyond small pieces I see from afar. When I expressed all my feelings of inadequacy and frustration, she hugged me tight and told me to take a deep breath. She said to me, “Sister, I feel like you need to be faithful to what’s right in front of you.” She encouraged me to look away from the big picture I wanted for my life and to fix my eyes on the every day. And, she also encouraged me to be realistic: “Sister, you JUST had a baby.”
It was true. I had given birth to my second child just 10 weeks earlier and many of my days were rightfully and totally consumed with caring for him. As obvious as it sounds, I wasn’t factoring in that demanding role as a mother into my progress forward as a writer. As Angela spoke, I started to realize that being faithful to God’s calling to write wasn’t just about putting words on paper. It had just as much to do with experiencing my own life—observing and deeply feeling all that life holds in this season.
For me, faithfulness in this season means letting myself feel the chaos and clamor of life with a young baby. It means quieting my soul enough to hold him for hours on end. What I am convinced of is that my work as a mother makes my paid work more fruitful. I’ve learned that by holding my son for hours on end, I tap into a tenderness that makes me a better leader. I’ve also learned that when life gets so chaotic that I have to call in grandparent reinforcements, I have to be really vulnerable. Vulnerability makes for good writing.
So, here I am in this season of realizing I can’t do it all. I’ll always have heroes that help me dream about what’s next. But I also know that if what I imagine to be true about the women I admire sparks more fear than confidence, I need to take a step back. I need to refocus and work to prioritize. I’m learning that if I’m faithful to what’s right in front of me, I’m making more progress towards the future than I might think.
Dr. Michaela O’Donnell Long is the senior director of Fuller’s De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also the co-founder of Long Winter Media, a creative agency that helps brands make an impact. Michaela teaches as an adjunct professor of Practical Theology and Leadership at Fuller.