It’s a beautiful thing to watch human beings give one another encouragement, but somewhere along the way “You can do it!” has started to feel almost like an admonition — “You can do it, so why aren’t you?”
If you browse Pinterest you will find that everything that needs to be done in life has been boiled down to such simple steps that “anyone can do it.” Quick tips for cleaning or working out are often advertised as “fitting into any schedule.” Each of these quick and simple solutions bare the unspoken (or sometimes spoken) postscript of, “so you have no excuse not to.”
“Excuses” have become a black mark. If you don’t do something because you’re tired, then you’re lazy; if you don’t do something because you don’t have time, then you’re poor at managing your time; if you don’t do something because it’s simply not a priority, then you need to get your priorities straight.
The reality is that if a single person tried to put into practice every five minute habit and 15 minute routine that promises to fit into any lifestyle, their entire life would be eaten up by it. Regardless of how quick and simple something is supposed to be, regardless of how anyone can make time for something if they make it a priority, there are only so many hours in a day, and a person only has so much energy.
When we hear the word “cost” we generally think of money, but there are other very real costs that we can incur, namely our time and energy. Just like the myth of perpetual monetary growth, there exists a myth that we can do anything that we want without limitation. And just as we artificially stretch our financial limits with credit and loans, we artificially stretch the limits on our time and energy by sacrificing sleep and making up for it with coffee. But even with factors like credit and coffee in place we all have our limits. When you spend (money, time, energy) on one thing, you have less to spend on something else.
So how do we choose what to prioritize? How do we budget? Everyone has an opinion, but only you can answer that question for you. When you’re faced with the temptation to Do It All, stop and ask yourself a few questions…
- “Why am I doing this? Because I want to? Because I have to? Because I think I have to?”
Follow these questions up with more questions:
- “How badly do I want to do this? Enough that it’s worth the cost (money, time, energy)? How badly do I need to do it? What makes me think I need to? What happens if I don’t?”
Remember that everything you do comes at a cost. It will cost you either money, time, energy, or all three. Anyone who looks like they are doing it all are paying a high price for it. Or, unfair though it may be, it may come at a different cost.
Think about the super-fit people you know or see in the media that prioritize exercise and fitness highly, promising that anyone can do what they’re doing and that everyone should do what they’re doing. They have marriages and kids and jobs and all the same demands on their time that you do, but they manage to make time for exercise and healthy eating, as can you, and you will reap all the same benefits.
Except maybe not. Have you ever noticed that the people who prioritize exercise highly often love exercise? Maybe it relaxes them, or energizes them, maybe they get a runner’s high or experience great stress relief. Although we can all experience the big picture/long-term benefits of exercise, such as improved health, not all of us experience these short-term boosts from exercise. Some of us, no matter how much we run, just never get that runner’s high. A run is just a grueling experience that never leaves us feeling good, regardless of any arguable benefits of the exercise.
This means that the person who feels happy and energized when they exercise experiences two benefits from the exercise, the short-term and the long-term. They experience improved health in the long-term, and a power boost to their mood and energy in the short-term, improving their day and their mood and actually allowing them to be more productive and present in their other endeavors. This means that a person who loves exercise gets a higher return on their investment.
For the rest of us, we experience only one benefit (the long-term) and a short-term deficit. We’re left feeling tired and maybe even cranky or stressed, thereby reducing our productivity and mood following our workout. We’ve also had to sacrifice time and energy doing something that we don’t enjoy, putting off any number of things we would rather be doing. That’s not to say that the long-term benefits aren’t worth it, but rather to point out that the level of benefit is quite different, therefore affecting where it will/should fall as a priority.
Let’s take another example for those that can’t understand not loving exercise. The benefits of a well-organized home are that things stay tidier and look nicer, and you can know/find what you have more easily. Not being able to find something, or having to look for it for hours, is extremely frustrating to me. On top of that I enjoy organizing. The act of sorting and categorizing is cathartic, and seeing my well-organized finished product makes me feel happy and calm.
Not everyone feels the same way I do, however. While the initially stated benefits of a clean house and knowing where things are remain, that may be where it stops for someone else. Not knowing exactly where something is may not be a big deal to them, and the act of organizing may be far more stress-inducing than just looking for the item. Therefore, despite the objective benefits of organization, the deficit caused by having to do the actual organizing may cancel the benefits out for some people.
There are objective benefits to many things, but you have to honestly evaluate how much value those things have to you personally. It makes no sense to compare ourselves to others. Someone who looks like they’re Doing It All is spending their resources to do it. It may be that, in the unfair way of the world, it costs them less resources than it would cost you to do the same. Or it is very likely costing them in ways that are simply not worth the cost to you. A clean house may not be worth losing time with your family to you. Lots of friends and a busy social calendar may not hold the same value to you as your own introverted downtime to just veg.
The other thing to keep in mind about prioritizing is that not everything we do has to be the ideal. We are again admonished for our “laziness” when we do things “half-assed,” but the reality is that not everything can or should be done to the standard of ideal. The thing about always trying to achieve the ideal is that the ideal costs more. The biggest and best house costs more money. The best work costs more time. Is it worth the extra to get the best? Sometimes, but if you spend everything in one place to achieve the best, then you don’t always have enough left over for everything else.
Just as we buy store brand at the grocery store, or buy middle of the road brand clothes instead of designer, we have to figure out where in life we are going to settle for less and stop striving for the ideal. Once we stop spending all of our resources on trying to achieve the ideal on everything, we can reallocate some of those resources to other things that are important to us.
Instead of listening to the world’s rules for what you need to be doing, set your own. Think about what you want to spend your currency on. What do you value most — relationships, learning, creating? Then think about the things you’re filling your time with. Are all of those things worth what you’re spending on them?
If something holds a great deal of value to you, then yes, You Can Do It! But if not, don’t be pressured by the Do-It-Alls insisting that you can and must make it a priority. The very nature of the word “priority” precludes it from being limitless. You are limited. You can’t do it all. And that’s okay.