I can’t do everything.
This has been one of the hardest and most valuable lessons for me to learn.
Let me explain.
I had some rockstar women to look up to. They seemed to be able to do everything!
For example, for as long as I can remember, my own mom has balanced raising 5 kids, working part-time as a nurse, making fitness a priority and exercise a hobby, helping neighbors, fulfilling callings at church, serving frequently in the temple, prioritizing date nights with my dad, and even honing her excellent cooking skills.
Holy smokes! She’s superwoman.
They didn’t just set good examples; my parents and the other adults around me explicitly encouraged me to achieve my goals and follow my dreams. They were nothing but supportive as I dreamed of becoming a writer, then an illustrator, then a musician, then a teacher, then a writer again. I felt like I could do anything. (Of course, I knew I could never go far with sports, but I felt like I could do almost anything else!)
I knew I would succeed in college. I had had many wonderful teachers early on who believed in me and helped me focus on my successes. More than that, I had awesome parents who taught me at home to read and who pushed me to do my best in school to get good grades and really learn.
I also felt confident in my abilities to be a mother. I knew childbearing would be hard for me (I’m such a lightweight), but I had spent a lot of time nannying, babysitting, and tending my own younger siblings, so I felt like mothering was generally pretty much in the bag.
Come Spring 2019
I was just about set to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, with a near-4.0 GPA. I was working a great part-time job that wanted to take me on full-time, with great benefits! I had just gotten accepted into a graduate program.
By all outside measures, it seemed like my life was lining up perfectly for me to keep moving full speed ahead. I would be able to work in a job I enjoyed, support Matt through the end of his degree, and even afford diabetes supplies!
So why did I hesitate?
I prayed and prayed about the decision to move forward. I felt loved, but heard the same thing over and over: no answer, no answer. Finally, right after graduation, I felt a small push to turn it all down.
Very soon, I found out I was pregnant, and my life came to a crashing halt as I was practically bedridden for months. (The Truth About Pregnancy) I had to seriously cut down (again) on the things I could expect myself to do. A lot of days, taking a shower was my biggest accomplishment, and getting my husband to help me down the stairs for anything at all was an event.
As I very gradually gained a small amount of independency and ability, I reflected a lot on my previous worldview. I thought, maybe I can’t do everything. But slowly, I could start doing more things: going shopping, walking around, cleaning, working again.
But then, I was knocked down yet again after childbirth. My postpartum recovery was aggressive.
For a couple days after coming home from the hospital, I just cried in pain no matter how I lay, sat, or stood. For a couple weeks, I had frequent, sporadic anxiety attacks (and couldn’t get in to a health professional). To make matters worse, my baby had a really hard time breastfeeding and sleeping. I really wasn’t at all better until about 8 weeks later, my baby didn’t really get any sort of consistency with eating until about 6 weeks, and we only just began sleeping on a healthy schedule at about 10 weeks.
Really, I still couldn’t do anything else but try to help both of us survive. Yet for some reason, just a week or two after birth, I tried, to great cost and little success, spending any energy on getting my business up and running again!
I could see even more clearly that I could not do everything.
Now that things have calmed down significantly, I have decided to remember my list of priorities: 1) God; 2) husband; 3) baby. Everything else comes after.
As I’ve tried (imperfectly) to make each day reflect these priorities in order, I’ve seen a big difference in how I feel, as well as how much I can do in a day. God makes enough time in my day and gives me enough energy to do the most important things each day.
Is there a point to all this?
A favorite line from this most recent general conference was from Sister Joy D. Jones, Primary General President:
“Women wear many hats, but it is impossible, and unnecessary, to wear them all at once.”
I had been saying the same thing for awhile, except I said:
Women can’t do everything—but we can do anything.
Let me be clear: I do believe women can have awesome careers, do a great job serving in the Church, be wonderful mothers and wives, hold public office, break records, and do pretty much anything.
But no one woman—or man, for that matter—needs to do all these things, and certainly not all at once. But we can do anything—any good thing that God asks us to do.
That’s how my husband and I have a family motto: “I can do anything good!” It is derived from this inspirational video:
“The Spirit helps us determine which work to focus on today.”Joy D. Jones, April 2020
I believe God will teach us what we must do “today,” whether that means literally the 24-hour period of today, or any other current period: this week, this year, during college, for retirement, or for our whole lives.
I have faith in an eternity when I can really do everything, or at least every good thing. For now, I’m learning to be content with the few things I can do at this point in my life.
So let’s stop telling women that they can do everything. I believe that female empowerment has gone too far, going from encouraging women to do anything to pressuring women to do everything. This is only going to chase our happiness out of reach, give us unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and ultimately oppress from within.
I think it best that we seek to abide by the advice the Lord gave to Emma Smith:
“… lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of better.”Doctrine and Covenants 25:10
The truth is, some things are not worth our time today or perhaps ever in this life. And some things critically require our time right now.
Be brave enough to accept that you can’t do everything. Be patient with yourself when you find you fall short. More than anything, trust in God that He will help you identify and do the most important things. I know that His grace will make up for your insufficiency, as it has mine.
Do you agree?
As others encourage you, have you also felt expectation overwhelm? Have you learned, as I have, to give up some endeavors for the most important things? What were they, and how?