You Cannot Do It All: Letting Go Of The Superwoman Myth

The other day I got an email from a woman who has taken some courses with me, and in it she shared with some challenges she was having in regards to managing her commitments to teaching yoga, keeping up her practices, taking care of her health, working her part time job and being a newer momma. In her message she wrapped up by saying to me “ I don’t know how you do it all”, and I immediately felt sick in my stomach to think that anyone, particularly another woman, might think that I am in anyway “doing it all”. Because believe me, I am not.
Here is the thing, I actually don’t believe in doing it all.
I don’t think that doing it all is a realistic goal, or something that is even possible for most people. Sure I suppose the exception to that might be someone who has a vast amount of time and money at their disposal, no children and a personal chef, but that is not most people I know. I also think that believing that we should be doing it all, or that others somehow are (and we are not), sets us up for a level of self-criticism that can become truly harmful. I believe all people are prone to this, but I do think that women, and especially women with children, really need to watch out for this belief as it can lead to a horrible sense of dissatisfaction that will eat away at any sense of joy or accomplishment.
You cannot be a loving and present mother (and partner), cook homemade food for your family, keep a clean house, maintain a regular and committed yoga practice, do creative work, have a career, and look good doing it. This is a fantasy and I believe it is a dangerous one.
So while I do not believe in the fantasy of “doing it all”, I do believe in is making skillful choices on a day to day basis, in knowing what it is we value, and in living up to our commitments and responsibilities while doing the best we can to take care of ourselves while we do it. What does this look like in my own life?

Prioritizing Values

The three most important things in my life or the three categories I value most and will put the majority of my attention into are

  • My family, getting quality time with my husband and son
  • My work, both the creative and the practical side of my vocation
  • Practice/Study, because I need to be learning to stay engaged and curious in my work
  • My health & wellness, because without it I am not much good to anyone

I do not rate these in a hierarchy of importance in relationship to each other, because the truth is that the attention I give to any one area of my life in any given day/week/month, means the other areas are simply going to get less attention for a period of time- and that is just the way it is, because you cannot do it all, and you certainly can’t do it all in one single day.
In other words if I am away teaching a workshop or retreat then I am likely not getting time to eat as well as I’d like to or be spending un-interrupted time on my yoga mat. In the same way if I take the afternoon off to spend time with my family, then my emails are not getting done and my bookkeeping is piling up. If I decide that getting to an evening yoga class is what I need most on a given day, then likely dinner is not getting made. So it’s like that. I have to make choices as to what is most important, and I have to make those choices each and every day.

All The Things I Am Not Doing

I think that social media adds to the misperception many of us have about other people’s lives. I don’t post photos of myself pulling long days at my computer, because seeing me in ratty old clothes and messy hair, drinking too much coffee while I empty my inbox or do some of the million other small admin tasks my work requires is simply not interesting. Just like I don’t write articles about how leading a teacher training means long hours sitting on a classroom floor and sleeping in crappy hotels. Why not? Because it is really not that inspiring, even if it is true.
However that is what my days look like much of the time, and I believe that other people’s lives are likely equally un-glamorous, even if it might seem otherwise based on the snapshots of it that they choose to share. We must remember that real people have real lives full of mundane chores, just as we do. We have to remember that they also have to make choices about what to put their energy into every day, which means that after they get home from doing handstands on the beach they have to deal with dirty dishes and looming deadlines just like we do.
So in service of full transparency I just want to say that because I have assigned four areas of my life as highest value, and because I do have a family and dogs to care for besides just attending to myself, there are many areas of my life that do not get regular attention due to time, such as

  • Spending quality time with old friends, a few phone calls a year often has to suffice…
  • Housework, keeping up with bare minimums is about all we can manage..
  • High value self care like massage, physiotherapy, getting to the dentist etc..
  • Regular leisure time, I live in Whistler and I haven’t gone skiing once since I moved here!
  • Entertainment, theater, movies, etc., even TV is a luxury I can’t afford…
  • Getting regular exercise, dog walks and a maintenance level yoga practice is about all I can fit in …
  • Keeping in touch with family, writing letters, regular phone calls etc…

I could go on but I think you get the point.
While it is true that I am juggling a lot at this time in my life being a wife and mother, doing live & online teaching, running the back end of my business, owning two active dogs, and trying to keep up with my own studies while maintaining basic health and wellness- I am certainly not “doing it all”. Most days I am just trying to do what I can with as much grace as I can muster.

My Advice?

Let go of the idea that you can do it all, and remember that nobody else is doing it all either. Get clear on what is most important to you and make time for some of those things each day, knowing that this will mean making choices and saying no to other things. Be compassionate with yourself and know that I’m right here with you, choosing to live a full life and doing the best I can. Also try to remember that every time you see a photo of me (or anyone else) teaching at some lovely retreat centre, or doing yoga in the forest, or posting an image of some amazing meal they made or creative accomplishment they just completed- there are twice as many images of them sitting at their desk looking like a troll in order to pull it off, giving up sleep or social time in order to get on their mat, or carefully positioning the photo so you don’t see the piles of dirty laundry in the corner of their room. Embrace this truth and let go of the pressure of trying to be a superhero, because frankly superheros are not even that inspiring, or fun, while real people are.