A theme arose amongst my clients this week and in my own life. We have this need to do it all and be all things to all people all of the time. Here are three very different examples that have this theme in common:
- Suzie’s spouse tells me that often when he asks Suzie a question, he doesn’t get a direct answer. He has to say, “That’s not what I asked” repeatedly. Suzie admitted that she dances around his questions because she doesn’t always understand what he is asking and she feels “stupid”.
- Nicole is six months pregnant with her third child. She continues to work a demanding, nearly full-time job, manage her household and parent her two young children, often solo, since her spouse travels frequently for work. She needs to ask for a lighter workload but she struggles to speak to her boss or to ask her spouse for help because she feels “guilty”.
- Since September, my workload had doubled and my kids have gone back to school and extracurricular activities. Through the busyness, my self-care has taken a far back seat. The result is that my body hurts with tension, my mind is not as clear and my energy feels depleted. As a result, I’ve made some mistakes that I deeply regret. I feel sad.
As I listened to my clients this week and reflected on my own situation, I realized that we all struggle to define and accept our limitations. Instead we keep pushing ourselves to be a certain type of partner, parent or worker. It seems counterintuitive to do it any other way.
Yet we need to acknowledge that we cannot do it all and be it all for all people all of the time. For those of us who are parents, this includes our children. Even for them, we cannot do it all and be it all, at every moment.
Acceptance of our limitations demonstrates wisdom. Expression of our limitations demonstrates intimacy.
For Suzie, I encouraged her to change the dance. Instead of trying to be “as wise” as she thinks she is supposed to be, to instead, practice vulnerability and courage through transparency. By saying “I do not understand your question, can you ask it a different way?” will increase intimacy with her spouse and allow them to work together in these sensitive moments.
For Nicole, we revisited the definition of “responsible”. We explored the potential consequences of pushing past our limits and how being responsible involves slowing down, tuning in and admitting limitations to others. We discussed how this definition alleviates the guilt that often accompanies asking for help because sometimes, asking for help is the most responsible thing we can do.
As for me, the red flags waved loud and clear. My path involves slowing down, stepping back and returning to self-care. It began this week as I have made small adjustments in how I work in the office. I’ve reached out to professional peers for guidance. At home, I’ve resumed my daily meditation practice. I have also spoken to my spouse about my needs in our co-parenting.
One of the most important components of intimacy is to know your self well. It is only through your self-knowledge that you can show up authentically with others.
To know yourself means to acknowledge your strengths and your limitations.
To honor yourself means to hold each with tender hands and a compassionate, loving heart.