Does the second part of the title give this post away? Also, the photo shown of Leo is a perfect example of how I felt writing this.
Let me start this post off by saying part one of this title is a load of shit because no one who is doing things well really knows how to do it all. And if they are doing it all, they aren’t doing it well. Wasn’t there a study recently published that said multitasking is inefficient and doesn’t really work?
I started writing this post a few weeks ago in the middle of a week where I felt like things were crashing down around me. My husband was gone for work for the first time since we had Leo. I had a huge project due for work. I had a book I had to start reading and editing for my job with the publishing company. Leo had just gotten out of the hospital and being there with him for six days put me roughly three weeks behind on work. I was home with both kids, struggling with how to be a good mom and wife while also being a good friend and a great employee. I was dealing with about a billion other things I can’t even remember right now because I think I blacked that part of my life out. All I really wanted to do was catch up on “This Is Us” and eat until I couldn’t feel my face. And forget about the rest. Put life on pause for awhile while I did what wasn’t an obligation and hit play again when I was ready.
The Four Burners Theory
The reason I started writing this post in the height of all that stress was because of a blog post I read awhile back. It was more lighthearted than anything, discussing a theory the author called the Four Burners Theory. (I will link if I can remember where I read it.) In this theory, you think of four burners on a stove, each of which would represent an area of your life: family, friends, health, and work. To be successful–truly successful–in any two of the burners, you have to completely turn two of them off. In her version, she doesn’t turn two off. She just half-asses all of them. When I first read this, I was like “hell yeah! just half-ass it!” However, that’s easier said than done when you’re an undiagnosed, overachieving people pleaser like me.
Ever since reading about that theory, I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t really know why, seeing as the post itself really wasn’t meant to be all that deep or one of those things you obsess over and think about at night an hour after you took your Unisom and you’re fighting sleep. However, it’s something I was struggling with anyway, so it dug its roots in my head as one more added stress. Which burners would be my priorities? I would automatically say family as my top, but the other three are also incredibly important to me and I wouldn’t even begin to know which to eliminate. Half-assing them wouldn’t work either, seeing as work is a priority and an obligation, I’m beginning yoga teacher training in January, and friends are a pretty big deal when you’re military and have hardly any (if any) family nearby.
At any given time, I’m struggling with where to direct my attention. I have a lot of different areas of my life demanding mine. I have two kids, a husband, a work-from-home job that is soon transitioning to full time, and friends who mean a lot to me but who I can never seem to fit in unless I cancel something else. In each of these areas are about a million reasons they stress me out. Sometimes I can’t spend time with my kids the way I want to, or I completely lose patience with my toddler and spend half the day yelling at her. Other days I’m mad at my husband for things out of his control, or just because I’m being an asshole. If I don’t give work my full attention, I slack. Hard. Like, fist-deep-in-my-chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-peanut-butter-and-six-episodes-into-Narcos hard. And, well, to be honest, slacking in the friend department has lost me a few friends over the years. I actively avoid making new friends because I don’t know how I’ll ever find the time for them. This includes literally hiding out in my house and sending random texts along the lines of, “I’m still here! I love you! Sorry I’m MIA/please forgive me!” to the ones who I can. I also have yoga teacher training coming up which is so incredibly important to me, but some days it feels like “just another thing” that demands my attention. We have birthday parties to attend on weekends, doctor’s appointments to schedule and show up for on weekdays, and fingers to cross hoping we get an hour to ourselves at night, if we’re lucky.
It’s exhausting. And seriously, how the fuck does anyone get anything done?
That’s not rhetorical. Please tell me your solutions in the comments. Is there a secret to adulting that I don’t know about?
My other issue is that I’m a hardcore perfectionist. Things need a place, appointments need a time, and days need a schedule. I can’t put two much effort into any two burners without worrying about the others. I can’t half-ass all of them because then I beat myself up for not being a better friend, a better wife, a better mom, a better employee.
Most days I’m at a loss. Today is one of those days. I’ve found myself wondering for days how families where both parents work full-time jobs away from the home have any time for friends or their health or, most importantly, for each other. I honestly can’t figure it out.
And it kills me because I so badly want to excel in all of these areas. Like, I can’t let it go. I never knew I was a people pleaser until I started thinking about how people pleasers must actually feel spending all their time making everyone but themselves happy, and here I am.
So…solutions? Are there any? Does everyone else do their best to get through these insane weeks and then just shut down and not leave the house for three in a row like me?
I don’t really know. I would be lying if I said I did. After a mental breakdown last week (shit got real over here), I had to tell the publisher I work for that I couldn’t take on another book at this time. I had to stop texting friends for a couple days to simply catch up on life and take a breath without worrying who I was disappointing. I had to yell at my mom for asking me about Thanksgiving plans for the third time in a week (sorry, Mom), and also my grandma.
What else? I had to make three to-do lists for work highlighting, in order, what needed to be done and what could wait. Annoyingly, I had to clean up a laundry room that flooded and deal with household tasks I didn’t care about dealing with at that time. I had to remind myself my babies are only babies once, that my husband has a career that doesn’t always keep him here, that there was always next week to fix the things I missed. I had to write this blog post to keep myself from going insane and to just get the words out, probably not well.
As someone who is a part of a generation who idealizes forever being busy, the hustle, never stopping for a breath, do I need to feel guilty for just wanting to sit on my ass for two weeks in a row while playing Panda Pop on my phone and letting my three-year-old babysit my nine-month-old? (It’s fine, guys, I’m in the same room, and she knows how to get food from the cabinets if she’s hungry.)
Maybe the Four Burners Theory has something going for it. Maybe to excel or feel like my life is together when it comes to two of those burners, I have no choice but to shut two off completely. Or half-ass them like the author of the post I read did.
But which two would you shut off? When do you turn them back on? When do you switch out one burner for the other?
Until I figure it out, I’ll be over here, fist-deep in chocolate chip cookie dough peanut butter.