I want to do a lot of things. I have three jobs and want to do well at all of them. I walk past the dusty musical instruments in my house and lament the fact I’ve never learnt how to play the ukulele. I have various craft projects on the go. I get invited to participate in a lot of church activities. I want to get fit, write a book, see the world, change the world. The problem is, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
And when I start thinking about all the things I wish I could do – if only I had more time – I get so annoyed at myself. I get angry at teenage/student Chloe, who had loads of time back then and wasted it binge-watching TV and seeing her friends, like a chump. I begin to feel trapped in my own life, bogged down by my hectic schedule. I could be so accomplished now if I’d just done it when I’d had the time. My house would look so much better if people didn’t keep dragging me away from it to socialise with them – how dare they? I would be so much more spectacular if my life didn’t keep getting in my way.
But at work I heard someone say something that changed my perspective – and that doesn’t often happen in my corporate office. A new leader had started in her role, and was giving a speech introducing herself to the company. She explained a bit about herself, her experience and all she had accomplished, and then she revealed her motto for life and business:
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
Here was a woman who had accomplished a lot. Here was an impressive person, who had achieved so much, and she was telling her new employees that she had no intention of doing it all. She had ambition and big plans, but she knew that there were lots of other things in her life and work that were going to have to give if she wanted to achieve her main goals. There were other things that she, personally, could not do if she wanted to really, properly do the things she wanted. For someone like me, that was a revelation.
I’ve grown up being good at a lot of things, which means I get asked to do a lot of things. However, when you’re good at a lot of things, you’re used to being told how good you are which makes you want to be really good at everything you do. It’s not enough to be fairly competent across the board; you want to be exceptional at all of it. You give each thing all of your energy, your creativity, every ounce of your ability, because you’re used to being good at things and have come to depend on people telling you what a clever girl you are (or is that just me?)
But when you try to do everything you burn out. When you try to be every version of yourself you’ve ever imagined, none of the versions end up being particularly impressive. Because you can’t give yourself to everything. You can’t be on every team at church, because that means no team is getting your best. You can’t work on every idea that comes into your brain at once, because each one needs your time and creative attention. You can’t be the super-person that everyone comes to in a crisis, because you can’t physically be there enough to strengthen each of those relationships. You can’t do everything…but you can do anything.
You can devote your time to the causes that you personally feel drawn to. You may not be able to be everyone’s BFF, but you can be a great friend to the people that need you. You can follow your passion. We have so many opportunities in this country – and that’s nothing to complain about – but that doesn’t mean you have to seize each one. If you eat everything on the menu, you’ll get one almighty stomach ache. It’s OK to just choose your favourite dish, and let someone else try the hunter’s chicken.
The world is full of causes and choices; injustices that need to be fought, ideas that need to be expressed and new avenues that need to be explored. But the world is also full of people. If you don’t do all of the things, there’s always someone else who can take your place. Someone else who will care more about that project, someone else who has a better skillset or personality for that job. You don’t need to feel guilty about not doing things – good things, worthwhile things – because you want to focus on your stuff. Don’t worry about those other things, someone else will take care of them. You can let go of good stuff if it means you’re clearing room in your life for even better stuff.
And just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you should get angry at yourself or the hours in the day – feel the freedom of it. By saying, “I can’t do everything” you open yourself up to your personal “anything”. You can finally give the things that matter your all, because your brain isn’t already moving onto the next thing you need to think about. You’re not exhausted and busy and overwhelmed; you have space and time to focus on what matters.
So think long and hard about your “anything.” Look at the “everything” you’re doing right now, and ask yourself, “Is this all for me to do?” What are the things that make you come alive? What are the things that speak to your soul, that utilise your gifts and your personality in such a way that no one else could do the job? These are the things our lives should be filled with, and there’s nothing wrong with focusing on them. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything – so make sure you devote your life to the things that you were made to do.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti