There are so many things I wish I did better in life. I wish I actually went for a run instead of just downloading the Couch to 5k app. I wish I was better at making time to read my Bible, or just read books generally instead of flopping in front of the TV. I wish I was brilliant at buying fairtrade, eating less meat, using less plastic, and a billion other things that would help and not harm the planet. I could be such a brilliant human being, but I just don’t have the resources.
Can someone please tell me how you’re meant to fit all the things into your life? Is there a blueprint or timetable someone has that I could follow? Is there a single human being in the world who manages to sufficiently balance work, church, romance, family, friends, exercise, self-care, cleaning the house, sorting out finances, walking the dog, cooking healthy meals, going to the dentist, making ethical choices and, if I may be so bold, having some sort of fun? Because I would like to meet that person and learn her secrets (or kick her in the shins, depending how smug she is about it).
And I’m not even going to mention the people who manage all of the above, and still somehow find the time to do a masters, or write a book, or learn mandarin. I’m just confused how anyone has the time, money or energy to live what most of us would consider to be a normal, adult life. And trying to fit it all in gets so overwhelming at times that you can feel like not bothering at all with any of it. I mean, what’s the point of going for a run if you keep getting fish and chips for dinner because you don’t have time to cook? What’s the point of trying to recycle when it may just end up in landfill anyway? What’s the point of making time for that friend, when you’ll just upset a different friend for not making time for her?
My brain hurts. But I keep coming back to one mantra, as made famous by Theodore Roosevelt: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Do what you can
Basically, do your best. That doesn’t mean you need to run yourself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible, or feel guilty when you don’t manage it. I have a lot of food intolerances, which means that, even though I’d like to go vegetarian for environmental reasons, it’s just not fully possible for me or I’d run out of things to eat. But I can cut down where it’s possible. I can choose fish or chicken over red meat, and as I’m dairy intolerant I’m already on the oat milk, so that’s a win.
But doing what you can means you really do need to try to do what you can, instead of shrugging it all off as impossible and not trying to do much at all. It’s true that I’m an extremely busy person, but it’s also true that I spend a lot of time playing games on my phone or watching TV. Yes, sometimes you need that downtime, but if I’m very honest with myself I know that I go into couch potato mode as a default before I check in with myself and assess my capacity for other things. Could you get up a bit earlier to make healthy lunches? Could you invite your friend to an exercise class to kill two birds with one stone? Could you set reminders on your phone to pray throughout the day? It’s not about doing everything or hardly doing anything; it’s trying to find a balance and make peace with what you’re capable of.
With what you have
Everyone has different resources, and so some of us have more of a luxury of choice than others. If you’re a single parent trying to feed and clothe your kids on a tight budget, I think you get a guilt-free pass to make just the most ethical shopping choices you can within that limit. If you can afford to buy fairtrade, but you just don’t because the tea doesn’t taste the same or you’d rather get five dresses for fifty quid instead of just the one, you’re probably not doing the best you can with what you have.
And there may be more things you could “have” to help you. Research suggests that people who spend money on services that free up their time, rather than a nice big flat screen or car, are generally happier. In Michelle Obama’s Becoming, she talks about getting outside help cooking for the family to make sure they ate good food because she just didn’t have time. I have a weird little robot that does the hoovering for me at the touch of my smart phone, and it’s the best thing in the world.
Things like that may not always be financially viable (I definitely only got robot hoover because it happened to be available at an extremely heavy discount) but life gubbins can still often be outsourced. If you really don’t have time to research each and every ethical choice you make, find an app (Good On You is great for assessing different stores’ ethical credentials) or ask a friend you trust and follow their rule of thumb so at least you’re doing something (In the last election, my friend just didn’t have time to research every candidate so she text someone she knew would vote similarly to her and asked their advice).
Where you are
Where you are can mean so many things. It can mean where you physically are, so choosing to prioritise the people geographically nearest to you or issues that affect your local community, rather than trying to cater to everyone and tackle every problem in the world. I have Kolkata very close to my heart so that doesn’t necessarily work for me, but if we all picked a different zone we cared about and focused on that then everywhere would probably get covered.
It can mean where you are in your life. I feel guilty that I haven’t been very hospitable lately or had anyone round for dinner because my puppy just goes crazy when people are there. But that’s where I am right now, and hopefully in a few months that won’t be the case. I don’t expect my friends with newborns to make it to every pub trip – although they still often manage it – that’s not the phase of life they’re in. You can pick other priorities up later, or put things down to make space for new things, and often that depends on the chapter of life you’re in.
Or it can mean where you are mentally. We can all have seasons where we’re smashing it; where we’re on top of work and home life and everything is super productive and ticks along like clockwork. And then there are seasons where you just don’t have emotional capacity; where you’re going through a tough time and just getting out of bed and into the shower is a massive achievement. We just need to be honest about where we are, and what we really have space for in our lives.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti