“Do what only you can do.” It was the mantra my friend Karen, who has lived more life than I, told me a few years ago when I didn’t see how motherhood and work could coincide. Both were ramping up and the limited resource of my time and energy were already maxed out. I needed more than twenty-four hours in a day to get everything done.
So I followed her advice and did an inventory of every area of my life. I asked, “Is this something only I can do?” Surprisingly, I was able to cut many obligations. And as new “opportunities” came forward (if you can call a position on the preschool board an opportunity), they were almost always met with a polite, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t right now.”
That worked for a while. A few years even. Until it didn’t. Until twenty-four hours really wasn’t enough to get everything done. The office time. The four kids needing to be fed, bathed, comforted, disciplined. The three eldest being transported to school and sports and church activities. The calendar and my sanity were colliding. I couldn’t live on five hours of sleep endlessly. Something had to go. And not just something small, it had to be significant enough I would gain hours back in my week.
The kids were out of the question. They were here to stay. My marriage, if I wanted it to be more than a carpool partner, needed more dedication, not less. I knew what I needed to cut – it was work. I know in an era of Lean In, where moms are encouraged to stay and stick it out, this isn’t necessarily the popular voice. And I felt that pressure, that somehow I would be missing out on life, by not living up to my potential, by pulling back on my career.
Then, I realized, I already was missing out on life.
I was so exhausted and drained and stressed, everyone was getting the not-so-best of me. Besides whose life was this anyway? It was mine, and if I knew anything, it was I wanted to savor life – not survive it. I was the only one who got to call the shots, and I seemed to be living in opposite worlds where my responsibilities were making decisions over me.
This is where the brave really had to come into play – because my resistance to stepping away from work in a significant way was intertwined with all of my fears around where my value lay. My identity had become so entwined with my job I was terrified to let the title go. And yet I had to as a means of survival. To remember what, and who, really defined me. To be me bravely, stripped down to do what only I could do.
There were some practical aspects to making it happen, like figuring out our family budget. It was more the matters of the heart I needed to address. To reclaim my life, I needed to reclaim the way I was living it. And that meant saying, and believing, my significance was larger than a given set of responsibilities. That who I am, the essence of me, is determined by the one who breathed life into me.
And in this process of stepping down it’s as if I got a whole new freedom to cloak around me. One that says I am enough. Really, I am. At home. At work. In the car. Watching mindless TV. My task doesn’t determine my value. But I had to let go of something to grasp this freedom.
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