Defining “It All”

As a Type A, overachieving, recovering perfectionist who works and homeschools (and apparently I’m not the only one), I take great interest in the “Can women have it all?debates.

Of course, the answer to that depends on how you define “it all.”

My “having it all” is unique to me, and when I go after someone else’s version I always feel like a failure and like I’m missing something important.  I think it’s incredibly important to define for yourself what constitutes “it all” because you can’t create a balance that satisfies you until you know what goals and values you’re trying to achieve.  As a wise family friend once said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll always hit it.”

But how do you define “having it all” for yourself, and, once you do, how do you achieve it?  For me it involved a lot of soul searching and trial-and-error, but here are some thoughts.

  1. Define what you’re good at and what you can get paid to do.  If you’re like me, there are lots of things you could do, but fewer that you would want to do.  List them all; it’s just paper, not a lifetime commitment.
  2. List your other callings and goals. If you have kids, how much time do you really want to spend with them (for some people, two hours a day is perfect; for others that wouldn’t be nearly enough)?  Do you want to homeschool?  Write a novel?  Teach classes?  Run a marathon?  Have a side business?  Manage a charity?  Again, nothing says you have to do this all at once just because you write it down.  Brainstorm.
  3. Put it together.  What job will let you be the kind of parent you want to be?  What kind of parent would you have to be to take the job you want and how do you feel about that?  Are there goals and work ideas that work better with your season of life and current priorities than others?  I try to look for things that overlap and complement each other, and resist the urge toward all-or-nothing thinking.  Be creative and see how things can fit.
  4. Keep a time log.  The most frequent question I get when people find out I work and homeschool and write fiction and read two books a week is how I find the time.  We all have 168 hours a week and I find it tremendously helpful to track my time every few weeks to identify extra pockets and make sure my time is really going toward my priorities.
  5. Guess and check.  No matter what you decide to do, it’s important to keep evaluating.  Life circumstances change, and often things that worked well for a time stop working after a while, especially if you have kids.  It’s good to take a step back periodically and ask yourself if things are working, what you’re missing, and what you can do to make things better.  Even small tweaks can make a huge difference.

What does this look like in real life?

According to my time logs, I spend 25-30 hours a week working.  I divide the time between three paying gigs and one project that may pay off someday:

  • Copywriting and Editing: I get paid well to write and edit marketing, policy, and strategy materials for companies.  The work is very flexible: I get to work from home but still have frequent meetings and interaction with lots of different people.  I also enjoy the variety of learning about new industries all the time and the challenge of developing messages, writing quickly and well, and meeting deadlines.
  • Teaching: I teach in our homeschool group, which requires preparation time but does pay enough to cover my own children’s tuition for the group.  I enjoy it and it’s a fun challenge to come up with ways to teach things like Latin and science and geography to small kids.
  • Blogging: Believe it or not, I do make a small amount from the blog (huge thank you to readers who buy from Amazon through my links!) although when I work out the hourly rate it’s fairly pitiful.  🙂  Still, it’s personally rewarding and could lay a foundation for future work.
  • Fiction: Yes, I’m still working on a novel.  Don’t laugh.  I hope to publish someday, but in the meantime I see fiction as a good way to improve my writing overall (writing across genres is supposed to be very helpful) and as a long-range project that hopefully will pay out  eventually.

How do I work 30 hours, homeschool 30 hours, exercise, read, cook, clean, and spend time with my family every week?  A few thoughts:

  1. Put the big rocks in first. You’ve heard the idea: if you fill a jar with sand, then small rocks, then try to get a big rock in, you can’t do it.  But if you start with the big rocks, fill in the smaller rocks, then add the sand, it works.  That’s how I try to plan my days: I do my Biblestudy and prayer time while I make and eat my breakfast, then I exercise and hopefully shower before the kids get up.  We do school in the morning before everyone gets frustrated.  We always have quiet time every day, even if the kids don’t need naps.  We all need a break from each other, the kids learn to play by themselves, and I get work done.  Other stuff fills in after that.
  2. Mesh work and life whenever possible.  For example, I love to read.  It fuels my blog, it counts as professional development, it keeps my brain moving, and it’s relaxing.  When I read out loud to the kids, it’s also school and family time.  Exercise can be family time too.  You see what I mean: find ways that work can be life and school can be life and things can fill multiple priorities at once.
  3. Let go of things that aren’t priorities.  Let me admit to you that housework is not a priority for me.  General neatness is important, because as Gretchen Rubin says, “outer order contributes to inner calm,” but I’m ok with taking the hours I could spend vacuuming mini blinds and washing windows and spending them writing or reading instead.  Your calculus may differ.  It’s ok to find your own way and admit to not caring much about some things other people care a lot about.  You can’t do everything under the sun, but you can do everything that is most important to you.
  4. Live your own life. I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying over whether other people think I’m meeting my potential, whether I’m missing out on something better, whether I’m disappointing people, and things like that.  I’m constantly tempted to compare my life to what others are doing, but I try to remind myself to live my own life.  I’m most fulfilled when I’m doing the things that I’m gifted in, that I’m called to, and that work best for my particular family.  You’ll probably find that your circumstances are different and that is not only OK, it’s marvelous!

Defining “it all” is not an easy task, or it wouldn’t have taken me 1200 words to write this post.  It’s obviously simplistic to reduce the process to a couple of bullet points, but sometimes the hardest part is getting that big picture view, so that you can do the hard work of wrestling with your individual issues of competing goals and priorities.  I don’t have this locked down by any stretch of the imagination.  I probably won’t ever have it figured out.  But I do think it’s a worthwhile exercise to really think about your life and your goals and where your time goes.  When you take the time to do that, I think you really can have it all.

How do you define “it all” and do you think you have it?

Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos


7 thoughts on “Defining “It All”

  1. Thanks for the reminder of how helpful doing a time log is–haven’t done one in a while and really need to!!

    And appreciated your transparency with some of your particulars and the reality of how individual “all” these points are!!

      1. Oh, absolutely! I always enjoy knowing more about how others manage to do what they do–and why they would want to do those things in the first place! In its place, I find such reading a wonderful confirmation of the whys and hows of my particular definition of “it all” at my family’s season of life and homeschooling and all.

        I enjoyed teaching high school English for several years, but once I got married, I soon realized that I didn’t want “it all” in that sense! Some people have commented that it seems strange that with two degrees in English I would choose to be “just” a stay-at-home and homeschool mom! But really, research was more my niche than teaching anyway, and I have endless topics to research now! And I would rather inspire my own children to be lifelong learners/readers/writers than someone else’s kids! (I’m not ignoring the need for quality teachers out there–it’s just not for me right now!)

        Just this past spring, I started reading Les Mis (since my high school attempt at it was pitifully short-lived!), and my husband commented on how important it was for me to read fiction. Since my teaching days, I have read mainly non-fiction–on all those various research topics: education, nutrition, gardening, etc.–and just a few fiction titles (mostly b/c of your reviews–Flavia mysteries and Queen Hereafter–so thank you very much!). And my husband had noticed how including fiction keeps my literary and imaginative side keener and motivates my reading and organization in general.

        Throw into that mix some time to “play” in the kitchen with new recipes and baking, to maintain a fairly organized and “comfortably messy” home (Ramona’s words), and to connect with others in our church and community, and that pretty much describes an over-simplified view of my definition of “having it all” right now.

  2. I have been following this discussion as well. I used to have a music studio in my home. We moved last year so that stopped and I definitely missed not teaching. For now, I am enjoying blogging (not making money–there’s always hope 🙂 ). It’s time consuming, but worth it for me. I’ll also be adding “official” homeschool in the spring (yes, we’re not starting at the traditional time). Of course, I have already been doing pre-school stuff.

    I think you are right–not everyone has the same aspirations and that is beautiful. I am just learning that I don’t need to be what other people think I should be. I am going to do a time-log again. I read 168 hours too and found it helpful.

    1. The great thing about homeschooling is that you can start or change things radically whenever you want, so I don’t think it’s weird to start in the spring at all! I think it’s probably also wise to only change one thing at a time–get homeschooling going and then see how you feel about the music studio. The nice thing is that we don’t have to do everything all at once!

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