When I was in college, my roommate Marla stressed about finding a major exclaimed in frustration; “I wish we were back in the old days of women just having to choose if they wanted to be a nurse or a teacher! There are just too many options!” At the time, I chided her for not embracing the myriad of options women have available now more than any other point in history. Yet, as I read the chapter in Find Your Strongest Life entitled “Of Choice and Men” Marla’s comment came to mind. In his research to learn what helps women to feel strong and successful, Buckingham learned the following- I’m quoting from a few of the highlights on page 45 if you have a copy of the book:
1. Over the last forty years women have gained more opportunities and more responsibilities. Very few if any, have been relinquished. Consequently, your greatest challenge in life is to make wise choices.
2. More choice doesn’t correlate to more happiness. More choice can in fact, add to your levels of stress and make your life harder.
3. In developed countries, women and men work the same number of hours. (Women’s increasing levels of stress seem to be caused less by the actual number of hours worked, than by the sheer variety of what needs to happen within those hours)
To these observations I say, “preach it Marcus!” When I was at Wheaton taking a class this past December, I had lunch with some classmates and the department chair of the Intercultural studies, a woman named Evvy Campbell. I asked her what it was like as a woman leading in a high capacity role like department head. I immediately felt embarrassed I had called attention to her gender (do you ever feel like it’s taboo to point out gender? Especially for women?) She talked about how God had called her to the role & that Wheaton had been a great place to develop as a leader. Then with a wink and a nod she said, “I do my work here as department head & then go home to vacuum the floors & do the dishes too! That’s what it’s like being a female department head.”
This is exactly the kind of thing Marcus is writing about- though we may have more responsibilities and opportunities, all of the same ones (like vacuuming the floors, and helping to assemble the school project, and exercising, and cooking healthy meals) remain. His premise is that women feel stressed because during the course of one day we feel pressure to be “Martha Stewart, Michelle Obama, Katie Couric and Meg Whitman and Angelina Jolie and Danica Patrick, all rolled into one unattainable package.” It isn’t that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, it’s that there are too many things going on to focus well on any one of them.
He’s got some great suggestions later in the book about how to deal with this, but it made me stop and reflect how I try to do this as well. It does feel great when you can fully give yourself to the attention of making dinner, reading your child a bedtime story, composing that difficult email, or cracking out a few hours of studying….without thinking about them all simultaneously. I am totally guilty of this!
Dave and I have tried to make some rules to help us stay focused on being present to what we’re currently doing- we don’t check our computers/email/facebook before breakfast. I know that might seem silly, but when you’re focused on everything at once, it’s tempting to crack some eggs, check an email while the toast is toasting and reply to the email while you’re waiting for coffee to brew. In the mean time, you’re missing out with time to connect with others, settle into the day and be present to nourishing your body and relationships. Even making this one rule for our family has helped me to realize- whatever is in my inbox can wait! My family is more important than my iPhone! Eggs are delicious! And I have felt less stressed because we’re not letting technology invade that time as a family. It helps me remember that the people I’m with at that moment are more important for the 30 minutes of breakfast than the people who are waiting for my replies to emails.
What are some thing that you feel like is getting in the way of your happiness? Any ways that you’ve simplified your life to stop unhealthy multi-tasking? How has it affected you? What do you agree/disagree with about Marcus’ findings?