At one of the first coaching retreats I attended, my coach stood in front of the room and drew five circles on the white board. She explained that the most roles any one person could successfully fill was five—what roles were we going to choose to fill our circles with? Then she listed all the possible roles:
I can tell you, the look on everyone’s face as they counted up all the roles they played in their lives was one of downright dejection. I get that it was an interesting visual exercise in the vein of “you can’t be all things to all people,” and that it is necessary to set some expectations and boundaries around what you’ll do for others, particularly when you are also trying to build something new, like a business.
But here’s my beef with this exercise: We are each a whole person with many facets. And each of these facets is integral to what makes you, you. Plus, feeling bad about all your many facets is silly. It’s like hating your freckles—futile, for one, and feeling bad about something that makes you unique.
There are a few things I’ve learned since that first retreat, and three of the most importantly and revelatory, to me, are these:
- There is a lot of advice out there that you have to choose what you focus on very carefully; there’s not enough time or energy for everything and so some things will have to go.
- The root of feeling like you must choose is fear—fear of wanting “too much,” of not being able to handle all the things that are important to you, fear of a perceived lack of resources–both internal (like energy) and external (time and money)—and fear is always, ultimately, destructive.
- You can choose not to choose. It’s OK to want what you want. Where there’s a want, there’s a way. (Click to Tweet!)
All that being true, you do still have to live in the real world where there are a certain number of hours in the day. So, if you choose to embrace all of your many roles and the things that are calling to you, how do you “get it all done”?
You bust all your roles out of your little circles and let them play together.
I’ve written before about de-compartmentalizing your life, and how much energy it frees up when you’re not trying to maintain firm boundaries between the big categories of your life. But I’ve been inspired to really expand my thinking by Katy Bowman, of Nutritious Movement, who writes a lot about stacking your life—fulfilling needs in a few different areas of your life in one activity.
It’s not about packing more in. It’s about softening the edges so that more fits, naturally. It doesn’t really take a lot of effort; it just takes thinking differently.
For example, here are the things that are important to me in my life:
- Moving my body regularly
- Eating nutritious food and feeding it to my kids
- Spending time with my family
- Supporting people as a coach
- Writing books—my own, or others’—that share a message I feel is important
- Running a business that brings in plenty of money
- Contributing to my community
- Spending time alone
- Spending time with my husband
- Managing our household
- Staying connected to friends, near and far (I admit, I struggle with this last one)
- Being a lifelong learner
I just refuse to feel bad about any of those list items, or wistfully wave good-bye to any of them until my “life calms down”.
Rather, I try not to see them even as separate. They’re more like sides of a Rubik’s cube. And while some people may be naturally great at keeping all the colors of each side grouped together, my Rubik’s cube is much more of a patchwork. I let the “work” category bleed in to the “movement” category and throw in a little “household manager” category while I’m at it.
Huh? You might be saying. Here’s what I mean:
- I do as many calls as possible on a walk, whether that’s a catch-up with a friend, a call to the credit card company to update my account, or an exploratory call with a new business contact, or even an interview. I sometimes do two different calls on one walk, which means I can take care of three colors of the Rubik’s cube in one 45-minute swoop.
- If I meet someone locally who is interested in exploring whether coaching might be a fit for them, I do those sample sessions on a nice long walk (it’s great for getting you in to the space where you can think a little more expansively).
- I also run as many errands as I can on foot as it fulfills my movement requirement AND my household manager requirement at the same time.
- For errands I can’t run on foot, I am on the verge of hiring someone to do it for me—that will help me support my community by paying someone money he or she wasn’t making before while I also take care of my household manager role.
- For calls where I need to take notes, I stand up and roll my foot over a tennis ball, to take care of my body while I’m also taking care of a client.
- I take work breaks to prep something for dinner. Invariably, I get an idea about something that was vexing me, or remember an important email I haven’t returned yet.
- I spend time with my kids one-on-one by scheduling back-to-back music classes for them. Instead of dropping them off and going back home, I stay for the whole two hours, spending an hour at a time with each kid solo. We do homework, or go on a walk, or mess around in the playroom upstairs. I minimize running around time, and my husband knows he’s responsible for dinner those days since we got home late and hungry.
- The primary way I get new coaching clients is by writing, which is something I love doing—it feels like killing two birds with one stone.
- Whenever we’re due for a Trader Joe’s run, I drive five extra miles to go to the one in Massachusetts that has a hiking trail around a cranberry bog directly behind it. I call it a “biathlon” and bring the kids. Boom—food procured, outdoor time and movement time, done.
- I have to remind myself of this one all the time, but I truly do look at chores as an opportunity for movement, mind-body practice, and me time (since people tend to get out of your way when you’re doing the dishes).
- As someone with a lot of sides to my Rubik’s cube, I also remind myself that sometimes one or two areas of my life will be lit up and I will legitimately be really busy for a few weeks once or twice a year. During those times, I remind myself that it’s finite, it will slow down, and it’s a privilege to be able to do all the things I want to do. That helps me not feel overwhelmed while it’s happening, and just as importantly, to really enjoy the downtimes (and not fret that I’m not doing enough), so that when things heat up I’m restored and ready to go.
Next time you’re feeling like you don’t have time for all the things that matter to you, or like you need more hours in the day, ask yourself, How could I take care of a couple of things at once?
How do you fulfill a few different parts of your life at once? I’d truly love to hear it, either in a comment below, or post a photo to Instagram with the hashtag #stackyourlife (please tag me too — @msmindbody!).