I had the opportunity to attend the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in late 2019, and one of the keynote speakers was Elizabeth Gilbert. While many know her from her “Eat, Pray, Love” fame, I’m a much bigger fan of “Big Magic.”
She wasn’t at the conference to talk about her books, though.
In a short period of time (I think the keynotes are about 15 minutes each) she talked about boundaries, how you can only have a very small number of priorities and my favorite – the way that women are socialized to care about everything equally, and that is a lie.
It’s a lie that’s keeping us small, making us exhausted and causing us to burn out.
The day after the conference I was talking to one of the smartest, most traditionally successful women I know. Like so many of us, her life looks great on the outside. She makes a ton of money, has a beautiful home, healthy children, nice cars, a good marriage and even a dog. She cares about all of these things equally; and it’s making her miserable. She can barely get out of bed to make it to work, has weekends that are as over-scheduled as her weekdays and doesn’t know how to get off the ride.
I shared what Elizabeth Gilbert had said at the conference and I could hear the resonance through the phone.
But how do you just start caring less? While I love an escape fantasy (You know, where you sell everything you own, grab your cats and buy a tiny house on a beach. Just me? Nah…most of us have one!) that’s rarely the solution. It’s tempting and that fantasy might even be fun for a while; but more often than not, what Carl Jung observed is true: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Let’s make this level of over-caring conscious. This is the work I’ve been doing in the world and will continue to do. It is not possible to care about everything equally all of the time, and quite honestly, when you consider doing that it seems kind of absurd! Of course you shouldn’t care about your kids and your errands at the same level, but I know a lot of days it feels that way.
So, if you can’t just run away to that tiny house on the beach, what can you do? A few things. Get clear on your values. Start doing something small for yourself every day. I don’t care if it’s 2 minutes of listening to your favorite song before you walk into work – do something. Start talking to other women. I promise you, you’re not the only one feeling these things. Remember my smart, successful friend? She felt alone. She didn’t think she was normal. She assumed she was the only one. She thought she should be able to muscle through.
None of that is true. What’s true is that most of us care too much about everything and it’s time for us to start shifting that. Care a TON about the things that are important and let the less important things go. Oh, and please make sure you’re on the list of things that are important.