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You don’t have to open this
But if you do, it just might give you the permission you’re looking for.
Friends, I did it. I finally got to spend a weekend away from mom duties!
I reunited with a group of dear high school friends after nearly four years apart, the longest period we’ve experienced without seeing each other in person. It was too short, as all good trips are, but it nourished my soul.
Since we last saw each other, three out of the four of us have become mothers (the fourth, my friend Yasirah, has been a mom for many years now and was thrilled to welcome us to the club). We’ve moved to new states and houses and found new jobs. We’ve lived through a pandemic and lockdowns. We have watched our children grow. We’ve lost close friends and relatives and learned how fragile life can really be. And we’ve gotten busy—increasingly busy, maddeningly busy, always busy. The busyness never seems to end.
Yasirah and I carpooled together from Georgia to the cabin in North Carolina, and during the long drive, we talked about our respective lives—the joys, the tough spots, and the things that are keeping us so busy. Yasirah is especially busy; her job, while fulfilling, doesn’t lend itself to a tidy work-life separation, and both her kids are in sports. When she’s not working, cooking, or sleeping—or cleaning, or exercising, or trying to keep up with friends, or going to church, or doing all the other things one tries to squeeze into random pockets of time—she’s driving her kids to and from practices, games, and tournaments.
At some point during our conversation, my newsletter came up. We chatted about how much it’s grown and how much I enjoy writing it. I could tell, just by the way Yasirah was acting, that she didn’t read every issue of My Sweet Dumb Brain, but didn’t want to admit it. A few days later, on our return trip home, she confessed.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t read all of your newsletters,” she said, sheepishly. “I just don’t have time.”
“THAT’S OKAY!” I shouted, relieved she admitted it out loud. “You don’t have to! No one has to!”
We all juggle far too many tasks demanding way too much of our limited time. It’s impossible to do all the things we have to do, want to do, and believe we should do. There’s no way to accomplish it all.
I told Yasirah that she’s not alone. That there are plenty of people—including me—who feel guilty about all the things we don’t do. But that guilt is unfounded. We don’t accomplish all the things we want to do, or believe we should do, simply because it isn’t possible. It’s not because we are bad, lazy, or less-than humans. We’re just human. Period.
One of the things I didn’t do this weekend was come up with a solid newsletter idea and carve out some time to work on it. There just weren’t enough hours in the day! Or, rather, by saying yes to my newsletter, I would have had to say no to something else this weekend: quality time with friends, sleep, or being in nature. Considering that our weekend together was nearly four years in the making, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice a minute of it.
So here I am instead, writing this newsletter back at home, on a Monday morning, feeling a little guilty that I don’t have more time to spend with my sweet family whom I’ve been apart from. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by all the emails that have piled up in my inbox or distracted by the unpacked suitcase sitting on my bedroom floor. I’m aiming to tackle one task at a time, knowing that it will all feel a little half-assed in the end, that I won’t be able to give as much attention and care to each responsibility as I’d like to.
“What’s that saying?” Yasirah asked during our car ride home. “The one about doing all the things at once?”
“Jack of all trades, master of none?” I guessed
“Yes! That’s how I feel a lot of the time,” she said.
I recalled that there’s another line to that phrase and looked it up: A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.
Yasirah and I were both tired from the weekend away and the long car ride back. The closer we got to home, the quieter we became, pausing our nonstop conversation to think about the tasks awaiting us when we returned. We had no choice, as busy, working moms, but to be jacks of all trades. Knowing the full saying honestly didn’t make us feel much better.
So here’s what I want to tell Yasirah, myself, and you, my dear, busy reader:
You don’t have to open this newsletter. You don’t have to reply to every email filling your inbox. You don’t have to like every post; watch every Story; or comment on every job, birth, or wedding announcement. You don’t have to keep up with the group text. You don’t have to take pictures of everything. You don’t have to already have your summer plans in place. You don’t have to meditate, do yoga, or run every day. You don’t have to get eight hours of sleep every night. You don’t have to keep your house tidy. You don’t have to have a five-year plan, or even goals for the year ahead. You don’t have to read every piece your friend writes or listen to every song your sibling produces. You don’t have to watch the television show everyone is talking about. You don’t have to make well-balanced dinners or eat at the dining room table every evening. You don’t have to keep up with every major headline. You don’t have to watch the police footage. You don’t have to donate to every cause that crosses your path. You don’t have to maintain your exercise-, Wordle-, or Duolingo-streak. You don’t have to fill every free moment. You don’t have to attend every practice, game, concert, or performance. You don’t have to say yes to every invitation. You don’t have to strive for a beach body or poreless skin. You don’t have to keep a journal. You don’t have to learn how to use TikTok. You don’t have to run yourself ragged. You don’t have to apologize for not doing these things.
Of course, you can do these things—and you may choose to do these things if they bring you joy, peace, or purpose. But you can also choose to cut yourself some slack! We live in a world of endless information and expectations. You will never read, watch, or listen to everything that you want to. You will never achieve Inbox Zero and keep it that way. You will never reach a point where everything is tidy enough, planned enough, or good enough. There will always be something else, begging for your time and attention. There is no moral value judgment in doing more or less.
Life is an endless scroll. We will never reach the end point that we’re looking for.
I find liberation in knowing that there will never be enough. After all, once we accept that, we can stop exhausting ourselves in trying to achieve the unachievable.
This essay could be a little longer, or at least have a stronger ending. My writing could always be better. Every single one of my published newsletter issues feels like a half-completed work, something that, if I had more time, I would tweak and edit, tweak and edit, until I felt somewhat satisfied.
The truth is, I can’t do that, on top of all my other jobs and duties in life. So I do what I’m doing today, publishing something that feels good enough, pausing for a second to pat myself on the back, then turning my attention to the next pressing thing.
It will never be enough. And that’s okay.
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