By Javacia Harris Bowser
“You can do it all; you’re Superwoman,” she said with a sparkle in her eye and not a hint of sarcasm in her voice. She meant it. I’m her hero. The young woman whom I mentor says things like this to me all the time and sometimes her comments make me feel like the queen of the world. Sometimes, her comments make me worry.
I worry that I’m going to let her down. I worry that I’m going to set a bad example. She admires me, in part, because of all the things I do—I’m a teacher, a writer, a business owner, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a woman who exercised every day for 365 days. She admires me because she believes I tackle my to-do list, no matter how intimidating it may be, with gumption and grace.
But I don’t always.
Sometimes I get so stressed and so overwhelmed that I feel my world is crashing down around me and I’m tempted to quit everything. This young woman admires me because she believes I can “do it all,” but lately the message I’ve been getting from the Scriptures I read every morning, from the devotions I listen to in the car, and from the headache and shoulder pain that just won’t go away is this: You can do it all, Javacia, but you shouldn’t.
So this summer I’m going to take up gardening—at least metaphorically.
Recently, while driving to work, I listened to a message by renowned Christian minister Priscilla Shirer. She recalled a story of a man who’d won an award and national attention for growing a big, beautiful, record-breaking tomato. When the man was asked to share his secret he said there were two things one must do to grow a prize-winning vegetable or fruit. He said you must make sure that your garden is clear of debris, especially of things that might be left over from last year’s garden. And he said you must be willing to prune your plants, even if that means cutting away something that seems perfectly good. Shirer, of course, gleaned a life lesson from these gardening tips and I did, too.
This summer I must start the process of pruning and maybe you should, too. If we want prize-worthy lives we need to prune some things—even good things—so that the best things in our lives can thrive. Cutting back is hard, but I know what I need to do. I often give people advice on how to do this. When people come to me asking for help with time management, I do more than simply tell them to keep a planner and daily to-do lists. I tell them to think about their vision and values. I ask them to write a personal mission statement and then eliminate any activities that don’t support it. I tell them to learn to say “no” without apology.
This summer I need to practice what I preach.
This summer I’m going to be a different kind of hero. No longer will I be the patron saint of workaholics. I’m going to become the champion of self-care. Not only am I going to say “no” to more things that don’t align with my vision and values, but I’m going to say “yes” to more things that restore and refresh me.
I’m going to take time off. I’m a teacher, so June and July should be relaxing months for me, but they usually prove to be the busiest of them all. I work on my business eight hours a day—at least—and fill nearly every minute of so-called free time networking or serving in my community. This summer, I’m going to remind myself to take a break.
Last year I exercised every single day. Some folks thought I was crazy, but it was actually much easier than I thought. Not having that goal this year, I’ve found myself frequently sacrificing exercise in order to do more work. That must end. I’m going back to daily exercise, not because I’m trying to change my body, but because exercise calms my mind.
At the start of the year I set a goal to get a massage every month. We’re halfway through the year and I haven’t had one. Self-care is not a luxury, I told myself. Now it’s time to act on that declaration.
Another resolution I made at the start of 2015 was to spend quality time with one of my girlfriends at least once a week. I started off great having dinner, brunch, or coffee with gal pals on the regular. But after a few months, I stopped making this a priority. This summer that changes. How can I say I’m all about empowering women of the world when I don’t spend enough time with the women I call my closest friends?
This summer I definitely plan to work hard, but I plan to play hard, too. I’m going to eat good food and have a good time and sometimes do nothing at all. And I hope that the young woman I mentor will still be proud of me. I hope that she learns that yes, you can do it all, but not all at once, and realizing that is a heroic act indeed.