Forget “All or Nothing”

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Darren and I joke about my tendency to approach life with “all the arrows.” The reference comes from the trigger finger that I have with the TV remote. When I’m fast-forwarding through commercials on our DVR, I’m inclined to ramp up to five arrows, top speed. Darren usually opts for three arrows, so he doesn’t overshoot and have to backtrack. I, on the other hand, lean more toward maximum intensity than a happy medium.

In the same way, I want to do things to the best of my ability. If I write, I want to absorb myself in writing for hours. If I exercise, I want to commit to a regular workout schedule, and I want to sweat.

The problem is that having a child — especially one who has never slept much — leaves me so little time to myself that an “all or nothing” approach to my hobbies usually translates to “nothing.” Since Evan was born, and especially since he became an active toddler, I’ve rarely had time to exercise, read, write, and play music to the level I want to. I used to do Zumba twice a week and read books before bed. Now I’m lucky to catch a Zumba class once per month, and I’m so tired at the end of the day that I usually just watch Jimmy Fallon’s monologue and scroll through Facebook on my phone before I crash. At times, I’ve felt like pieces of me have gone missing, that I’ve lost touch with the things that make me who I am.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I want to do the things I love, I’ll have to do them in small doses and incorporate them into life with a small child. Lately Evan has taken a liking to music, so in the evenings I’ll play the guitar and sing, and he’ll beat on a little drum his grandma gave him (using a plastic maraca and a salad server as drumsticks, naturally). I may be singing the ABC song and “If You’re Happy and You Know it” over and over, but it feels good just to be playing music again.

I take the stairs at work because it’s usually the only exercise I get aside from lugging around Evan’s 26-pound frame (and also because I find elevators to be super awkward). Over the weekend, I dusted off Jillian Michaels’ The 30-Day Shred DVD and managed to do the 20-minute workout twice. That’s more exercise than I’ve done in a very long time, and something that I can make happen at least once a week. Another option is an app called Seven that works all of your major muscle groups in seven minutes. I don’t use it very often because seven minutes doesn’t feel like enough, but seven minutes is better than zero minutes.

I’ve come to understand that during this phase of my life, I have to steal moments for myself, and that means letting go of my “all the arrows” M.O. It may take me months to finish reading a book, and years to finish writing one, but I’m learning to accept that doing a little of the things I love is better than not doing them at all.

Photo: Phil Long

Comments (2)

  1. Laurel

    I enjoyed this post. I think this kind of approach can be useful in many situations; in some ways as life changes we always must readjust our goals and expectations. I appreciate your blog and I’m happy you are finding a path to enjoy some of these activities, even if not in the amount or way that you were used to doing them before.

    Reply
  2. mjdicker (Post author)

    Glad you enjoyed the post! It’s true: as the circumstances of our lives change — whether in terms of job, children, marital status, etc. — so does our relationship with our creative pursuits. In her wonderful “Magic Lessons” podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert talks to a woman who told a beautiful story about her mother: Her mother painted throughout her life, and she completely changed her style when her husband passed away. She stopped drawing quaint landscapes and began using bold colors and big geometric patterns. I loved the idea that as her life changed in a significant way, so did her art, but she never stopped doing it.

    Reply

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