I was talking to my husband about my career plans, debating the relative merits of pursuing a more administrative path or staying in clinical care. I was remarking that in 15 years or so, the kids would be out of the house and I’d have more time to focus on my career. He looked at me like I was sprouting broccoli out of my head. “Why would you do that? What about all the other stuff?”
Yeah, what about the other stuff? Oh, I know I’ll still be a mom even when my nest is empty, but the day-to-day demands won’t be the same. Even now, I try to carve out the ephemeral “me time” but I’m not always sure what I’m supposed to be doing during this time. I usually have a long list of things I’d like to do, but have a difficult time narrowing down the choices.
I think about it like that old adage about filling a glass with stones. If you don’t put the big ones in first, then there won’t be any room left when all the small stones are in. So, first things first. A sculpture on my desk reminds me daily that “Success at home first.” My family — husband and kids —come first. My job as a mom and wife is the only job in the world that is uniquely mine to do.
After that comes work and profession. Not only is it practically important for things like housing and food, it is also a source of fulfillment and accomplishment. Health is important as well — eating healthy, sleeping enough, getting exercise. And then there’s everything else.
My list is as long as most other’s. I am in the process of writing at present four different novels, three essays, two blog postings, and one research article. I have five more Sunday school lessons to put together before summer break. I agreed to give three lectures at a conference in December, which seems far away, but isn’t. I need to organize my mudroom and trade out summer clothes for my winter clothes (although in Wisconsin, it appears that I still have plenty of time before I need to put away my wool sweaters). I want to learn how to knit and finish crocheting the three baby blankets and one full-size blanket I have in progress. I need to finish my scrapbooks before I forget what was going on in the pictures. I owe my mom and my mother-in-law travel photo albums from trips taken in the past year.
The list goes on and on — filled with things I must do, want to do, need to do, and probably should do. How do you choose?
Well, as I mentioned, the important stuff gets fit into your schedule first — it’s often so time-consuming (like work or parenting), that if you don’t accommodate it in your schedule right away, there will be no room left at the end. Then, as the jar gets filled, you eventually get to the point where you hold two small stones in your hand weighing each carefully. There’s only room for one and you need to decide which one makes the cut. Which is more important and which is more fun? If I spend two hours away from my family, which ones feels worth it? Does this help me with any of my lifelong goals or fill another type of need like exercise?
Slowly I sift through the choices and carefully select the stones in my jar one by one. I put many aside. When I finish, I figuratively lift up the jar and examine, turning it around to see what’s made the cut and how all my choices fit together.