This year I made an oath to myself to stop feeling guilty about everything I normally feel guilty about: guilty about not being perfect all the time (or ever, really), guilty for not having the most exemplary wardrobe or flawless body, guilty for eating too much gluten or drinking too much coffee, guilty for making investments or taking career risks that don’t pan out, guilty for not responding to every email, guilty for not being the perfect mom, wife, or friend. (I’m exhausted just writing about all this unnecessary guilt.)
When I dug deep and thought about why I’ve wasted so much of my short, precious time on earth apologizing for things, I realized that it stems from the intense pressure to have it all, do it all, and be well balanced at the same time. It’s difficult to be everything to all people at any given time, whether you’re a student, a parent, a boss, an employee, a spouse, an athlete, an artist, a friend in need, an entrepreneur, or a multihyphenate. We’re told to be great at everything in order to achieve some lofty and unrealistic level of balance across all areas of our lives.
The people you love, the passions you have, and the things you want to accomplish shouldn’t be gauged by how well you balance stuff because, let’s face it, you can’t achieve anything of importance, value, or significance by striving to have it all in a 24-hour period.
Whatever it is you want to excel at—whether it’s your career, your family, your fitness level, a personal passion, a specific project, your social life, anything!—you have to prioritize it by putting it at the top of your to-do list. Over and over and over and over and over again.
Well balanced? Ha! I have a different theory to success:
The first time I actually said “Pick Three” out loud was in a moment of frustration. It was approximately the one hundredth time I was part of a conference panel where I’d been asked by the moderator, “Randi, you’re a mom AND you have a career. How do you balance it all?” Of course, nobody would ever ask the men on the panel that question.
Most of the time when I’d get that same inquiry (that is, every time I’m on a panel), I’d grit my teeth, force a smile, and say something trite about how I try to balance it all. Except for one day when I just couldn’t muster up the strength to BS through it anymore. After the unsuspecting mediator asked how I balance it all, I shook my head and said,
“I don’t. In order to set myself up for success, I know I can only realistically do three things well every day. So, every day when I wake up, I think to myself: Work. Sleep. Family. Friends. Fitness. Pick Three. I can pick a different three tomorrow, and a different three the following day. But today, I can only pick three. As long as I wind up picking everything over the long run, then I’m balancing my imbalance. It’s solving the great entrepreneur’s dilemma.”
I later realized that the dilemma doesn’t just apply to entrepreneurs—it applies to EVERYONE. No matter what you do for a living, where you live, or what your responsibilities are, nobody can have it all without a little bit of sacrifice, focus, and energy.
Work: Projects where you contribute time and, in return, derive value, which could be in the form of money, passion, meaning, a sense of contribution to something greater, or a stepping-stone to a long-term goal.
Sleep: That pesky thing that eats up 30% of your day (if you’re lucky!).
Family: This could be the family you were born into, the family you create, or the family you choose.
Friends: When you think about friends, you typically think about the closest people in your life. But this is where I also think about side hobbies and outside interests—the people and activities that bring pleasure outside of work and family.
Fitness: While the term fitness conjures up images of dumbbells and sweat, to me, this category reflects a broader goal of self-care and health: physical fitness, mental fitness, emotional well-being, mindfulness, stress management, and healthy eating.
Now is the time for ruthless prioritization. So, sorry, you don’t get to pick all five. Not today. Not any day. If you want to be great at what you do, Pick Three and only three.
I can hear you now: “Randi, I can totally pick all five! I can exercise with my friends and call my mom on the way to work! Fit- ness, Friends, and Family, done! Two to go!”
While I have no doubt that every once in a while, for a day or two, you can manage to hit all five of these, it’s really not sustainable in the long run. If you try to accomplish all five things WELL (keyword: well), you’re headed for complete and utter burnout. Sure, it’s humanly possible to touch upon your family, your friends, your work, your sleep, and your fitness every day. But doing all five things—even just for a day—means you’re probably not doing any of them with any real depth.
We’ve been taught that imbalance is a dirty word, but I think it’s actually the key to success and happiness. When you focus solely on the trio you choose each day, prioritizing becomes totally manageable and you give yourself the permission to do those three things with the kind of excellence that will propel you further than weeks of half-assed focus.
From Pick Three by Randi Zuckerberg Copyright © 2018 by Zuckerberg Media Inc. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.