It was a Saturday morning, and I woke up stressed.
My husband and I had a fun day date planned, and our weekend was otherwise wide open with possibility. And yet, I was anxious because I’d made a mental list of the seemingly important (but in no way urgent) items I’d put off all week, intending to somehow squeeze them into a weekend that we’d already earmarked for rest and fun.
Absurd as my stress levels seemed—why in the world was I stressed-out on a Saturday morning?—they were only a symptom of the problem. The real issue was that the standards I’d kept setting for myself were unattainable and, frankly, unnecessary. I simply wanted to have it all, all of the time. I wanted to be able to relax and spend time with my husband on the weekends, but I also wanted to deep clean our new house weekly. I wanted to make sure I’d responded to every single business-related email, every single day. I wanted to keep our fridge stocked with healthy, homemade meals. I wanted to fastidiously check off every item on our home-improvement to-do list. I wanted to knock out writing deadlines weeks before they were due.
That is until a super simple concept shattered my perfectionistic, often joy-sucking approach to life.
Recently, I listened to a podcast interview with acclaimed author Shaunti Feldhahn discussing a concept she calls “setting aside superwoman.” In short, Feldhahn shared her realization that not only is doing everything we want all the time impossible, but it drains life of joy and wonder. As women, we’re often conditioned to feel that we can do everything and still lead a joyful life, but it’s simply not true.
This was a watershed for me. I’ve spent so much of the little free time I have delaying enriching and life-giving opportunities because I’ve simply refused to let certain things in my life slide—like choosing to clean instead of meeting friends at the pool on a Sunday evening, working instead of attending a nephew’s birthday party, or declining a coffee invitation because I’d already planned to work on some non-urgent house project.
Why is it, then, that we so often strive for the impossible instead of relishing rest? Why is it so difficult for us to let go of our to-dos in favor of fun?
Identifying the root of the problem
First of all, many of us grasp constantly for control: In order to feel as though we have a handle on our lives, we micromanage different aspects of them, like meticulously adhering to to-do lists and delaying fun in order to knock out more seemingly “productive” tasks so that we can “finally relax.” But the reality is that we will never find true repose if we constantly feel that we need to first create a clean slate. Simply stated, as long as we are alive, our slates will never be completely clear, so we might as well learn to live and rest amid unfinished business.
Second, women perennially feel strained by the expectations others impose upon them, from spouses and children to coworkers or supervisors. And while it’s certainly laudable to cultivate a heart of servitude and a zeal for helping others, failing to protect our own boundaries can lead to burnout and resentment.
Finally, failing to prioritize our unfinished tasks can create undue burdens, leading us to assign each one the same weight. The items on our to-do lists invariably differ in terms of urgency and importance. For instance, cleaning the bathrooms likely falls lower on the totem pole of priorities than stocking up on more diapers for your infant. Assigning the same weight to each task will lead us into the deathly trap of believing we need to do all things, all at once—which is not only untrue but impossible.
Relinquishing our unrealistic standards
The reality is that all of our lives are stuffed with things we can simply just, well, let go. In other words, by choosing to be intentionally lazy about certain things in order to make room for others, we can increase our joy and live more richly.
What needlessly stresses you out on a weekend because you feel it simply must happen? Keeping up a clean house? Checking work email? Meal prepping? Some routine or ritual that you maintain just to check a box, without any actual benefit to you or your family?
How can letting these things slide help you find joy and peace?
What I’ve learned is that choosing to put things off, to be a little “lazy,” and to agree to let certain items and tasks slide, can help me find sustainable, lasting rest. As Feldhahn stated in her interview, we don’t have to completely revamp our lives in order to find rest, but rather, we can find it by lifting up the things that bring us joy and peace while choosing intentionally to let go of others. You can find peace within the chaos by choosing in a given moment what to prioritize and what to simply set aside.
In my journey to internalize this message, I’ve finally been able to identify certain non-essential, non-pressing items that I can let go. For one, deep-cleaning our already-pretty-clean house weekly simply isn’t a priority. Now, I just stick to the high-traffic areas like the kitchen and living room, keeping it tidy without spending several hours each weekend scrubbing bathrooms we never use. I’ve also decided to forego checking my work email at the end of the night to sidestep the urge to crack open my laptop and punch out just “one more thing” before bed, and have delegated tasks that my husband does much faster and more efficiently—like managing our bills—rather than clinging to them out of a rabid desire for control.
Choosing to let these things go has not only made me a less stressed-out, anxious person: It’s made my life much richer. By picking and choosing what is actually important rather than trying to do all things perfectly all the time, I’ve found ways to create margin in my life, to prioritize experiences and time with those I love over trying to curate a perfect life. Most importantly, I’ve slowly learned how to build rest into my day-to-day rather than feeling like I need to radically reorganize my life in order to find it.
Maybe your story is different. Maybe for you, choosing to create margin means outsourcing certain household tasks. Maybe it means changing the narrative you tell yourself about your responsibilities, your capabilities, your capacity. Maybe it means no longer shouldering tasks that aren’t yours: crises at work that aren’t your problem, requests from marginal acquaintances to give of your time and energy, your own standards of perfection. Whatever it may be for you, choose to set it aside, agree to be at peace about it, and do something that feeds your soul—just for the sheer sake of it.
This summer, we can all afford to be a bit lazy. And like my decision to let things go in favor of finding peace amid the chaos of my life, this can be your invitation into a more intentional, joyful way of living.
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