Doing it all or Doing it well

April 2, 2018

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My daughter informed me last night after volleyball practice that she’s not going to be in her school choir this year. Rehearsals begin tomorrow, and frankly, I’d assumed she was all in! This is a girl who loves to sing and who loves God so singing about God makes choir a no brainer. Or so I thought.

When I asked about this change of heart, her rationale was so simple. “Mom, I can’t do everything.”

doing it all or doing it well

There was a pause as I took this in.

Then came the inevitable, “But what do you think? Is that bad? Should I do choir? I mean I can if you want me to! It’s not that big of a deal. Maybe I should just do it.”

There it was – the whole cycle – a brave “no” followed by a barrage of self doubt and the need for validation – all played out in one brief interchange with a ten-year-old. It’s the very same cycle I hear every day both in my own head and in conversations with the women I coach.

We dip a toe in the waters of “no” and immediately worry that we shouldn’t have. We’ve been conditioned to overcommit, and it’s a really hard habit to break because we get so much validation for doing it! People lavish praise upon us for being dependable, for being someone they can count on, for stepping up to the plate. We soak in all that praise and use it as fuel.

In our quest to do it all, we say yes to every opportunity. But do we get what we really want?

Not if what we want is impact.

When we try to do it all, we dilute our impact.

I love this image from Greg McKeown‘s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less because it makes the point so bluntly.

Which one has more impact???

Too often, we identify with the image on the left, only half aware that while we’re throwing little tidbits of energy and effort to a whole host of things, we’re not making very much of an impact anywhere because we lack the power that comes with focus.

I know this first hand. When I notice a project on my list that’s stuck at the starting line and ask myself why, it’s almost always because it’s competing for attention with too many other tasks and I can’t give it enough focus. Until I clear space and make it a priority, nothing of any worth gets done.

By contrast, when I find myself making substantial progress on a project, it’s almost always because it’s the one getting the lion’s share of my time and energy. But that progress comes at a price.

Every yes comes with a no.

My daughter was living this truth when she made the choice to keep even one activity off her plate. I could have said, “Oh honey, it’s only one 45 minute practice a week. We can make it work.” And we could.

But something in her knew she needed to say no. And the most important thing I can do for her right now is to honor and nurture that brave instinct so she can trust it for years to come.

Can you honor that instinct when it rises in you? Doing so isn’t a walk in the park. It will require you to say no more often than you like. It will demand your focus and full attention. But it will drive you to deliver your highest contribution and your most substantial impact. In the end, it matters.

Will you choose to do it all or to do it well?


Note: This post originally appeared on this blog in September 2015.


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