Doing it all: Asking not how but why

I’m entering into a crazy few weeks with many different projects and obligations, and was asked today by someone “How do you do it all?” If you ask me, I’m never doing enough, so that question didn’t necessarily make me feel good. But because I am an overthinker, I spent the afternoon pondering the question of how I juggle quite a few things. I identified two answers:

I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. Part of that comes from good planning, and part of it comes from dumb luck. Of course, there are always little tasks that I don’t feel like taking on. But those tasks are always in the service of some greater goal that I find worthwhile and important in my life. And, through happy accident, they are all things I have chosen. Life has not lain great burdens on me – not yet, anyway.

My brain is wired to finish what I start. One of my favorite quotes from Augustine is “to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go”. Set your mind to something, and do it. I know there are people in the world who simply don’t work this way, through no fault of their own, but it took me a long time to learn that fact because follow-through and initiative come naturally to me. That’s why I don’t feel like I’m doing a lot or even doing anything particularly admirable. Doing what comes easily is not necessarily virtuous.

I have no answers as to how I “do it all”. Sorry if you were hoping for some. The more I thought about this question the more convinced I became that it was the wrong one after all. The harder and more worthy question is “Why do I do it all?”

For many years that question didn’t have a healthy answer. I thought that productivity was my only chance at being valued and loved. I was compulsed to distinguish myself, believing the recognition of others would fill the hole in my sad, insecure heart. I have shed that, for the most part.

So why, then? First, despite my misanthropic affect, I love people. My activities put me into contact with literally hundreds of people every single day. It’s just like when I worked at the Macaroni Grill, only I don’t come home smelling like garlic.

Connection and community matter to me. There are days when all I want is to hole up in my apartment. But more often than not I want to be out strengthening the bonds that continue to develop over time.

When something matches these priorities, I know I have found a worthy activity. But there’s more than that. As Ignatius writes in his First Principle and Foundation, we should choose those things that help us acheive “the end to which we were created”, that is “to praise, reverence and serve God”. David Fleming, SJ, paraphrases it this way: Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.

On my best days this is why I choose all of the things I choose.

Very often, I would like a simpler criterion to guide my choices. How I am supposed to know what “God’s deepening life in me” looks like? Some days it means blowing of something i should be doing and going to the gym. Some days it means burning the midnight oil to get something done. There is never an easy answer.

Maybe that’s why we look for easy answers instead. We judge the worthiness of an action with some easy metric, like “what will earn me the most money” or “what will make people like me the most. But this is the question we are stuck with, the one that keeps us questioning and discerning and listening, searching for the consolation that tells us we are drawing ever deeper into the life of God.

How do you know when you are choosing the right? What are the signs of “God deepening his life” in you?

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