I spent most of my youth striving to be capable. I practiced my trumpet and learned the capital cities of every country in the world. Like most children, I spent all day, every day, in a circumstance intended to turn me into Productive Member of Society – aka school. Every day, for more than 16 years I did this. And I learned the difference between a Madrigal and a Motet, the four main castes of India, how to conjugate the past tense in two languages, and why CFCs were denuding the ozone layer through the power of catalysts. I also learned things like how to organize my time for a large project, that you should not wash your whites and colors together if you want your whites to not be grays, that if you leave your grounds in your coffee maker over Christmas break it will be moldy when you get back, and how to live within your means.
And when I graduated, over a dozen years ago now, I was actually capable of being a productive member of society. But the learning didn’t stop.
I learned how to program web pages and design relational databases to drive them.
I learned how to cook a turkey dinner for 20+ people.
I learned how to write and teach a Sunday school curriculum to teenagers.
I learned how to run an efficient meeting.
I learned how to get a nutritious dinner on the table almost every night, with enough leftovers for lunch.
I learned how to write blog posts regularly.
I learned how to nurse a baby and change a diaper, even at 2 in the morning.
I learned a thousand other things, building up a capacity to learn quickly what I needed to know, to triage needs, to manage stress and to decide what didn’t need to be done.
And now, in my mid-30s, I feel like I am at the height of my powers. There are few things that I might want to do that I cannot – with time and attention – do.
And therein, my friends, lies the rub. Time. Attention. Focus. I am catastrophically short of these two things. My work is a constant source of new learning and skill, and requires 100% of my abilities nearly every day (except for those days when it really pushes me). It is a really great feeling to have a job that is so interesting and engaging, but I come home tired and worn out at the end of the day.
The running of a family with a rich social life takes so much of the rest of my time. There’s dinner with friends, and Lego League. My sons need my time, love and attention. My husband and I married each other because we want to spend our days together, every day. My God calls me to service in church. There are dinner parties, concerts, laundry piles, fellowship events, fund-raisers, work trips, produce to preserve, play-dates, Library-pizza nights, holidays and birthdays. I feel like I was flat-out for two months, from mid-September to mid-November.
And this is where that capability becomes a hard choice. I *can* do so many things. Yes, I can bake a pie for preschool’s Thanksgiving celebration. Yes, I can play trumpet for Christ the King day. Yes, I can write letters to the Town Council and show up to meetings in support of Stoneham Bikeway. Yes, I can bring a donation to the food pantry drive and buy pajamas for an 11 year old boy who has none. Yes, yes, yes, I can – and do – do these things. But I look beyond to all the things I could do, and have not chosen to do.
Within my skills and capabilities…
I could run for Town Council myself, and serve my community.
I could resume a leadership role in the church. I could teach Sunday School. I could sing in the choir.
I could volunteer at a food pantry.
I could be part of a community symphony, or a brass quintet, or wind ensemble.
I could be on PTO.
I could form a LeanIn circle.
I could actually chaperone a school field trip one of these days.
I could foster a child. I could adopt a child.
Heck, I look at the Healthcare.gov website and think to myself, “I could do better than that. I have done better than that.”
There are so many things I have the capability to do, so many things that are worthwhile – and I look at them and I do not think, “I cannot do that”. I think, “I have chosen not to do that. I have decided that is not more important than what I am doing now.” And you know? That’s a hard thing to realize. I am out of energy, and anything I add to my list requires something to be taken off. I, and my family, pay a steep price if what I take off is any time to relax and recharge.
What about you? What could you do, but don’t do? How do you deal with the choices you don’t make?