College Member at Large
Trying To Do It All
Patricia P. Kelly, Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, Virginia Tech
Nothing depresses me more each year than reading Mother of the Year awards and writing my faculty activities report because both remind me anew that I have not "managed it all" with quite the verve and accomplishment as I wish. On Saturday before Mother's Day this spring, while drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper before going to the office to prepare the document that would describe my professional life for the past year, I saw an interview that both angered and saddened me. One award winner, a trim and polished woman with an especially successful career, organized and lovely home, beautiful, loving children and husband, said in her interview that she had learned long ago that giving up her sleep was the only way to do it all. She seemed pleased to be passing on this hard-earned information to those of us less accomplished. I was saddened for her and for all of us because women have always accepted self-sacrifice as the norm even when it meant sublimating real needs, not just desires.
Taking care of oneself is as important as taking care of others; it is not a selfish act. I was angered because she is a victim of the ever-rising standards that women have 'bought into." It is not enough now to have both a career and a home; each must be maintained at high levels of performance.
Later, in my office when I loaded the file in which I would describe my work for the past year, I looked at the long lists of possible categories into which I could place my activities. Each category left blank nagged a little, reminding me of what I had not done, of what was possible, perhaps even expected. No matter that other worthy elsewhere, it just did not seem to be enough. I could have, should have done more, I told myself. I knew I had worked hard, yet my year looked insignificant laid out, as it was, in sentence and column and bibliographic form. Unable to focus on what I had done, I felt guilty for not accomplishing more.
I am angered because I am tired of feeling guilty. Yet, there are exhortations everywhere of how we should be doing more in less time; how we can improve ourselves physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, and how we can get control of our lives and maintain good family and business relationships. One of these older popular books on relationships was called I'm OK, You're OK. But it has become "not okay to be just okay." The push for excellence in every venue of our lives is taking an incredible toll. Striving for excellence, of course, is not a bad thing in itself; however, we must have some balance. Perhaps even harder, though, is to feel happy about that balance, for balance connotes an equation with its pluses and minuses. And minus is a negative, not okay!
I see women faculty juggling as hard as they can to, as they say, "keep all the balls in the air." We are a frantic lot, and perhaps it's no more or no less than before. But we keep on juggling for myriad reasons, and one of those, no doubt, is guilt.
Reference Citation: Kelly, P. (1998). "Trying To Do It All."WILLA, Vol. VII, p. 36, 40.