Leading Multiple Lives

Writers wear many hats. We take on many assignments, and in the course of a given week, we have to adjust to the different demands of each role. It is easy to allow one role to overpower us and keep us from being productive and balanced. For example, at the moment my role as “mom” is demanding more time, more energy, and more investment than any of my other jobs.  It is impacting me at work, it is definitely impacting my writing, and I am having to give up many other important and meaningful activities in order to focus on this one aspect.

At other times, it has been my role as teacher that has taken control and prevented me from being as balanced and successful as I would like. And when I am under deadline, the role as writer has taken control and kept me from performing well in my other jobs.

We humans take great pride in our ability to multitask.  We are so proud of our ability to drive a car, listen to music, drink coffee, and talk on the phone all at the same time.  We can shuffle papers, handle client calls,  check our email and say hello to a coworker without batting an eye.  But there is a problem with this: the human brain isn’t really designed to multitask.  Our brains are designed to focus on one item at a time; we are specialists, not generalists.  Our synaptic processes work best when they are focused on one task at a time, not when we try to divide our attention among many things at once.

Many writers find that this specific focus is a natural way to work. They find it simple to slip into the elements of their story, to release their association with other aspects of their lives while they immerse themselves in the project of their choice.

Some writers, though, find the draw of multitasking to hard to ignore. Sometimes it’s by choice, other times it stems from a belief that they need to be engaged in three or four things at once.  And some writers fall into this trap because it’s what they think everyone else is doing and they should be doing it too.

I’m guilty of all three beliefs.  But I’m trying to simplify.

I find that by trying to wear too many hats at once, I’m not wearing any of them effectively at all.  I’ve recognized this in my behavior before, but I haven’t expressed it quite this way before.  I’m trying, again, to simplify my life; to focus on those things which really matter most. But it’s not always as simple as it seems. Those different roles are often competing with each other for  importance in my life.  I want to perform each role well, but at times their competing interests keep me from doing any of them well.

It’s a conundrum.

I’ve let certain activities go because they were no longer providing the benefits for me that they once had.  I’ve scaled back other activities because they are not as important as they once were. I’m becoming more and more like the ancient Greek Stoics. Stoicism in its original context was less about restraining emotion and more about seeking balance.  According to traditional Stoic views an intelligent, spiritual force, referred to as logos or logic, pervades the universe. Humans can only achieve happiness by bringing their wills into harmony with this universal force of reason. This means accepting whatever fortune brings and acknowledging that all we have control over is our own will.

I look at all the requirements in my life and try to find serenity, to exercise self-discipline, to find strength when things become difficult.  But I’m a flawed human.  I’m still learning to do all of these things. I’m still struggling to balance all the multiple lives I lead. Of course, it is this very journey of my own – and others  – that makes writing such an interesting part of the many lives I lead.  Amid all the insanity of trying to balance all the hats on my head, it’s easy to lose track of the things that matter. Living all those lives is crazy-making, and I’ve got enough crazy as it is.

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4 thoughts on “Leading Multiple Lives

  1. daniel240 says:

    I really like your perspective on people working best while focused. As human beings we have an unmatched ability to focus, problem solve, explore, and explain. However, I am very often amazed at what a vast variety of tasks we can under take at one time. You talk about the stress and struggle of balancing multiple lives, and how that can sometimes make us feel defeated. Yet when you view your accomplishments and realize that you have managed to carry that heavy load all this way, you realize that every minute you are succeeding.

  2. Kim Justesen says:

    To be honest, I don’t know how to do just one thing at a time. If I’m watching television at home, I’m also knitting or crocheting. If I’m making dinner, there are three or four things going on at the same time (rolls in the oven, supper on the stove, a salad being tossed, etc.) It’s true, we accomplish a great deal by multitasking; however, something that requires higher-level brain function – which to me is what writing is – also requires singular focus and attention. I can’t write and talk on the phone. I can’t write and fix dinner at the same time. And believe me, I’ve tried. Disasterous consequences is a phrase that comes to mind.

  3. drtombibey says:

    Husband, father, doctor, writer, bluegrass mandolinist; no day job.

    Dr. B

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