People frequently ask me, “How do you do it all?” I respond with a laugh, a shrug, and things like, “I prefer to stay busy!” And it’s true; I like to be busy. I am a registered nurse and have almost always had at least two jobs; I am also a small business owner (sometimes I have had several small businesses at the same time), I founded a nonprofit and continue to manage the majority of the operations, and I have these two amazing humans who call me “Mom.” My daughter is eight and my son is five, so we are busy. I share them 50/50 with their dad, which gives me some kid-free nights, but then when they are with me, it’s a lot to handle on my own. I have an amazing mother and grandmother who are both in town (grandma even lives on the same street!), and when there isn’t a pandemic, we are frequently together.
I am also a known “fixer.” I see a problem, and I want the immediate gratification of seeing it fixed, which I am pretty darn good at doing. I am often on committees or asked to join workgroups at my job, my church, or my kids’ school. I almost always say “yes” because watching it done poorly drives me to insanity.
But here is what I am not good at: details. Birthdays, anniversaries, exact pickup times, and potluck sign ups are all lost to me. I have been known to forget a friend’s birthday or think it was on the wrong day. I have shown up a week early to the start of dance class and have attempted to join a Zoom meeting an hour after it really started. The chaos of my life distracts me, and those in my life have come to expect it and some even claim they enjoy it.
In 2020, some parts of my life got slower, but others got more intense. I had just started a new job at the public health department where my part-time hours were increased as I was activated to the response of the pandemic. My kids were now home more often than before, and I was trying to find a way to entertain and teach them and not lose my mind at the same time. We had just hired our first employee at the nonprofit, so I was supervising for the first time in my professional career (virtually, of course). I also had a long list of projects that needed to be done around the house, but those always seemed to fall to the bottom of my priority list.
In all the chaos and hard work going on, I was pretty proud of myself and how I felt that I was keeping up with everything. I even went so far as to think that I was going to come out of this pandemic unscathed. But then when I least expected it, I went through a breakup—a really hard breakup. The kind where you wake up one day feeling on top of the world, and two hours later, you are crying on the kitchen floor. I was literally crying on my kitchen floor. I felt ill and like I wouldn’t ever be able to stand up. At some point, my puppy came and licked my face and brought me back to reality. So I did what I have always done when I have a hardship in my life: I stood up, called my mom, called a girlfriend, and logged into my computer and got back to work.
My father died when I was nine, and we moved several times with my mom’s budding career, which meant I was often the new kid. So I have thick skin and am good at just moving on when things are hard; it’s another characteristic people have complimented me on.
A few weeks after the breakup, I was sitting at work on my lunch break scrolling through Facebook. Although I was functioning, I wasn’t myself. I was irritable with everyone around me, I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed, and I had zero motivation. Both my therapist and my mom had been talking to me about “mindfulness,” which I felt had become a buzzword without a lot of meaning. But during my Facebook scroll, I came across a live feed of someone from the local YMCA who was doing meditation and mindfulness. In hopes of pacifying my mother mostly, I listened in. Just as I was about to keep moving because it wasn’t sinking in, this man said something that, quite honestly, changed my perspective on life. These were not his exact words, but essentially, what he said was: “In our lives, we get the greatest return on the things we invest in.” Simple. We get the greatest return on the things we invest in. If you invest in your body, you will get a return of a healthier body. If you invest in your house, you will have a nicer house. If you invest in your spiritual health, you will have a deeper spiritual connection.
This concept may be old news to you, but it was the awakening I needed. I realized in that moment that so many things in life I was investing in were a distraction so that I didn’t need to acknowledge and deal with the pain in front of me. When the loss of my dad was heavy, I started a nonprofit. When I realized my marriage was failing, I opened a clothing boutique. When my divorce was final, I left my job of 15 years and started over in a new career. When the pandemic hit, I adopted a puppy and started selling wine online. It was a pretty consistent thread of coping via doing it all, when actually, I wasn’t doing anything. Now, not all of these are bad, and most of them have led to good. But it has left me not investing in some of the most important things in front of me.
So here I am, at the start of the new year. I am consciously evaluating my investments and removing the ones that aren’t giving a return I need right now. I am putting my energy and focus on the things that mean the most. I am investing in my relationship with my kids and my mom. I do this with little things, like making direct eye contact when we talk. For my kids especially, I couldn’t believe how much of our communication was spent with me also doing something else: emptying the dishwasher, letting the dogs out, reading my last work email, etc. I now make the conscious effort to make direct eye contact when they come to me and start talking. I ask my mom more about how she is doing and what is new with her; she is always the one checking in on me; it has been refreshing to sit and listen to her for once! I am investing in our home by unpacking boxes from our move almost two years ago. I finally painted walls that have driven me crazy and picked out fresh carpet. And you know that breakup? I am even investing there and working to mend that relationship. My learning from all of this is that it’s okay to do it all, but do it for a reason that isn’t just a distraction. Evaluate where you put your time, your heart, and your passion to give yourself the return on investment you deserve.
About the Author
Kristina Wright-Peterson is a mother, daughter, and granddaughter living in Rochester, MN. She is a registered nurse and founder of a non-profit, Red Drop Resources.