In her famous poem The Summer Day, the late Mary Oliver asks what we plan to do with our “one wild and precious life.” Pose this question to a multipotentialite and you might as well get comfortable—you’re in for a long answer.
What is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? Write a book. Travel to Antarctica. Learn French, then learn five other languages. Start my own business (called The Cat’s Pajamas, where I literally sell pajamas for cats). The list goes on. The list goes on so long, in fact, that you become keenly aware there’s not enough time to do it all. You can’t cram everything you want into one lifetime.
Even if you’re not a particularly anxious person, this thought can cause a great deal of distress. It’s exciting to have so many hopes, dreams, and pursuits, but it can be disheartening to make time for them all, only to realize that your time remaining becomes more scarce each day. Life would be easier if you could just focus on one thing, but you’ve tried that. Sure, it might be easier in some ways, but it’s not for you.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am compelled to do everything, even though it’s not literally possible. So how do you deal with the stress of trying to pack everything into your one wild and precious life? Here are some ideas.
Treat your time like you treat your spending
The writer Paula Pant says, “You can afford anything but not everything.” It can be helpful to think of time the same way. You can do anything but maybe not everything, and especially not all at once. But while there may not be enough time to do all the things, you can still experience quite a bit in one lifetime.
When it comes to spending, personal finance experts always say you should prioritize the things you love over the things you like. For example, if you love the idea of travel more than you like those fancy new sneakers, forget the shoes and save as much as you can for an epic trip.
Translating this to time, you could make a list of everything you want to do this year, but pick one or two that are especially important to you. This can work for sequential multipods who like to focus on one thing at a time. The idea is, you focus on those one or two projects for the time being and ignore everything else on the list—for now. After a set amount of time, reevaluate your list. See how you feel about your level of depth and commitment with your main two projects, and how excited you are about everything else.
This approach doesn’t work for everyone. You might find that giving yourself time to dabble in those other areas makes you happiest. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of doing everything at once, focusing on one thing at a time might help wrap your brain around the overwhelm.
At face value, the concept of Essentialism—focusing on one thing—seems to be at odds with multipotentiality. But I think they actually work really well together. You can use essentialism as a strategy to optimize your multipotentiality.
Live each day like it’s your… first
I’ve always hated the advice to live each day like it’s your last. Where do you even begin? I’d just spend the day in bed, eating soup and watching reruns of The Office with my husband, cat, and dog. That’s how I’d like to die. This is not helpful advice for seizing the day.
“Live each day like it’s your last” suggests you have to beat the clock. The problem is, most of us already feel like we’re in a race against time. And racing against the inevitable is overwhelming to the point of apathy. Writer and registered nurse Leanne Delle has a different take on this advice: Live each day like it’s your first.
Delle says, “If we live each day full of wonder and appreciation while discovering a genuine sense of joy, I believe that motivation for our truest passion would be more likely to present itself… I would argue that we can deal with day-to-day routine and responsibilities while pursuing our passion. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
This is a much more practical and realistic approach. It’s easier to seize the day when you don’t feel like you have to hurry up. Instead of being filled with pressure to do everything as quickly as you can, you can take your time and enjoy the experience. You might be surprised at how much you can do when you don’t have the debilitating pressure to do it all.
Make a “Stuff I’ve Done” list
When I’m feeling particularly stressed out, I turn to my favorite de-stressing activity: list-making. I love lists, but crossing things off of them can make you forget what you’ve already done. For example, let’s say you’ve made a list of new year’s resolutions, you finish something on the list, and cross it off—now, it’s gone. It’s like it never existed. You forget it even happened, moving onto the next thing without allowing yourself to fully soak in that feeling of accomplishment or fulfillment.
When I make my goals for the upcoming year, I’ve started to make a “Stuff I’ve already done” list, too. Last year, for instance, I published my first personal essay online. I also got a byline in Travel + Leisure. I went on a trip to New Orleans with my best friend.
When you start tallying up everything you’ve done throughout the year, you might be surprised at how much of it slipped your mind. Look through your photo history to jog your memory. If you’re anything like me, you take a zillion photos every day. Looking through them occasionally will remind you of the little things you’ve forgotten about: that cute latte art, the delicious sandwich you had with a friend, or the weird-looking bug you encountered during a hike. This exercise can make you realize that, in trying to do everything, you’ve already done a hell of a lot.
Being pulled in different directions by our multiple interests, hobbies, and passions is often frustrating but I think I’d feel more frustrated if I never even tried things. After all, you might not be able to do everything, but there’s a lot you can do. And if you want to enjoy doing it, it’s probably best to stop trying to beat the clock. You have one wild and precious life, but don’t let the pressure to make the most of it keep you from doing anything at all.
How do you deal with the pressure to do everything? What helps you find the balance between cramming as much into this lifetime as possible and taking the time to enjoy those things?