Deb Kelly Barely Has Time to Write about her Bad Habit

There’s nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway.  ~Mark Burnett

Time BombDoes anyone else take on too much?

I mean, way, way too stinkin’ much? I know the answer is yes, because this blog is largely read by women, and I think at least among my subset of girlfriends, women take on too damn much. Men probably do too but I haven’t talked to them about it lately. The inclination to say yes to life, and everything in it, is strong within lots of us. To wit:

When I decided I was ready to write my next book, I decided I better write it in three months. Uh, that’s not happening. Too much to take on.

When I decided to cast on for a knitting project, I thought intricate lace with spiderweb-thin thread seemed like a great plan. Too much!

When I was expecting my BLB I decided I wasn’t just going to be a good mom, I was going to be The Greatest Mom Ever. Not just too much to take on–downright impossible. And silly! And the source of endless stress and unmet expectations. Argh!


For a long time I thought taking on too much was one of those bad habits that fell into the same category as being too rich, or looking too put together all the time (two bad habits I am utterly free from, you’ll be relieved to know). It was a good problem to have. After all, most of the achievements that give me the most pride in my life came in moments when I set my bar a little too high, pinched my eyes shut tight, and then leapt into the air. I like to lean into the wind. When the going gets tough, I get going. I don’t always keep calm but I sure do carry on. Lots of things haven’t killed me, so I’m stronger.

I could cliche on this subject all day. The point is: I value a little performance-oriented unreasonableness from time to time. And yet it can get me into some serious trouble when combined with my stubborn streak. Maybe biting off more than I can chew isn’t actually the worst thing in the world… as long as sometimes I’m willing to spit some things out.

The book I’m writing now is about a woman who wants to spit some things out of her life. She’s taken on a lot, not all of it worth doing, and in the first quiet moment she has to think it over, she realizes she’s not happy. She’s a very extreme case study of a aspect of myself that I don’t entirely understand. And I think that aspect may actually be found in a lot of you too.

So, in the spirit of many hands making light work and all that, I am wondering if any of my readers today will share tasks they have spit out in life–or would like to. Did you quit the PTA in your son’s senior year? Refuse a family member’s unreasonable request? Tell a boss that no, sorry, you won’t be working on Saturdays anymore? And did it feel amazing?

I’ll start–I wanted to be both a stay at home mom and a working mom. So I decided to be both a fulltime-stay-at-home-and-working-mom. Um, crazy much? Today I’m still trying to figure out how to do half of one and half of the other–but not 100% of both. It will mean saying no to some work and saying no to some playtime with BLB… and that’s hard to contemplate on both fronts.

Now you go! What’s something you have said or would like to say no to in your own life? And how did the world react? Post anonymously if you’d like–I’ll keep an eye on the spam filters today and let you through.


21 Replies to “Deb Kelly Barely Has Time to Write about her Bad Habit”

  1. I’m not sure if this is the first post when you mention your new book or just the first one I’ve read, but I’m very intrigued and excited! Yes, we have all been in that situation where we’re drowning in life and need a moment to catch our breath. Please keep writing so we can start reading. I can’t wait!

    As for what I’ve spit out…a lot actually. And I think it starts with guilt but then turns into relief before too long. People with a high need for achievement also like pleasing people often to the detriment of ourselves and sometimes the people we love most. But there comes a point when you have the draw the line for self preservation.

    Loved the post Kelly! It hits home for many of us.

    1. Jennifer, you described it perfectly–guilt that subsides into that perfect, blissful relief of having made a little more space in your life. Thanks for your thoughtful response!

  2. Hahahahahaha! Excuse me. Ahem. Do too much? Bite off more than I can chew? Never. Nope, not me. Uh uh. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go Do All the Things, and if/when I have time today I’ll come back and talk about the things I gave up. Not because I chose to give them up in a mindful manner, but because it turns out that it’s physically and psychologically impossible to do everything. Who knew?

    1. So Kerry, does that mean when you get snowed under you start cutting things willy nilly? There is definitely another book in that, though my heroine is far more calculating…

  3. I have learned to spit out demanding and unreasonable people in my life – along with the hope that I could ever make them happy by doing everything they ask, or caring if they aren’t happy. Very freeing. They aren’t actually gone from my life, but their power over me is, and to quote Martha Stewart, ” that’s a good thing “

  4. Preaching to the choir.

    One thing I did learn (the hard way, of course) is that you CAN do it all … just not necessarily at the same time. Not that I don’t still try at times. Guess I’m a slow learner. 😉

    1. Linda, are you by any chance watching MAKERS on PBS? Maria Shriever said her mother told her something similarly brilliant and I’m paraphrasing but it was something like: You can have it all… but only when taken over a lifetime. Right now you can only have some of it.

      My new mantra!

  5. I can totally relate to this. I’ve actually gotten much, much better at saying, “NO.” I have a tendency to want to please others, but recently, with a book launch and my first baby on the way, I’ve had to rethink my approach. I just turned down an opportunity to participate in a UK e-book anthology (self-pubbed). If I weren’t two weeks from giving birth, I almost definitely would have said yes, but since there wouldn’t be any compensation (as in, $0), and the exposure would be relatively small, I said no. My husband is an economist, so he has been helpful in getting me to look at my time as a commodity — something that has value. If I’m going to commit to something, the upside has to be greater than the downside. This is definitely a challenge for the yes-woman/overachiever in me, but it’s definitely improved my quality of life!

  6. When I was 23 I was working downtown Chicago working on law school applications, making the slog on the bus through snow and blizzards all winter, to a windowless office. One day I was blown to the ground and rolled across the street in what was the wind tunnel of S. 53rd Street. I was also wearing flimsy skirt that ended up somewhere above my head. When I got to work, I yahoo-ed (I don’t think google existed) “Outdoor work in California.” I found a farming apprenticeship at UC Santa Cruz. Four months later, I quit my job, loaded my car with bongo drum and guitar (I was 23) and moved west. I lived off the grid for two years learning how to farm organically and teaching others as well. I slept under the stars, in a tent, listening to waves crash, seals bark, coyotes howl, and owls hooting in redwoods above me, all at once. Was it worth it? YES.

    1. That story is nothing short of amazing, Kelly! I want to hear more about that next time I see you. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Oh DEAR do I relate to this….I’m the original “do too much and never learn to say no” girl. In fact, my husband has started just looking me in the eye and saying “TELL THEM NO.” (At which point, my teenage son usually says, “You know she won’t.”) Yep. Too much, all the time.

    It comes from wanting to do ALL THE THINGS.

    As far as saying no, I’m trying to learn, though I’m still not good at it. I’m improving though. Just this morning I actually said no to a project – I didn’t like doing it, but there just wasn’t any reasonable way to make it work with my schedule, and though I felt TERRIBLE and tried to find a way to make it work, in the end I said no. It was the right decision, but boy….it’s hard to do!

  8. You’re new book’s premise sounds so interesting. Sometimes I have this problem, too. I’m a member of three different critique groups. Two of them are scheduled so I don’t have an excuse for not being prepared for their submission but the third is a free-for-all. I love that one but … sometimes it’s too much a free-for-all and there’s no regulation on length and sometimes I just … don’t have the time.

    1. The perfect example, Kim. Because it’s not a matter of just saying no to things that are pointless and unrewarding all the time–sometimes we have to weed out stuff that really has merit too. It’s hard stuff! Thanks for your comment.

  9. What’s frightening is how many of us are chiming in to say me, me,me, I’m overextended! I can’t tell you how timely this post is for me. I’ve been kvetching the last few days to my husband about a part time job I took on that I absolutely shouldn’t have. (That will change soon!) It’s so important to be aware of our own needs and to draw boundaries when needed. I can’t wait to read your book! Thanks for another fun post!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Heather! Truly, it’s fascinating to me how these comments connect the dots to me, from overcommitment to guilt to freedom to boundaries–all part and parcel of the same dilemma. Good luck with the change to your work life you mentioned–hope it brings a few hours of you time in to the mix!

  10. I think it is telling about my tendency towards overcommitment that it has taken me two days to extend my thanks to you all for such great comments!

    They are so helpful. And frankly, it’s just good to know that I’m not the only one!

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