I Can Do Anything, But I Can’t Do Everything

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Throughout my childhood and beyond, my mom kept telling me that I can do anything that I set my mind to. I believed her wholeheartedly and set my mind to many career paths, and I have accumulated quite an eclectic background in various fields and industries. I jumped from corporate boardrooms to high school classrooms to theater productions to technology groups to the freelance life in writing, sewing, illustrations and photography. I seem to perennially be a Jane of all trades, master of none.

Recently, I realized that I’ve misunderstood my mom all this time. Somehow I was hearing, “You can do everything.” This is a very dangerous and unhealthy mistake, I’m discovering. We have so many roles to play, all of us, and I constantly have a running monologue in my mind in the form of a checklist. A typical list includes:

  • do laundry
  • plan photo shoots
  • develop patterns
  • schedule K’s playdate
  • remind M to fill out tax forms
  • meet with friend for coffee
  • sew skinny jeans
  • write blog post
  • paint custom illustration
  • contact so-and-so to promote Little Kunoichi
  • buy compost bags and zit cream
  • pick-up guinea pig from K’s friend (we’re pet sitting)

…and the list keeps getting longer and longer every day. Like other moms and women, I juggle home-management with some semblance of work, all the while trying to maintain relationships and family commitments.

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Things are falling through the cracks. And the cracks are getting bigger.

A few weeks ago, I had coffee with two delightful and mind-bogglingly talented friends and we talked about the concept of “polymath” – a person with expertise in multiple disciplines. We each have ardent curiosity and enthusiasm for a variety of pursuits including arts and hard sciences and psychology and technology. But because we have so many interests, it’s easy to feel scattered and unfocused. It’s also easy to believe it’s possible to do it all. I mean, just look at all those overnight successes on the internet. Did you hear about the youtube video sensation that garnered millions of hits? A woman unwraps toys from Target. That’s all she does. The seemingly low bar of such stories inserts thoughts in my mind that maybe I too can create some fantastically popular video and rake in gazillions (maybe by folding fabric into origami shapes?) and spend the rest of my days becoming a polymath at a leisurely pace.

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I know that the definition for success is amorphous, and money and youtube viewer numbers are not the best indicators, unless that’s your particular M.O. The other morning as I was dropping off K and her friend at school, the friend asked me what I was going to do for the rest of the day. I prattled off something about editing images and writing and she said, “Wow, your day sounds awesome!” And then she said, “If you become famous, will you buy a new car?” Because you know, we drive a junky old car and clearly famous people would never own such a vehicle. I informed her that the chances of me becoming famous are slim to none and it would be a long, long, long time before I could afford to buy a new car at the rate I was going. She looked disappointed that my “job” wasn’t as glamorous as she’d hoped. Remember how I started trying out the Amazon affiliate links? I earned $18.25 for the month of February. Exciting, but not exactly rolling in the dough.

In all but the financial realm though, I’ve been inching closer to my own personal definition of success. For me, a life well-lived is being able to spend my days on my own terms doing what I love with people who matter to me, and I want to create small ways to add beauty and goodwill around me. I’ve always wanted some version of that, though I’ve been fuzzy about what that actually looks like. For my college admissions essay, I unapologetically wrote, “I want to make the world a better place.” Ah, such an earnest idealist. I don’t hold grandiose aspirations at a global level anymore, but if I can nurture my family, be a good friend, and perhaps provide a space that’s on the positive end of the spectrum here with this blog, I’d be heading in the right direction.

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My point is not that I am a financial failure nor that I’ve achieved some sort of exalted state of following my passion (ugh – yet another word I can’t seem to write without cringing). I think I’m trying to say that I’m getting closer to a way of living that feels right for me via slow and deliberate steps, but I’m also getting greedy about all the things I want to do. I want to be excellent at everything I love, and it’s just not possible, at least not all at once and not in my lifetime, most likely.

This second book I’m working on serves as an example. When I signed the deal, I agreed to do all of the writing, illustrations, pattern development and photography. It was such an honor! I couldn’t believe they thought I could handle this! The publisher told me that they’ve never actually had one person do all of that for a book. I felt my stomach sink a little at that revelation, but it sounded like a hearty challenge. And let’s be real: the publisher was getting more bang for their buck. It was smart on their part.

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At first, I took on every aspect of the book by myself because I have a hard time asking for help. I stayed in my lone wolf comfort zone, writing the words, sewing and illustrating the projects and trying to style and photograph them. It became quickly apparent that my skills were lacking in many of the areas and this bummed me out — I worried about the quality of the book. Eventually, I owned up to where I couldn’t do certain tasks at the level I desired and tentatively reached out for assistance. Sure, I could try to continue bumbling through on my own, but it was uncanny how events unfolded as soon as I accepted my limitations. For example, a few months ago, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t as good a stylist as I wanted to be, then an old friend who’s in the styling biz contacted me out of the blue and after a lovely catch-up session, she connected me to her stylist network here in Seattle.

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This past weekend, with the pro bono help of my long-time friend and a new friend — professional stylists with decades of combined experience under their belts — we had a test photo shoot at my house and it was brilliant. They showed up in front of my house loaded up with bins of props and flowers and produce. So fun, so energizing, so full of inspiration. So very different from my lonely, solitary photo shoots filled with doubt and a sense of misgiving. I did, however, suss out that I had to up my photography game significantly since I couldn’t even set up my tripod properly without aid. And it dawned on me that shooting for print is less forgiving than shooting for the web, so I’m already working on rectifying the situation. I am completely open to suggestions for all you photography experts out there.

By the same token, frustrated by the pattern-drafting process, I talked about it with friends some more, and then got hooked up with a professional pattern drafter/sewing expert. She’s been giving me invaluable advice on construction methods for my patterns and it hit home how inadequate my pattern-making skills are. My eyes filled with grateful tears when she showed me an ingenious zipper insertion technique and wowed me with her ability to look at my sketch and immediately figure out the construction.

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Other friendlies from the sewing sphere have kindly offered their time to test patterns. And on and on and on. I’ve been overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of magnanimity. And I may even ask you, my dear readers, for input and recommendations. What started out as a daunting solo project has morphed into a wonderfully collaborative, stimulating team effort that’s teaching me so much.

With enough time and knowledge and hard work, I can probably do anything, but I certainly can’t do everything. There’s no shame in not being able to do it all; a few years ago, I would have rather asphyxiated myself with a jump rope than type those words. Sometimes things will fall through the ever-present cracks, but that’s part of the whole process, no? A process of letting go, of finding a foothold in my strengths and being honest about my limitations, grasping onto outreached hands for support. And repeating this cycle for myself, for others, for everything — could this be the way to climb unimaginable heights? Maybe it’s not even about climbing heights but marveling at the power of community to move mountains (or molehills in my case)? As usual, I only have questions and few answers.

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P.S. The images are outtakes from this past weekend’s photo shoot with fabulous stylists Allie and Rachel.

48 thoughts on “I Can Do Anything, But I Can’t Do Everything

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m sure this will resonate with a lot of us multi-hat-wearing blogger’s/business/creative folk; it certainly does with me. Beautifully written – a blog post from the heart. Good luck with this new perspective and direction. Best wishes, Jessie x

  2. I am glad that it is all coming together for you! It is true that with new friends, you can create something new.

    1. Yes! That’s the hope, at least. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting outside perspective and learning from my friends’ expertise! Thank you, Max 🙂

  3. “There’s no shame in not being able to do it all; a few years ago, I would have rather asphyxiated myself with a jump rope than type those words. ” I love that you wrote this. I am bad at asking for help. Your story has got me thinking; than you for sharing so honestly.

    1. It’s always been tough for me to ask for help. I have a so-called independent streak and think I can get everything done by myself, and in the past this has gotten me into a lot of trouble! Thanks for your comment, Hashi!

    1. Glad it serves as a reminder for you – I feel like I write the same things over and over because I keep forgetting myself! 🙂 Thanks, CK!

  4. I too struggle with confusing “can” and “should” and have the similarly varied resume to prove it. Can’t wait to see you very soon! <3 <3 <3

  5. Hi Sanae,
    loved reading your thoughts. I believe that many of us blogger/seamstress/crafter around the web and off the web know those feelings. It’s hard to tell in english but i think it’s because we mostly see only the result or outcome of an creative process. I mean: no food blogger shows the chaos in the kitchen sink behind. No homestyle mom shows the heaps of dirty laundry in the kids room or around the house. No crafter shows the chaotic full desk. All WE see is: beautiful food, perfect homes, stylish scrapbooking layouts, perfect layouted and photographed books.
    When we try by ourselves we start to realize: it’s a mixture of talent, time, creativity and boring tasks like cleaning, testing, discarding that results in something that looks so easy. So i think the most underestimated talent is: patience. Patience first and foremost with ourselves. And second: asking and reaching for help when its needed. I love that you remind me of this!
    Marit

    1. All the perfection out on the interwebs does get overwhelming…at the same time, I’ve been a little bothered that “authenticity” is a buzzword now. I’m a firm believer in being honest, but when something becomes a trend, it starts to feel forced, you know? Pretty soon we’ll all be feeling like we’re not being authentic enough 🙂

      And yes, I agree that there’s a LOT of hard work that goes into making things look easy and patience is a much needed quality! Thank you, Marit!

  6. How fun! I’m always blown away when I collaborate with others. Especially I you are self taught in your craft or art or is mind blowing to find out that there are actually really easy and fast ways of doing things! I’m definitely in the fumbling, do it my way because I figured it out the hard way, category of makers. The photos are gorgeous!!!

    1. So true! Isn’t there some study or some saying that says multiple minds working together are exponentially smarter than a single mind? I saw that in action this past weekend! I’m right with you in the fumbling department, Gita! And I’m so pleased you like my photos – coming from a photography expert, that means a lot!!

  7. This is why I have not learned to crochet or knit and don’t work too hard to become an expert cook/baker. Sewing is really my thing. Well combined with all the other mom/family responsibilities. 🙂

    1. Hey, that’s more than enough Kristi! So awesome that you’ve figured out your thing and that you pursue it single-mindedly. I’m not sure what my one thing is….I feel like I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out 🙂

  8. Thanks for an interesting post, Sanae. On a personal level, I am glad you have found your way to forming a community of collaborators. It’s amazing when we finally realize we cannot do it all and we yell out for help, what comes back to us. Oh I can’t wait to see the book!

    As a general observation, I lived through the “Superwoman” stage where a woman was supposed to be able to have a career, family…have it all. What a lie. They didn’t say or maybe didn’t realize then, at what cost? Now I observe that social media has added a whole lot of strain to the equation. It is both a help (in promotion, communication etc) but also a strain (more work and you’re always “ON”).

    Have fun with your book growing process. I like the photos I’ve seen so far!

    1. It’s a total lie! There are always going to be trade-offs I believe and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I’m willing to give up for pursuing certain goals/aspirations. Still figuring it out! And yes, I too think social media adds to the pressure despite the many benefits and connectivity it provides. Thanks for your candid comment, Melissa!

  9. I love hearing about all of the help and support (and glimpses of the mysterious book making process)! I know you’re focused on the “help” thing, but I bet they’re excited to be a part of your project too 🙂

    1. Good point, Kathryn! My friends do seem genuinely happy to take part so that’s been lovely to see. In many ways, I think humans are hard-wired to want to help and I know that if the positions were reversed, I wouldn’t hesitate to lend a hand…yet I always pause to ask. Old habits die hard…

  10. Do you know why I read your blog even though I dont sew? It is because of posts like this one. Sometimes your life is so like mine it is scary. I had no idea you had been working with so many different things – this sounds just like me trying to explain my cv, which seems not to make sense to others but to me is completely logical. It is really helpful to hear from someone who struggles with the same questions but is a bit further along the path. Also, I like looking at nice stuff 🙂

    1. I’m curious to find out more about our parallel lives, Heidi! If my ramblings are helpful in any way, well, that’s just icing on the cake since I keep churning these long-winded posts for purely selfish reasons 🙂 Thank you!

  11. Thanks for putting it out there that we can’t do it all, even though I have the same drive that you have. I, too, have dabbled in a little of everything but can’t seem to master anything (or at least I don’t think I have). Right now I consider myself as a mom/full time worker/sewer/baker/cook/and wannabe blogger. This post is another reminder to take things easy and do what I can and not try to do Everything.

    1. Hear, hear, Amy! As for the mastery…I know there are all those pundits going on about 10,000 hours and all of that, but I sometimes question if I actually want to be masterful at anything. I guess I just want to feel like I’m heading in that direction instead of going about in my scattershot ways 🙂 Yes a million times to taking things easy!

  12. Thanks for this… timely for me with things I have been struggling with recently. Trying to do so much that I end up feeling like I’m doing nothing as my to-do list only seems to grow. Love your honesty and so glad you’ve found such a wonderful way to work it out.also… so excited to see your book! xCx

    1. Oh, I’m so so familiar with that feeling of trying to do so much and still feeling like I’m accomplishing little. There’s something about that mode that crushes a small part of me, you know? The initial asking and seeking of help is a little scary, but it’s such a game-changer. I’m convinced we can all benefit from relinquishing control a bit and bringing other people into the fold to ease the tasks.

  13. Bravo! Congratulations on building a life you love for you and your family. And for having the courage to reach out. I’m shockingly bad at it, but realised that suffocating under the weight of things is tantamount to crass stupidity, and most folk are genuinely thrilled if you ask them to share their expertise. I cannot wait to see the new book…the sewing notions photo with the blue fabric makes my heart go pitter-pat!

    1. Asking for help is hard…I try not to do it too much, but it does seem to get easier with practice. And you’re right, I think most people really want to help and share their knowledge! So excited that you like the notions shot — one of my faves!

  14. You are always so generous with your experiences Sanae, I love it! I’m more and more convinced that collaborations are king. All it takes is the right mix of people and POW – magic. 🙂

    1. Well hello there, my polymath friend! So great to hang out last night, and I always love collaborating with you! 🙂

  15. I hope it’s ok to say this (because I don’t want you to feel any pressure from this comment), but I have a few friends that seem to be able to “do it all” so well, and by all accounts, you are one of those friends. Almost every week you amaze me by your productivity and focus. That list alone, at the beginning of your post, would take me a week to accomplish! Was that for just one day? I say this only to assure you that in books, you’re pretty much a rockstar.
    There are so many facets to this post today that resonate with me. You always write so succinctly and truthfully, which is why so many women connect with what you say. Your musings about the definition of success and a well-lived life also struck me as a worthy inner struggle. Frankly, what the majority of the world considers “success” is messed up. If you get a chance, watch this trailer – I saw the movie recently and its affects have really stayed with me in regard to living a worthy life and what defines that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTQ2VTf5vWc
    And finally (sorry! this is getting too long!), your book. So glad the collaboration is freeing you time-wise, but also emotionally. And I”m pretty sure that each one of those people working with you feels blessed to be able to share this project with you (speaking from experience).

    1. Oh…that trailer made me cry, Lucinda! It’s at once so heartbreaking and inspirational. Now I feel sort of silly and inconsequential (okay, I’m always feeling pretty silly and inconsequential). But thank you for your kind words and yes, that’s a list for a single day, but keep in mind that I don’t actually get around to doing everything. I don’t do it all by a long stretch and I don’t think anyone should try. I’ve had a very eye-opening few months — I’ve been observing the interesting duality of the surface glamour that’s often presented and the real behind-the-scenes stories which are actually far more interesting, and it’s making me a big believer that life is way more enriching when you’re just being yourself. At least, it seems like a good approach to me 🙂

  16. Sanae, I have been reading your blog for quite sometime, and I LOVE IT! Your honesty is refreshing, your ruminations are very relatable, and your creativity is inspiring and overall, heart-warming. Maybe you can’t do everything, but at least you do your blog very well! It is always a treat to see a new post by you on my blog roll! Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Oh, thank you Kristin! That means so much to me — I’m honored that you think I do this blog-thing well. It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been figuring out that I really love being able to write and post whatever I like, whenever I like. It’s very liberating and fun. 🙂

  17. I just want to say that although I can totally relate to the concept of being overextended and wearing many hats, I don’t think you should give up on your “make the world a better place” goal. It may be earnest, but its still worthwhile. I’m a Girl Scout leader, and that’s one of the lines in our law. I tell my girls that no matter how old, or big, or talented they are, they can make the world better everyday, in some small way. I think we all can. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Eleanor! I definitely have an incorrigibly earnest side of me and yes, I still want to make the world a better place. I’m just not as far-reaching as I used to be, I think. If, by some miracle, I am able to make grand sweeping positive changes in the world, that would be outrageously fabulous, but I’m focusing on the immediate, little things I can do to at least not damage the world 🙂

  18. Sanae, your words are every bit as inspirational as your spirit! Great post. Since I’ve known you, you have never ceased to inspire, excite, and motivate me with your energy, positivity, creativity, cleverness, and hard work. It’s no wonder you attract such talent in your friends. The outtakes look fantastic. I can’t wait to see the finals. Brilliant job for a “first time” shooter! That darned tripod… Also, very sneaky taking pictures of us while we weren’t looking! And I ADORE that robe that you just made K!! Anytime you want some help with anything, just ask. I love helping your dreams come to life! xxx

    1. Allie, you’re the best!!! Right back atcha (that got me a little teary-eyed, man). I swear, I don’t know how I would have gotten that tripod to work without you…thank you on so many levels! I hope your Chicago shoot went well, and I can’t wait to see you again next time you’re in Seattle. Maybe we can have another photo shoot, better yet, we’ll hang out and eat all the prop food. xoxo

  19. Sanae, I really loved this post. Once more time you gave me reality and pure honesty. I always have tried to do everything “solo” which sometimes ends good, and sometimes is excruciating. I’m so happy for you that you found your group to work with and that collaboration is also feeding you with a wonderful experience which I think should be. Looking forward to seeing, reading and making your projects!x

    1. Thanks so much, Maria! Yes, I’m a solo flyer usually, but I love to collaborate too, so I feel like I’ve been getting the best of both worlds with these books! Thank you for your encouragement, Maria – I need it!:-)

  20. I see myself in everything your wrote here (just sub out sewing for gardening, book project for newspaper project). I am finding it terribly hard to simultaneously admit I need and then seek help and also feel like I can accept it when/if it arrives. I have this lovely little business (that often isn’t so lovely because I am so stressed out trying to do it all – and I fully recognize that I don’t do it all as well as others can if I let them) that others are interested in investing in, but I worry what will come of letting them in? I feel a little crazy some days as swing between emotions of fear and confidence and then back to a mode where I just move, constantly, and stuff gets done and sometimes I don’t even know how… Thanks for writing this – it reminds me that I am not the only one who goes through this and that is so helpful to remember when I start to struggle. Good luck with your project! I look forward to hearing more about it.

    1. Thank you for this honest and utterly relatable comment, Rochelle! Yes, accepting the help has been the hardest part for me and I’m well aware that it’s a useless conceit to think I can do everything myself. Thanks for the good luck, and same to you! It sounds like you are involved in some exciting ventures!!

  21. Thank you for a great personal share. I’ve so been in a similar space — trying to make all those pieces pull together magically, being the lone wolf. I particularly love how you discovered the magic of the collective force.

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