I Know How She Does It
June 08, 2015
Laura Vanderkam is going to teach you how, or show you that you already do, "have it all."
I love Laura Vanderkam's books, so I was a little sad when her new one came across my desk that it may not be for me. The book is I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, and well... I'm not a woman, so nothing there for me, right? After closer inspection, I found there is actually quite a lot for me. It is kind of perfect for me, actually. To tell you why, I feel like I need to begin in our shipping department.
Almost every question we ask our shipping manager here, whether it's about an actual shipment leaving our warehouse or just what he did last weekend, is met with some kind of variation of "don't worry about it" or "everybody just settle down." He is one of the slowest moving human beings I've ever met, but somehow manages to do an incredible amount of work done—moving a veritable mountain of books for us during the day Monday through Friday, and writing books and articles nights and weekends.
I bring this up because I feel like every book I'm reading lately is giving me the same advice to "just settle down" and to "not worry about" things—or at least to change my mindset about them.
Dealing with a lot of stress? "Don't worry about it" says Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress, stress is normal and productive, it's thinking that it's killing you that actually does. Hate flying? Maybe "just settle down" a little, read Mark Vanhoenacker's Skyfaring, remember the awe with which you first saw an airplane fly, and reattach yourself to the wonder that is human flight (as Louis CK would say "you're sitting on a chair in the sky!") the next time you experience it.
Laura Vanderkam's topic is time, the container of all other topics in life, and which none of us seem to have enough of these days. And her fundamental question is everyone's fundamental question:
What does the good life look like for me? ... While self-help gets a reputation for flimsiness, at its best it takes a practical look at this eternal question, with a bonus not all philosophers offer: ideas and strategies for figuring it out.
I write about the good life through the lens of time, because a life is lived in hours. What you do with your life will be a function of how you spend the 8,760 hours that make up a year, the 700,000 or so that make a life: at strawberry farms, rocking toddlers to sleep, and pursuing work that alters at least some corner of the universe.
To figure out what you want to do with those hours, it's really important to take an honest look at what you're doing with them now. Because, when we do, we realize that we tend to overestimate the amount of time we spend working, underestimate the amount of time we sleeping, and can get more strategic with all of the time we have available. And, we also realize that the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, like the local nightly news, tend to focus on the bad news. And that is where we get the notion that we just don't have enough time to "get it all done," where we get the inkling of the idea that maybe we should just quit... quit our job, quit trying, give up on trying to "have it all." Ms. Vanderkam calls these Recitations of Dark Moments. The title of her book is a homage to Allison Pearson's novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, which focuses on those moments. But that is just one telling of the story. And it is a powerful one, because:
Life is not lived solely in stories. Yet this is the way we talk about our lives: in moments that must impart a lesson.
Laura Vanderkam is telling a different story, and it's a very, very real one. It started when she wrote 168 Hours, and began getting time logs from successful women as a part of putting material together for her speeches around the book. What she quickly realized was "Their lives didn't look that bad." And this goes against the prevailing view that "we can't have it all." Because, when she looked at their time logs, these women really did, and she realized she did. Yes, there are stressful moments—nobody ever said "life is easy" and almost everyone has said that "life is hard" at some point—but the point is that life is full of almost everything we want in it, and if there's something missing, we can find the time, and Laura Vanderkam will help you do it.
So why, even though this is a book for women, do I feel like it's perfect for me? (Our shipping manager would have something funny to say right about now.) Well, the data she got for the book all came from working women who earned at least $100,000 per year, and had at least one child at home. This is an admittedly arbitrary measure of "having it all," but she needed to come up with some parameters for the data, and those were it. She explains very reasonably why she chose them, and writes that she hopes "this book will be useful for anyone who wishes to have a full life, which these days certainly includes many men in demanding careers as well." I am one of those men. While I very definitely do not make $100,000 in a year, I do have what I think of as an engaging, often demanding job, and I am a father of two children—a lively and lovely little girl that is almost two-and-a-half, and a beautiful baby boy that turned one on Saturday. My wife is a freelance photographer, so we split up our parenting and household duties pretty evenly—though, of course, we both like to believe we do more than the other. So, the lives in the book look quite a bit like mine. A lot of men I know are in similar, if not identical, circumstances to mine. Beside the entrance of women into almost all aspects and echelons of the working world (now, if we can just make sure they're paid equally for that work, as well!) men are expected to take on more parenting and household chores than they were a generation ago. And this is progress. Women still have unique obstacles, but increasingly, "How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time" is how all successful people make the most of their time. So Laura Vanderkam's book, while written and marketed to women, is really for everyone. It will help anyone realize that they do, in fact, have time for it all! You just need to change your mindset, rebalance the idea of balance, and get strategic with your calendar—which she'll show you how to do.
So, "don't worry about it." "Everybody just settle down" and take a hard look at your calendar. With a little assist from Laura Vanderkam, we can figure this out.
I'm feeling like our shipper might be some kind of clandestine Zen master, and that's making me worry about our ping pong game this afternoon. Oh yeah, did I mention that even though I'm crazy busy at work and have two toddlers at home, I find 15 to 20 minutes to play ping pong at work every day.
We have 20 copies available.